In February 2016, after six months of deliberation, Macedonia has pushed through legislation to legalise the use of medical cannabis. Since then Macedonia has set its sights on European expansion cultivating a cannabis industry of its own, open to investors, entrepreneurs and multinationals alike. But as Macedonia joins the ranks of Balkan states leading the cannabis revolution in south-eastern Europe, some patients are yet to see the benefits.
Examining post-Soviet Healthcare
According to a health system review published in the US National Library of Medicine the country has made important progress during its transition from a socialist system to a market based system, particularly in reforming the healthcare organisation.
As we have discussed in previous weeks, many Balkan states have introduced some form of medical cannabis use after the post-soviet reformations of healthcare uncovered severe inefficiencies in the state system.
This period of self reflection has led to a science based approach to healthcare, often sheltered from the political storm around cannabis debates. As a result Balkan states have been agile and efficient in implementing cannabis treatments, significantly more so than their stubborn western neighbours.
Moment of Clarity
In the Republic of Macedonia, cannabis has been used and cultivated since the days of ancient Greece. Despite this fact, cannabis laws were highly repressive for many years.
Then, in February 2016, Macedonia legalised medicinal cannabis with a law covering the production of cannabis by legal entities. Legalised by the former VMRO-DPMNE government in 2016, CBD and hemp oils were quickly put on sale in local pharmacies.
Filip Dostovski, an activist for medical cannabis legalisation and a member of the Green Alternative Association, said that public campaigning was integral to the legislation.
The line from state officials however, proclaimed that the laws were intended to support patients, who had previously been forced underground to find treatments.
The products are intended to treat those suffering from malignant diseases, epilepsy, HIV, multiple sclerosis but not all patients are granted equal access.
Medical cannabis was legalised via amendments to the existing Law on Control of Opioid Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, as opposed to the inception of a new law. In contrast to the regulation of other medicines, the amendments also stipulate that only publicly employed specialists in neurology, oncology and radiotherapy, and infectious diseases can prescribe cannabis treatments. This stipulation restricts the right to prescribe for specialists employed in public health institutions – a violation of the patient’s right to treatment and free choice of doctor.
Open for Business
Macedonia is one of the few countries in the world with the legal right to grow and export medical cannabis. The system is essentially similar to the Canadian model, an open system which allows legal private companies to grow and export cannabis products.
More restrictive regimes are in place in western Europe for instance, as the government in Italy and the Netherlands cast watchful eyes over state run production systems. The free market approach is making Macedonia hot property and stock is selling quick.
American, Bulgarian and Slovenian companies have already tested the waters, producing high grade CBD products for export. In addition, many of the Canadian giants looked to feed Macedonia’s growing medical market only to be swatted off by the state back in 2016.
Macedonia has little to no interest in imports as they believe they have the facilities and legal framework to become a heavyweight in the European cannabis scene.
The fortune is in the follow-up for Macedonia. While they have been quick off the mark to join the trailblazers in the Balkans, only time will tell if Macedonia is to become the free market powerhouse of the European cannabis industry.