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European Commission must address ‘inequality’ in access to medicinal cannabis across EU

Six years after the legalisation of medical cannabis in Greece, the majority of patients are still relying on the illegal market.

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The European Commission has been urged to introduce a legislative framework for medicinal cannabis.

Greek MEP, Stelios Kouloglou, has appealed to the European Commission (EC) to address the lack of legislative framework for medicinal cannabis that has left patients relying on the illegal market. 

Despite being one of the first European countries to legalise medicinal cannabis in 2017, the current regulations mean that six years later patients in Greece are still no closer to being able to access legal products. 

In 2018, a more extensive law was brought in, permitting the cultivation of cannabis-based products with a THC content of over 0.3%, but domestic production has been slow.

Then, in November 2021, the Greek government introduced a ban on the importation of cannabis products, in what local sources say is a ‘violation of fundamental EU principles’ under Article 28 of the EU Treaty, the free movement of goods between member states. 

As a result, thousands of patients are still relying on cannabis accessed through the illegal market or growing their own to treat serious medical conditions.

READ MORE: Greece – six years on is legal access to medicinal cannabis finally in sight?

In his question to the EC on Tuesday 5 December, Kouloglou appealed to officials to address this and the need for a European legislative framework for medicinal cannabis that would ‘effectively limit the black market, regulate both quality and accurate labelling and ensure legal, safe access to medicinal products for medical use’.

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is universally accepted,” he said.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) proposes prescribing it for a wide range of conditions and the European Parliament has called on European and national authorities to address the issue legislatively, fund research and innovation and provide information to health professionals.

“Medicinal cannabis has been legalised in Greece since 2017, for the cultivation and production of products with a THC content of over 0.3%, but patients currently lack access to the formulations and the few domestic investment sources have been slow in producing.”

Kouloglou added: “Furthermore, in November 2021, the Greek government banned the import of medicinal cannabis products in violation of Article 28 TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union), creating oligopolistic conditions in the country. As a result, patients have been forced to resort to the illegal market for treating numerous health conditions.” 

In January, Tikun Olam Europe, a subsidiary of Israel-based cannabis company Tikun Olam, announced that operations had begun at Greece’s first medicinal cannabis production plant.

The first flower-based products were expected to be available by the end of 2023, but this is now expected to be delayed until later in 2024.

Patients and families remain ‘criminals’

Founder of Greek patient advocacy group MAMAKA, Jacqueline Poitras, who was heavily involved in the campaign to legalise medical cannabis said it was time for the EU to address the ‘inequality’ in access.

“It is time the European Parliament and the Commission moved on the issue of equal patient access for all states of the European Union,” she told Cannabis Health.

“The inequality among member states in regards to legislation for Medicinal Cannabis is in direct violation of the spirit and the laws that govern patient rights within the European Union – each country has been left to their own devices and the onus for change is resting squarely on the shoulders of patients. 

Poitras added: “In Greece, six years of ‘legal medicinal use’ has not provided legal products to more than a handful of patients. The government ban on importation has done nothing to protect local investors- it has simply extended the period of time where families and patients remain criminals.” 

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email sarah@prohibitionpartners.com / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag

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