Natasha Boshkova, lawyer and legal consultant at the Coalition Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalized Communities MARGINS
Hajdi Shterjova Simovic, Executive Director of Healthy Options Project Skopje – HOPS
Ognen Uzunovski – Operation Liberation
How far along is the process of cannabis legalization/the decriminalization development model?
N.B: In the first half of 2021, the Government intensified its activities on developing a cannabis legalization/decriminalization model. A working group was formed for this purpose with members representing different institutions, faculties, doctors, civil society organizations, in order to develop a draft-proposal for cannabis legalization/decriminalization. Firstly, the group defined the terms legalization, decriminalization and de-penalization to ensure that everyone defined matters identically and create a clear perception on the direction we wished to and could set things in motion within this legal and political context. We started working on a comparative analysis on ten countries which had already introduced some form of cannabis legalization and/or decriminalization in order to assess the positive and negative effects to be considered or solved during the process of formulating the domestic model. Unfortunately, the working group did not meet in the second half of 2021 and all planned activities seized. In the meantime, the Government, without prior consultation with the working group, submitted the proposal for amending the Law on Control of Opioid Drugs and Psychotropic Substances to the Parliament for adoption, only to withdraw it later. The last public information, not shared directly with the working group, was that the Government planned activities for cannabis legalization and decriminalization in its 2022 Program.
H. Sh.: The Working Group, established by the Government of RNM near the second half of last year, hasn’t scheduled a meeting since 17 July, and it has no information from the Government regarding its status and the procedure for adopting the proposed amendments to the relevant legal solutions (Law on Control of Opioid Drugs, Criminal Code).
O.U.: The process began within the Working Group with a comparative legislative analysis of countries that have implemented legalization through some type of a model. Unfortunately, a unique model, or lex specialis corresponding to the Macedonian needs hasn’t been developed yet, and the Working Group has stopped meeting. The government at that time, adopted, without further consultation with the Working Group, in our opinion a hurried draft-law for medical cannabis, still to be voted on, without bothering to make a distinction regarding personal use and determining the manners of legal use in this respect. There was a proposal to amend Article 215 from the Criminal Code towards decriminalizing personal use for all drugs and psychotropic substances, however, the Working Group pointed that the smallest amount allowed cannot be regulated with this law and suggested instead defining it in another law. Neither laws have been adopted or voted to date. Changes were made to the list of medicines in compliance with UN nomenclature, by adding cannabis products without going into more detailed definitions, and also to the list of doctors allowed to prescribe cannabis by broadening it, however, all in a highly contradictory manner since the new draft-law, or any other law for that matter, failed to regulate how the citizens would be able to purchase it.
What kind of proposal do you expect from the Government? What are the suggestions of Margins, HOPS and Operation Liberation?
N.B: The requests of Margins and HOPS articulated in the joint requests of the so-called initiative Operation Liberation refer to urgent decriminalization of possession and cultivation for personal use; establishing social clubs; increasing the number of health conditions treated with cannabis products following medicine-based evidence; in addition to doctors from the public health system, allowing doctors from the private sector to prescribe cannabis products as well. As organizations that provide direct services to people who use drugs and work on harm reduction, we believe in the importance of establishing a Fund collected from the taxes cannabis manufacturers and traders pay, whereupon part of the finances would be allocated tor programs working with marginalized groups and treating various illnesses, including addiction. The Government announced its 2022 Program recently, integrating in it the requests for cannabis legalization and decriminalization of civil society organizations. It is a good indication that the Government intends to continue creating policies in this direction this year as well. However, de facto, it seems that things are moving slowly and fail to correspond to the citizens’ real needs, i.e. recreational users are still persecuted for simply using cannabis while patients continue to turn to the black market as the only source for quality cannabis products, exposing themselves to the risk of being prosecuted and punished.
Once the Government is formed, we expect intense work regarding the adoption of the planned activities, as well as establishing a comprehensive legal framework to provide consistent cannabis decriminalization, recreational use in legal circumstances, and simultaneously transforming institutions and society to accept and implement decriminalization and legalization.
H.Sh.: Unofficially, we have information that our requests for specifying the provisions from the Criminal Code on drug related crimes will be accepted by stipulating that personal use and possession for personal use would no longer be considered a criminal act. We also have unofficial information that the 6 requests we delivered to the Ministry of Health and the Government of RNM will be included in the new Law on Control of Opioid Drugs, introduced and then withdrawn from the parliament several times now. The last information we have is that the Law, approved by the Government before the end of 2021, and introduced in the Parliament, was yet again withdrawn for further development. However, despite the intensive communication with representatives from the Ministry of Health and the Government, the draft-Law was never even submitted for deliberation in the scope in which it was adopted at the government session.
According to the latest reports, the new Government’s 2.5 annual program (editor’s note: from 18.1.2022) incorporated all six requests initiated through Operation Liberation, integrally as proposed by us, including the requests for a fund established from taxes paid by cannabis and cannabis products producers and traders which, among other things, will be allocated for financial sustainability of programs intended for marginalized communities.
The six requests proposed by Operation Liberation, including HOPS’s requests as well, are:
– Urgent decriminalization of possession and personal use.
– Urgent decriminalization of cultivating the plant for personal use.
– Allowing the opening and functioning of social clubs.
– Broadening the list of health conditions for which cannabis products can be used pursuant evidence-based medicine, allowing doctors not only from the public health sector, but also from the private to prescribe cannabis products and allowing patients prescribed with cannabis product treatment to be able to cultivate the plant and use it in the form most appropriate for their condition (orally, through inhalation or suppositories).
– Establishing an independent body (commission) in the Cannabis Agency, comprised of representatives from the civil sector.
– The Law should prescribe establishing a fund from the taxes paid by legal entities producing and trading cannabis pursuant this law.
– Specifying the percentage from this fund to be allocated to programs for marginalized communities and for treatment of different diseases. HOPS was part of the initiative, along with civil society organizations, experts and individual supporters.
Other requests regarding the law, and referring to cannabis, i.e. industrial hemp are:
– The draft-law defines hemp for industrial purposes, a plant not listed among controlled substances, used for production of: fibers, paste, oils, animal and human food, further seed breeding and processing. According to EU’s Common Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Species, plants, i.e. varieties of hemp with less than 0.2 of the psychoactive substance THC, are not considered as plants from which opioid drugs are produced, therefore there is no reason to define and regulate industrial hemp with this Law, which regulates the sowing regime, cultivation, processing and production of plants used to produce opioid drugs.
We ask that industrial hemp is regulated with rulebooks similar to other industrial plants and remove it from this Law.
O. U.: We support the new Government’s decision to put forward legalization in their Program, however we believe that the Working Group should urgently find a unique legal solution to differentiate between medical and personal use. Operation Liberation stands by its requests until complete cannabis legalization and legal regulation of all potential related to the plant is accomplished. Of course, this includes personal use, issuing permits for home cultivation, as well as regulation of the amounts citizens will be allowed to carry on their person without being forced to suffer arrests or harassment. Just as our motto states, we deeply believe that the future lies in the seed and we appeal to all political parties, nongovernmental organizations, civil movements, as well as to all citizens to give their support for urgent solving of this small, but very significant, for our country, issue without further surveys, debates and polemics, because that which is gifted by God and nature and is scientifically proved to have medicinal benefits, should be legal and available to everyone from a medical, but also financial and social aspect.