Romania’s history has been full of rebounds, ebbs and flows of distress and productivity, often playing catch up to rejoin the socio-economic norms of mainstream Europe.
Once a powerful hemp producer, Romania has turned its back on the cannabis plant since the fall of communism in 1989. In the post-soviet era however, Romania has welcomed foreign investment in agriculture and one US company has plans to cultivate medical cannabis.
Healthcare progress most often occurs during politically stable periods. Unfortunately for Romanians, the governing bodies have gone through turbulent times in recent years after officials were accused of corruption and negligence in 2015.
Two years later, Reuters were reporting that Romania had bled out tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists to France, Germany and the UK. Professionals were often lured abroad by what the country lacks such as higher pay, modern infrastructure and functional healthcare systems.
Medical cannabis is only available via derivatives in Romania, and virtually no pharmacies are prescribing such products to patients in need.
The new Health Minister, Vlad Voiculescu wants to amend the deficiencies, promising to increase pay schemes for remaining medical professionals and help decrease the shortage of care in rural areas.
Many of his critics thought that Voiculescu would be out of a job by the end of 2016, but nearly two years later he is still the commander-in-chief.
We spoke to Cannabis Club Romania, who told us that any meaningful legalisation would be unlikely in the near future.
Romania’s healthcare system is in dire straits and change from the inside will take time. The cannabis community are hopeful that the health ministry will follow through on innovating the drugs sector. Primary care and cancer patients are in need of a change. An introduction of medical cannabis treatments could only be welcome news to the health sector in Romania, however, it must be implemented with caution and care to avoid the pitfalls of bygone eras.
Confusion around Medical Use
Some of the earliest evidence of the psychoactive use of cannabis has been found in Romania, including the archaeological sites of Frumușica and Gurbănești. The archaeological evidence attests it from 7000 – 8000 B.C. Despite this elongated association, cannabis is still heavily regulated in Romania.
Though medicinal and recreational use of the flower itself remain prohibited, pharmaceutical derivatives of the plant can be used to treat certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy, cancer and multiple sclerosis under provisions in two of the Narcotic Drug Regulations.
The distinction between medical cannabis flowers and its derivatives had caused widespread confusion in Romania with some cannabis groups claiming that the softening or drug laws was merely a myth. The confusion is compounded by the fact that virtually no company has requested a licence to sell such drugs.
However, manufacturers are able to apply to the National Agency for Medicines to licence drugs that contain cannabis by-products like resins or plant fragments. Additionally, foreign groups are permitted to invest in the cultivation of medical cannabis, which one US firm has just done.
On foreign soil
PHI Group, a US investment fund that specialises in natural resources and agriculture, plans to cultivate medical cannabis and other medicinal herbs in Romania’s Transylvania region, according to Romania-Insider. The group also plans to open a wellness centre for those looking for natural and holistic treatments.
In early 2018, PHI Group announced that it planned to build greenhouses in Transylvania for cultivating medicinal herbs. Besides medical cannabis, the group also plans to produce bitter cucumber and saffron.
The Minister of Agriculture of Romania has welcomed overseas investment with a reported 40% of agricultural land owned by foreign entities.
In some Romanian regions, the old traditional ways of growing and processing hemp within the household - like traditional labour-intensive water retting techniques - have remained unchanged up until today.
This long history of hemp allowed Romania to become the biggest hemp provider in Europe, prior to 1989. Most of this hemp was used for the production of high quality textiles for export.
The authorised farmers of cannabis plants, in the hemp industry, must sow their fields with the seed varieties registered by the Official Catalogue of Varieties and Hybrid Cultivated Plants of Romania or in the catalogues of the European communities.
Only a select few varieties can be grown, those that are certified as having a THC level under 0.2%. The strains of industrial hemp Jubileu, Dacia, Diana, Zenit and Denise are Romanian varieties developed by the Secuieni Institute, and can be grown successfully in Romania.
The climate provides the perfect conditions to produce some of the best hemp on the market and foreign companies have taken notice.
HempFlax, the leading Dutch hemp processing company invested €5 million in the Romanian hemp industry in 2015. Recent years have seen an increase in the market for cultivation and processing of hemp, with crops farmed in Romania being sought for export and used in various industries.
Open for Business
There are clear issues and complications when it comes to domestic production and medicinal treatments for Romanian patients.
On the upside, Romania is eager to open the door for foreign direct investment. The Minister for Agriculture has spoken publicly about his delight surrounding American agricultural ventures within the nations borders. As PHI bring medical cannabis production to Romania, we may see industry lean on legislators.
Despite an appealing climate, affordable land and a history of hemp production, few companies have ventured into the Romanian market and virtually no companies have applied for medicinal licences. The question remains, how long will Romania remain a desert in the European cannabis space?