The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Poland
Poland is not a safe haven for cannabis enthusiasts. It’s currently illegal to possess or use cannabis for recreational purposes in Poland, but the county has adopted a ‘tolerance’ policy regarding cannabis in 2011.
What is this tolerance policy, and how does it affect tourists that want to enjoy cannabis while in Poland? Can you enjoy a spliff in Poland without getting in trouble with the authorities? Read on to find out.
Drug laws in Poland
According to Polish law , any kind of drug possession, including possessing a small amount of drugs for personal use, can be penalised with up to three years of imprisonment. Minor offenders may be fined or ordered to serve a sentence of up to one year of deprivation of liberty.
However, in 2011, the Polish government adopted an amendment that would give prosecutors the option of not charging offenders who are caught with small amounts of drugs. The amendment does not decriminalise marijuana or any other drug, but it gives first-time offenders the possibility to retain their freedom in case they get charged with drug possession.
Courts can also compel drug offenders to undergo treatment, suspending their prison sentences while they undergo treatment.
Drug trafficking is penalised with up to 12 years of imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the offence. In the case of a minor offence, the culprit may be fined and subjected to a limitation of liberty or an imprisonment sentence of up to one year. If the offender is addicted to cannabis and the amount of cannabis trafficked is not large, he or she may be offered treatment instead of a sentence of up to five years of imprisonment.
However, if the amount of trafficked drugs is substantial, the perpetrator may be condemned to a prison sentence of up to 12 years.
Cannabis in Poland
Marijuana is by far the most popular psychoactive drug in Poland. In 2018, 15.4 percent of the male population aged 15 to 34 admitted to using cannabis at least once in the previous year. About 31 percent of those entering drug treatment facilities in Poland, either voluntarily or ordained by courts, are cannabis users.
Poland is considered a transit country for the cannabis drug trade. The cannabis in Poland is usually produced in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany or Czechia and passes through the country on its way to Eastern Europe and Russia.
But Polish organised crime groups also grow cannabis in large-scale cultivation sites. In 2017, Polish law enforcement agencies dismantled more than 1,200 cannabis plantations, confiscating more than 1,000 kg of herbal cannabis and 1,200 kg of cannabis resin produced there.
Cannabis growing is illegal in Poland, regardless of the scale of production. Growers can receive sentences that can vary from six months to eight years of imprisonment, depending on the number of plants they grow.
But, despite the tough laws, cannabis plantations continue to pop up across Poland. In 2018, Polish law enforcement agencies confiscated over 2,500 marijuana plants, with an estimated black-market worth of 9 million PLN (about €2.1 million) in just two raids .
Medical cannabis in Poland
Poland legalised cannabis for medical purposes back in 2017, when the parliament showed its overwhelming support for a medical cannabis bill. The law was passed after a period of heated public debate.
In 2015, a Warsaw doctor was forced to suspend his activity after he was caught administering cannabis products to epileptic patients without having the authorisation to do so. Even though the test he was running was a success and managed to reduce the frequency of the epileptic seizures his patients suffered by up to 90 percent, the authorities decided to pull the plug because the doctor did not file the right papers to get the authorisation.
Medical cannabis starred in another heated public debate a few months after, when a man who campaigned for the legalisation of medical cannabis treatments for terminally ill patients died of a brain tumour.
A poll showed that the Polish general public supported the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes, with 68 percent of the respondents saying that they would back a legalisation policy.
The legalisation act passed in 2017 enabled Polish pharmacies to import and process cannabis, as long as they reported their activity to the county’s Office for Registration of Medical Products. Polish lawmakers estimated that about 300,000 patients would qualify for medical cannabis treatments.
Doctors could prescribe cannabis treatments for a variety of ailments, including epilepsy, chronic pain, nausea caused by chemotherapy and multiple sclerosis. But one thing that makes the Polish medical cannabis legal framework stand out is that medical practitioners are allowed to prescribe cannabis products for any condition, as long as they present clinical research proving that the treatment can be beneficial.
But, as Strain Insider reported in February, Poland has been facing supply problems ever since it passed its medical cannabis laws. Access to cannabis is extremely limited. Only a handful of Polish medical professionals prescribe cannabis medication, and the average cannabis treatment costs about €500 per month.
Non-governmental organisations and politicians are currently trying to change and improve the existing laws by making domestic cultivation possible. Domestic cultivation would lower the production prices of cannabis medication, making it more accessible for patients.
But they are facing fierce opposition from conservatives who see the legalisation of domestic cannabis cultivation as a gateway toward the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
Hemp and CBD in Poland
Until about 70 years ago, Poland was a large grower of hemp. More than 50,000 hectares of hemp were cultivated in the country before the crop was banned in the 1950s. That being said, even though only 100 hectares of hemp were grown across the country in 2014, the trend is changing, and more farmers started growing again.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in Poland, but producers are not allowed to advertise it as food. The substance can be sold as a nutritional supplement, and all the products have to contain up to 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be considered legal.
The future of cannabis in Poland
Hemp production is slowly picking up in Poland, and that, together with the medical cannabis legal framework, might help change the cultural taboo around the plant.
But Poland is nowhere near cannabis legalisation at this point, and the immediate future doesn’t seem to hold any surprises in this regard. At the moment, some Polish entities are trying to improve the country’s medical cannabis system, and even those attempts are facing serious opposition from conservatives.
As things stand, the legalisation of recreational cannabis in Poland is nothing but a pipe dream.Although Poland adopted a 'tolerance' policy regarding marijuana in 2011, it is not a safe haven for cannabis enthusiasts. But is it actually illegal?
Medical Cannabis Goes on Sale In Poland
Fourteen months since medicinal cannabis was legalized in Poland, and three months since the Polish government approved the first medicinal cannabis supplier for the country’s pharmacies, medical marijuana has finally hit the shelves in Polish pharmacies. Before now, patients in need of medical cannabis therapy had to go through the additional, and often costly, complications of importing their medicine from abroad.
Cannabis law in Poland
Like many other countries — including the United States, Great Britain, China, and Germany — Poland was a signatory to the 1925 International Opium Convention. In addition to agreeing to tight restrictions on the import and export of opium and coca, as was the primary focus, the convention also included language that criminalized the use and cultivation of cannabis in all of the countries that signed on.
Since then, public opinion in Poland swung dramatically, with one 2015 poll recording over 78% public support for the legalization of medical cannabis in the country, with a similar proportion endorsing a statement calling the denial of access to cannabis medicine “cruel” on those who need it.
The use of non-psychoactive cannabinoid oils, such as cannabidiol (CBD) oil derived from hemp was previously legal in Poland for consumption; but the medicinal cannabis legalization bill more specifically legalized the use of cannabis with more than trace amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for medicinal purposes. The bill passed through Poland’s lower house of parliament with an astounding majority of 440 votes in favor to two against and one abstention.
North America’s European cannabis expansion
The legalization of medicinal cannabis in Poland was seen by many big players in the cannabis industry as a prime opportunity to establish a foothold in the European cannabis market, especially given the lack of domestic cannabis production operations in Poland and the continued ban on home cultivation.
In October 2018 the Canadian medicinal marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis Inc. became the first cannabis company to be given approval by the Polish Ministry of Health for the importing of medicinal cannabis into the country. At the time of the announcement, Aurora Cannabis Inc. had plans to supply a pain treatment center and a hospital in the Polish capital of Warsaw.
In addition to Aurora Cannabis Inc. another Canadian cannabis company, Canopy Growth Corporation, has also seized this opportunity for expansion in the European marketplace. Canopy Growth’s Toruń-based team, Spectrum Cannabis Polska, has also started importing medical cannabis flower to Poland after receiving regulatory approval.
The realities of medical marijuana in Poland
Now that medical cannabis is legal, and that various supply arrangements have been made, doctors in Poland are free to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients wherever it is deemed suitable.
“The law in Poland does not contain a closed list of medical conditions in which cannabis can be prescribed,” explains Samia al-Hameri, a pharmacist from Spectrum Cannabis, talking to Emerging Europe. “We expect that about 60 percent of products will go to patients with chronic pain, for example associated with cancer or migraines, and the rest to people with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, amongst others.”
Given the lack of a fixed list determining what medical conditions constitute eligibility for medicinal cannabis, there are some concerns surrounding what the medical cannabis system in Poland will look like as it moves forward. With no standardized set of conditions, the decision to prescribe medical cannabis treatment will be left up to individual doctors. Generally, the guidance given to doctors is that medical cannabis should be used as an alternative when other methods of treatment are ineffective for a certain patient, and where their medical condition is one of those thought to respond to cannabis medicine.
“Expectations are enormous, but this therapy is only for a few patients,” says Dr. Jerzy Jarosz, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist at St Krzysztof Hospice in Warsaw, also to Emerging Europe. “Only 15 percent of my patients qualify for the use of this treatment, and only when other methods of treatment are ineffective.”
While medicinal cannabis would be relatively accessible (it could be prescribed by any doctor, as opposed to specialists only), the costs involved with medicinal cannabis treatment may be a deterrent to some eligible patients. Based on the need to import cannabis rather than produce it domestically, pharmacists estimate that the cannabis product needed is expected to cost around 50-60 zł ($13-16 USD) per gram, correlating to around 2000 zł ($550 USD) for a month’s worth of cannabis treatment.
One additional concern is the absence of any sort of documentation which medical marijuana patients can hold, that would prove that any cannabis in their possession is for strictly medicinal purposes if they are stopped by a member of the police and found in possession.
“Perhaps the receipt from the pharmacy will be enough proof,” adds Dr. Jarosz.
Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds an MChem in materials chemistry from the University of St Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie Scholarship and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.
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