Poland Legalizes Medical Cannabis

(Xantana/iStock)

Nearly two years after joining the Polish parliament, former rapper turned politician Piotr Krzysztof Liroy-Marzec, aka Liroy, has finally managed to gain enough support to pass legislation legalizing the use of cannabis for medical reasons.

After a long, arduous battle through parliament, November 1st marked the first day that cannabis can be legally sold in Polish pharmacies.

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Liroy has made medical cannabis his rallying cry since being elected as a member of parliament in 2015, representing Kielce as a member of the newly formed political movement, Kuzik’15. He introduced the legislative measure for medical marijuana early in 2016, but was forced to table the bill in February.

The bill was heavily amended, removing clauses to allow home cultivation of cannabis, among other things, while Deputy Health Minister Krzystof Łanda argued that patients already have access to certain cannabis-derived products, such as the sublingual spray Sativex. Liroy criticized the health ministry, saying, “People are dying every day because of the current laws. I am attending their funerals and you should start attending them, too, talk to their families and tell them face to face what you keep saying to media.”

After much deliberation and many revisions, the bill passed through the lower house of parliament, with 440 lawmakers voting in favor and just two voting against.

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The new bill will not allow adult use of cannabis; rather, patients must receive permission to use medical cannabis from a regional pharmaceutical inspector, along with a medical authorization from a physician. The qualifying conditions eligible for medical cannabis include chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, and treatment-resistant epilepsy. Cannabis will only be available through registered pharmacies, and the medicine must first be filed with the Office for Registration of Medicinal Products.

An independent survey in 2015 found that 78% of Poles supported the legalization of cannabis for medicinal use, and the same proportion said that denying patients access to medical marijuana was “cruel” and violated their right to access healthcare.

With 15,000 registered pharmacies in Poland, nearly 90% will be authorized to distribute cannabis, and the Polish Pharmaceutical Chamber anticipates that up to 300,000 patients could qualify for medical marijuana treatment. But will patients be able to access it?

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Passing the legislation was only the first step. Although it is now legal for pharmacies to sell cannabis to qualified patients, there is no system to cultivate cannabis, and any cannabis products will have to be imported from other countries in the European Union. One exception in the law allows patients who can’t access cannabis in Poland to visit one of the bloc’s 13 member states where medical marijuana is legal in order to fill their prescription.

A more viable, albeit ultimately more costly solution, is for the cannabis to be imported from Canada or the Netherlands. Pharmacists estimate that the cost per gram will run patients about 50-60 zł ($13-$16 USD), adding up to about 2000 zł ($550 USD) per patient per month.