Prior to the outbreak of the war, Ukraine’s government was pursuing cannabis legalization. In the fall of 2020, the Zelensky administration issued a study finding that two million Ukrainian cancer patients could benefit from medical cannabis since it provides a safe alternative to addictive painkillers.
In July 2021, the Ukrainian parliament voted on bill 5596 which would legalize cannabis for medical use. However, the bill failed to reach enough votes to be passed. Only 184 members voted in favor, with 33 voting against and 61 abstaining. As a result, the bill was sent back to be revised.
The Zelensky administration followed up in October 2021, holding a nation-wide poll in which over sixty percent of respondents supported cannabis legalization.
In the following December, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the governing body of the UN Office on Drugs & Crime, struck cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the international treaty which regulates drug control policy.
In January, the international rescheduling of cannabis in conjunction with popular support, led the Zelensky’s Cabinet of Ministers to introduce a bill to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, with the intent of legalizing cannabis for medical use. The bill intends to legalize herbaceous cannabis flower for use, but place the importation and distribution of cannabis under the jurisdiction of the national police. However, with the outbreak of the invasion, legalization efforts were put on the backburner.
This would begin to change on April 7th when Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers issued a decree legalizing certain cannabis products for medical use. This includes THC analogues such as dronabinol, which treats weight loss in AIDS patients and chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea; nabilone, which also treats nausea caused by chemotherapy; and nabiximols, a THC-CBD extract used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
This decree builds on years of progressive activism within Ukraine. Since 2005, Freedom March, a progressive drug policy advocacy group, has led demonstrations throughout Ukraine in support of legalization and to defend the rights of medical cannabis patients. Since the outbreak of the invasion, a majority of Freedom March members have engaged in resistance to the Russia invasion. Some have taken up arms to fight on the front lines, while others have provided humanitarian aid in cities under attack by Russian forces.
As part of its humanitarian mission, Freedom March launched Cannabis Stands with Ukraine, a fundraising campaign to secure donations from the global cannabis community. Freedom March has outlined two key causes to support with the money they fundraise: first, to provide shelter, food, and physical and mental recovery to children who were injured or lost their parents in the war; second, Ukraine’s medical cannabis patients who’ve experienced medication shortages due to the conflict.
“Together with our friends from the local community, we are working to find a way of providing CBD-based medication to those who need it urgently: epileptic patients and wounded soldiers above all,” says Nazarii Sovsun, a member of Freedom March. “Hopefully, this war makes it obvious to our politicians that people should have access to medical cannabis, so we are active on the legal front, as well.”
The efforts of Freedom March have not gone unnoticed by the Ukrainian government. On June 7th, Viktor Liashko, the Ukrainian Minister of Healthcare, wrote on Facebook that the Cabinet of Ministers had approved a bill to regulate “the circulation of cannabis plants for medical, industrial purposes, scientific and scientific-technical activities to create the conditions for expanding the access of patients to the necessary treatment of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from war.”
Liashko further adds that this bill will ensure a “full cycle of cannabis-based drug production in Ukraine,” leading to the development of a domestic cannabis industry in Ukraine, rather than depending on imports.
This would be a major change within the global market. In the status quo, Ukraine’s role in the cannabis market is very limited. Ukraine does not supply any cannabis for the medical market, but rather exports hemp seeds for cultivation across Europe. If this bill were to pass, Ukraine would have “a leading position among hemp suppliers” and “would lead to the revival and development of Ukraine’s processing industry.”
Part 1, ‘The History of Cannabis in Ukraine‘
Part 3, ‘Russian Invasion of Ukraine‘