BlogBreaking barriers: Ukraine medical cannabis bill draft wins majority vote

Breaking barriers: Ukraine medical cannabis bill draft wins majority vote

9 min read

Editorial Team

Ukraine Medical Cannabis Bill Draft Wins Majority Vote
Medical cannabis is very likely coming to Ukraine. The Ukrainian Parliament has voted to pass the first reading of the medical cannabis bill with a majority. Cannabis policy reform advocates welcomed the move worldwide and seems like an obvious step in the right direction to many following the global change on medical cannabis policy.

Contents

The draft bill titled "The Draft Law on the Regulation of the Circulation of Cannabis Plants for Medical, Industrial Purposes, Scientific and Scientific-Technical Activities to Create Conditions for Expanding Patients' Access to the Necessary Treatment of Oncological Diseases and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders Acquired as a Result of War" was read in the 13th of June to The Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament).

Of the 450 Ukrainian People's Deputies (Members of Parliament), the draft received support from 268. The bill will continue moving through the parliamentary process for legislating new laws. To allow Ukrainians legal access to medical cannabis, politicians must vote on the bill in a second reading yet to be scheduled. 

Ukrainian law gives citizens the right to choose the best healthcare option for them. The Fundamentals of the Legislation of Ukraine on Health Care Act 1993 wording states that "...qualified medical and rehabilitation assistance, including the free choice of a doctor and a rehabilitation specialist, the choice of treatment and rehabilitation methods following the recommendations of a doctor and a rehabilitation specialist, the choice of a health care institution, as well as access to the necessary medicines means". The new bill wording asks for changes to include medical cannabis.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has become a household name due to the war with Russia, has been a vocal advocate for the change in policy to medical cannabis as far back as 2019 when he told RBC Ukraine news agency, "Medical marijuana – I think that this is normal [to legalise it] – it's sold in droplets. By the way, I consulted Yevhen Olehovych Komarovsky [a leading Ukrainian paediatrician] on this matter. Yes, I support the legalisation of such droplets".

Politics in Ukraine

Ukraine declared independence from the USSR on the 24th of August 1991. It began introducing its own laws implemented by the will of the people. Ukraine was on the verge of joining the EU in 2013. Still, the voters' will was overturned by former President Viktor Yanukovych, who refused to sign the EU Treaty, opting for stronger relations with Russia. This betrayal led to deadly riots known as the Revolution of Dignity. Yanukovych was ousted due to his disregard for democracy.  

Russia annexed Crimea and backed a war which saw rebels take Donbas, declaring it an independent state in 2014. Putin has since claimed neo-Nazis run Ukraine, but Zelenskyyy is Jewish, making such claims baseless. Russia escalated the war on the 24th of February 2022 when Russia launched air strikes and a ground invasion at the northern front from Belarus towards Kyiv. The invasion did not stop there as the Russians attacked from a north-eastern front towards Kharkiv, a southern front from Crimea, and a south-eastern front from the Donbas. 8.4 million people were evacuated in the largest European evacuation since World War II. 

Medical Cannabis in Ukraine 

During the COVID pandemic in 2020, Zelenskyyy polled voters on election day on their desire to legalise medical cannabis or keep the law the way it was. On the 26th of October, the Servant of the People Party released the results that 65% of the voters favoured allowing severely ill patients to be prescribed medical cannabis. 

Ukraine legalised the prescribing of licenced cannabis-based medicinal products Dronabinol, Sativex and Epidyolex by registered doctors in 2021 as a first step to allowing medical access to patients. Some welcomed this move but campaigners criticised it saying the medications were too expensive to access. 

The war with Russia has been an apparent influence over the growing sentiment that there is a real need for the benefits of medical cannabis in Ukraine. With the war already lasting 18 months, citizens have been exposed to mentally scarring events, witnessing the death of friends and family and the destruction of their homes. Whilst many women and children evacuated the country, male citizens were forced to stay and fight to defend Ukraine when marshall law was imposed on the day the war broke out and general mobilisation was enacted.

In 2022 the Ukrainian government announced their support for the legislation with a statement saying, "The cabinet supports the bill 'on the regulation of circulation of cannabis genus plants for medical, industrial purposes and scientific purposes and creation of conditions for the expansion of patients' access to necessary treatment of oncologic conditions and combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder," Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko wrote in a Facebook post last year.

In June this year, President Zelenskyyy made his intentions clear to Parliament, telling them they needed to work faster on the pending law, which has been stalled for two years. Zelenskyyy said, "all the world's best practices, all the most effective policies, all the solutions, no matter how difficult or unusual they may seem to us, must be applied in Ukraine so that Ukrainians, all our citizens, do not have to endure the pain, stress and trauma of war,"

"In particular, we must finally fairly legalise cannabis-based medicines for all those who need them, with appropriate scientific research and controlled Ukrainian production," as reported by Ukrainska Pravda.

Viktor Lyashko, Minister of Healthcare, said in his Facebook post the bill would permit "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."

"We understand the negative consequences of war on the state of mental health. We understand the number of people requiring medical treatment due to this exposure. We understand that there is no time to wait."

"Therefore, we have already prepared the legal basis for ensuring the full production cycle of cannabis-based drugs in Ukraine from cultivation and processing to full-fledged production."

The Healthcare Minister was prudent about the medical cannabis policy being beneficial and sustainable for Ukraine, emphasising the need for the country to control their medical cannabis production. 

He continued in his Facebook post, "However, we still propose to establish strict control over cultivation, production and sale of drugs, understanding the sensitivity of this issue in society and are ready to gradually develop this industry, showing the results of treatment and assistance to Ukrainian patients. Do not import, but make our own, Ukrainian!"

Patient Powered

Patients of Ukraine is an organisation campaigning for wider and fairer access to all medicines and medical treatment for Ukranians. They have helped bring greater attention to the need for cannabis medicines in Ukraine over the past six years, uniting patients, campaigners and activists in the struggle to persuade their officials to vote for reform. 

Iryna Rachynska is a team member at Patients of Ukraine; in an interview, she told me, "We have organised dozens of patient die-in actions, press conferences, appeals from patients to the Parliament, letters, interviews in mass media, but it was too hard to make our parliamentarians vote for it. Two attempts failed."

The European Coalition for Fair and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) were involved in the process in cooperation with the International Alliance for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM), helping to gather experts and industry professionals to submit video testimonials that supported the voices of Ukrainian citizens in the process to get a first reading of the bill. 

"This time, we had support from the public sector, patients, military, doctors and even celebrities were participating in activities in support of the law. We also have strong support from scientists and activists from European countries; four appeals from such organisations were sent to the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and heads of factions. Iryna added. 

Proud of Ukraine's progress, Iryna explained what this meant for the war-torn nation, "As a result, the bill has passed the 'most difficult first stage. We have opened up the opportunity to relieve pain and alleviate the psychological trauma of war for millions of wounded and terminally ill people."

The campaigner finished by saying, "So this is one more victory of the responsible civil society of Ukraine for patients, campaigners and activists. This means that civil society has an influence on the Parliament and the president, and we have the ability to build a European path of development and respect for human rights."

Political Progress

On the 13th of July, 2023, the bill's first draft passed. Ukraine will hold a second vote before deciding if it can finally be signed off for final approval by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

People's deputy, Iryna Herashchenko of the European Solidarity Party, confirmed the successful vote to her social media followers. The EU-positive politician praised but also criticised the draft in a statement on Telegram, saying, "The long-awaited bill on medical cannabis has passed the first reading."

"Unfortunately, this draft law is not so much about medicine as about the industrial cultivation of cannabis and corruption schemes by the government regarding permits and development of huge financial flows." Herashchenko continued.

The European Solidarity representative said the party would submit amendments before the second reading "so that the emphasis is on medicine and pain relief, and not on industrial cultivation". 

What's next for Ukraine?

The People's Deputies will have the chance to submit amendments for the second draft, which campaigners and activists eagerly await. 

Ukraine politicians are keen for the country to establish its cultivation facilities, but this may take time due to the ongoing threat of attacks. Many cancer patients are without conventional treatments after Russian bombing campaigns targeted hospitals. This has led to an increased urgency to find ways to provide access to patients in Ukraine suffering from a lack of treatment options and suffering the harrowing and traumatic consequences of war.

Releaf is committed to helping you access the benefits of a medical cannabis service. Our monthly packages are tailored to your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Authors

Editorial Team

Article written by the Releaf Editorial Team, a group of seasoned experts in cannabis healthcare, dedicated to enhancing awareness and accessibility in the field through their wealth of knowledge and experience.

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