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Ukraine Medical Marijuana Bill That Was Approved By Lawmakers Is Delayed On Path To Zelensky’s Desk Amid Opposition Tactics



Plans to legalize medical marijuana in Ukraine have been delayed following actions by the opposition party Batkivshchyna to block the signing of a bill approved by the country’s unicameral legislature earlier this month.

The leader of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, Yulia Tymoshenko, who has consistently opposed the measure, said recently that her party intends to appeal to the Constitutional Court to cancel the legislative vote because “the amendments to the bill were considered in a half-empty chamber,” according to a report in the New Voice of Ukraine.

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of the country, claimed that the proposal would legalize “drug trafficking and the drug mafia in the country,” though the local news outlet said she failed to provide any evidence for those claims.

“I urge you not to vote for this law, because this is a large criminal layer of problems that will be in Ukraine,” she said during a speech on the bill, according to a separate Batkivshchyna party press release. “This is a big problem for teenage children and for people who are in a difficult psychological state today due to the war. This law is a direct danger.”

It’s expected the measure will remain blocked at least until mid-January, at which point Ukraine’s parliament could unblock the bill and send it to President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has indicated his support for the reform.

Olha Stefanishyna, a member of parliament and Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, reassured medical marijuana supporters on social media that the setback is only temporary.

“Friends, don’t panic,” she wrote. “This is a standard and expected step.”

Supporters will overcome Tymoshenko’s block in January and “then we will wait for the signature of the president,” Stefanishyna said. “There is no way back.”

According to a report from the Russian news agency Tass, Tymoshenko has claimed that there is no need for additional medical marijuana reform in Ukraine because cannabis use has long been approved for treatment of cancer and epilepsy. “This is not about medical treatment,” she said, “because trillion-dollar narcotic drug businesses and drug cartels will bribe their way into the country and a major drug trafficking ring will be established throughout Ukraine.”

The effort to scuttle Ukraine’s legalization plan comes after the unicameral legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, passed the legislation last week with 248 votes—overcoming opponents who attempted to block the proposal with a deluge of hundreds of what critics called “spam” amendments last month.

To secure the final vote, lawmakers circulated a petition for a special procedure that required 150 members to sign on. They ultimately collected 164 signatures, MP Stefanishyna said earlier this month, clearing the path for passage.

While the text of the legislation as introduced only explicitly lists cancer and war-borne PTSD as conditions for which medical cannabis could be dispensed to patients, the chair of the health committee said in July that lawmakers hear daily from patients with other illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.

The bill moves marijuana from strictly prohibited under List I to available for medical use with a prescription under List II of the country’s drug code.

The Agrarian Policy Ministry will hold regulatory responsibilities over cannabis cultivation and processing operations. The National Police and State Agency on Medicines will also hold oversight and enforcement authorities related to the distribution of the medicine.

In order to ensure patient access, the measure additionally allows raw cannabis materials to be imported from other countries.

Zelensky, for his part, voiced support for medical marijuana legalization in June, stating in an address to the parliament that “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 legalize cannabis-based medicines for all those who need them, with appropriate scientific research and controlled Ukrainian production,” he said.

The law will become effective six months after Zelensky signs the legislation.

During his presidential campaign, Zelensky also voiced support for medical cannabis legalization, saying in 2019 that he feels it would be “normal” to allow people to access cannabis “droplets,” which is possibly a reference to marijuana tinctures.

The policy change would put Ukraine is stark contrast to its long-time aggressor Russia, which has taken a particularly strong stance against reforming cannabis policy at the international level through the United Nations. The country has condemned Canada for legalizing marijuana nationwide.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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