In February 2016, Macedonia joined the small group of progressive countries to acknowledge a more liberal treatment of the cannabis plant (better known as marihuana) and cannabis products. The amendments to the Law on Control of Opioid Drugs and Psychotropic Substances allowed cultivation, processing and sale of cannabis products for treatment of several types of diagnoses, i.e. helping people with cancer, epilepsy and other disease.
The Law is a good starting point for further liberalization of cannabis, i.e. the manner of production, processing and sale, which at present is far from ideal. The Law prescribes two types of economic operators, which are: those who produce and who process the plant. However, being one or the other involves huge capital. In other words, the cannabis market cannot be accessed by anyone, i.e. it is permitted only to big players, which in reality is huge discrimination against the common Macedonian citizen.
Due to this discrimination, several groups of citizens cannot participate in the more active exploitation of the benefits this plant has to offer. These chiefly are farmers/agricultural, microeconomic operators/companies and people with diseases which are not allowed or prescribed to be treated with cannabis oil (or other cannabis products). However, a correctly dimensioned policy could help surpass such obstacles, allowing all actors in Macedonian society to enjoy its benefits.
What would be a correct policy regarding cannabis use in Macedonia?
It shouldn’t be hard to reach the right answer to such a question. The most liberal cannabis policy is considered the one providing benefits to all segments of society. Cannabis legalization can bring about three types of benefits/advantagesfor society, and these are: financial, health and social. The broader the range of people benefiting, the more successful the society.
The financial advantage is perceived in the fact that the national economy would gain one more sector (a black market until recently), which, on the other hand, would provide: employment, new economic activity and additional taxes for the state till. A significant moment is the diversification of the economic activities, starting with agriculture (rural development), processing (oil production, confectionary, construction material, textile, pellets and other numerous products) and finally the sale (the green mass, oil, confectionary, construction materials, textile products etc.). The financial benefits would reach a tertiary level, meaning the service industry, as well as tourism.
The numbers such a potential carries are significant. In order to quantify the market we could apply the methodology of the Public Health Institute “Dr. Milan Jovanovic Batut” in Serbia. In a 2016 research, the institute arrived to the conclusion that around 7.7% of the population aged 18 to 64 in Serbia used cannabis.
If we consider the same percentage applicable to Macedonia, we can assume the number of potential users to be from 120,000 to 140,000 users. We could arriveto a rougher, more pessimistic market assessment if we take 100,000 users spending around 6,000 MKD annually for purchasing cannabis and related products, amounting to approximately 600,000,000 MKD (or roughly 10,000,000 Euros).
The legalization process could increase the price of cannabis currently on the black market, but, in any case, the state tax would amount to millions of Euros. When considering the touristic benefits as well, the tax revenue levied by the state could amount to tens of millions of Euros. The revenue collected from the taxes could be invested in education, health care, infrastructure, support to the pension and health insurance fund.
The health benefits are quite important from the aspect of a humanistic approach to treatment of people with different diagnoses. Numerous analyses support the benefits for people who treat health issues with cannabis, most often cannabis oil, which in some cases is even lifesaving. As was mentioned earlier, the main idea behind the adoption of this law was motivated by humane reasons: to help people with certain health issues. Amendments to the legislation in this part would allow treatment of as many diagnoses as possible, i.e. types of illness.
The third, and final, but not least important aspect is the social benefits for cannabis users. The legalization process itself (necessarily involving decriminalization) would be a significant step in the process of de-stigmatizing cannabis users/consumers. It is precisely due to this crucial social moment that, today, the UN and the WHO are devoted to complete decriminalization of all psychotropic substances towards de-stigmatizing people who use psychotropic substances and re-socializing them in society. Freedom of choice and the right to humane and dignified treatment of all people on the planet are fundamental human rights. This would imply a more humane treatment of all those who due to different risk factors and traumas were forced to abuse certain substances in the Macedonian society. Instead of condemnation, stigma and punishment, we could choose to help these people and reintegrate them in the society to whose development they could contribute.
Finally, I would like topoint that the implementation process of liberal cannabis policies has already began globally. The legal regulation of cannabis use for medical and scientific purposes places Macedonia in a relatively good position. We now have to decide which model would help us achieve a better position on the global market and allow us to capitalize from it. Countries like Israel, Uruguay, Spain, the Czech Republic, Canada, the South African Republic and some federal states in the USA, like Colorado, California, Alaska, Maine, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and others are a great example of the new trends on the market which should be successfully applied in order for Macedonia and its citizens to have a better life, from every aspect. A participative approach and involvement of all actors in society (state administration, the civil society and the business sector) would easily lead to a solution which could successfully position us on the global map of states with advanced and liberal policies.
The author has been a consultant in good governance, local economic development and equal regional development for many years. He lives in Prilep and works actively throughout Macedonia and the West Balkan countries. From 2016 he has been an active supporter of several civil initiatives for introducing more liberal cannabis policies.