Lithuania Takes First Step towards Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis - stock photo

Medical cannabis - stock photo (Source: Flickr)

The Lithuanian parliament has almost unanimously voted to consider a legislative amendment that could legalise medical cannabis, and potentially open the door for the medicinal use of other currently banned drugs.

On November 14, members of the Lithuanian parliament – the Seimas – voted to consider an amendment to the country’s drug policy; a draft resolution put forward by MP Mykolas Majauskas on November 9, which could allow patients to use cannabis for medical purposes. Majauskas, of the conservative Homeland Union party said that the proposal was necessary to “allow the use of medical cannabis for treating severely ill people”. He also emphasised the need for cannabis access for patients who use “morphine, opioid-based medicines, on a daily basis, when they can take cannabis medicines that are significantly less harmful [instead]”.

Majauskas proclaimed that it is “the first time that a decision on such a sensitive issue enjoys broad public and political support". Indeed, in the November 14 vote, 92 Seimas members supported the consideration, one abstained, and none opposed.

Cannabis is currently designated as a List I drug, the highest classification category of Lithuanian’s narcotics law (the Law on the Control of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances). This means that it is “prohibited for medical use because [it brings] about harmful consequences to human health”. Rather than reschedule cannabis to a lower List, the proposal seeks to remove the automatic ban on medical use for all List I drugs - including heroin, MDMA, and psilocybin. If approved, the amendment would thus allow for the medicinal use of any listed drug, as long it passes rigorous safety and efficacy tests.

Agnė Širinskienė, the chair of the Seimas health committee, and a member of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union party (LVŽS) – which Majauskas’ party is in opposition to – expressed support for the amendment after the November 14 vote. “I believe we will be able to ensure that Lithuanian patients achieve safe and effective scientific evidence-based medicinal products made from all the drugs [in List I]," Širinskienė said.

For the legislative change to take place, the Seimas must approve the amendment at a plenary debate on December 12. Additionally, the change will require approval from the health minister, Aurėlijus Veryga, also of the LVŽS. Earlier this year, Veryga endorsed the decriminalisation of cannabis possession and use, arguing in favour of treatment of drug use rather than punishment. When questioned on his position on medical cannabis, he deemed it to be “not a priority”, but later added, “if it were decided in the future to legalise [cannabis] for medicinal purposes, a very clear and strict mechanism should be put in place to prevent any abuse”.

Currently, cannabis possession is criminalised, and possession of a small quantity can theoretically lead to a two-year prison sentence. In reality, such harsh punishments for minor possession are not imposed, however short sentences, fines, and other punitive measures take place. Cultivation, even for personal use, can lead to imprisonment of up to five years. Recreational cannabis use continues to be prevalent in Lithuania, with around one in 20 young adults (aged 15 – 34) claiming to have used cannabis in the past year, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

If the proposed amendment is approved by the Seimas and the health minister, it would take effect by 2019. However, Mykolas Majauskas, confident in the success of his proposal, has proposed bringing that date forward. 

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