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President Zelensky signs bill legalising medical cannabis in Ukraine 



President Zelensky has signed a bill legalising medical cannabis in Ukraine, with patients expected to have access to regulated medicines as early as 2024. 

In what has been described as a ‘great victory’, on Tuesday 13 February, President Zelensky signed into law legislation permitting the prescription of cannabis-based medicines for conditions including pain, cancer and PTSD.

The legalisation of medical cannabis in Ukraine has been a long-time coming, with activists campaigning on the basis that it could help millions of veterans and patients across the country. 

The Ministry of Health estimated that up to six million people will experience not only PTSD, but other mental health issues, as a result of the trauma they have experienced during two years of Russian war.

The bill to legalise medical cannabis passed its first reading in the Verkhovna Rada in July 2023, with President Zelensky and Health Minister Viktor Liashko both expressing their support for this treatment to be available to help tackle the country’s mental health crisis. 

However, its second reading was delayed after an opposition party put forward a large number of amendments, reportedly in a bid to ‘block’ the bill’s progression. On 16 January, the Verkhovna Rada rejected the opposition’s Resolution No. 7457-p, meaning the process could move forward. 

Iyrna Rachynska of campaign group, Patients of Ukraine, commented: “Undoubtedly, the adoption of the law on the legalisation of medical cannabis is a great victory for the entire patient community.

“Patients, the public, doctors, the military, and activists fought for this decision for more than five years. We organised actions, rallies, conferences, wrote appeals, and tried to convey to society information about the sufferings patients are forced to live with without the opportunity to receive high-quality and affordable treatment.“

Over the next six months, ministries will outline the legislation allowing for the immediate importation of cannabis-based products into Ukraine, with the first products expected to be on the market by Q3 or Q4 of 2024.

The bill also allows for the cultivation of medical cannabis in Ukraine, but this will take a number of years to establish, with a domestic supply not expected until 2028 at the earliest.

“In the next six months after the publication of the law, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Ministry of Health must develop all necessary by-laws. But it will be possible to import cannabis-based medicines into Ukraine earlier when changes are made to the ‘List of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors’, transferring cannabis from the table of prohibited drugs to the table of drugs allowed for circulation under strict control,” Rachynska explained

Hanna Hlushchenko, an independent European medical cannabis advisor, who has been working with the Ukrainian Medical Cannabis Association, added: “Today we have 100% confirmation that the possibility for a medical cannabis market in Ukraine exists, what we must do now is create the market.

“My opinion is that products will be on the market by the end of the year. It might seem optimistic but the process is moving fast. There is the political will and this is explained by the amount of patients, by the war and those in the military who need access to medical cannabis. Not only for PTSD but for military veterans who are suffering with injuries and chronic pain.”

Germany pledges support for Ukraine 

Last week Liashko met with German Health Minister, Karl Lauterbach at the German-Ukrainian health summit in Berlin, where it was agreed that Germany would intensify its support of Ukraine and provide further assistance with healthcare.

Together with Deputy Minister Maryna Slobodnichenko, other representatives of his ministry and the Ukrainian Association for Medical Cannabis, Liashko also visited Germany’s largest cannabis manufacturer to learn more about the production of cannabis medicines.

Managing Director Sven-Roger von Schilling of Schurer Pharma & Kosmetik GmbH, part of the Grünhorn network, commented in a press release: “We feel deep sympathy for Ukraine and go along with the decision to use medicinal cannabis to overcome the consequences of the war. 

“At Grünhorn, we have already been actively involved in delivering medicines and relief supplies to Ukraine. We are therefore particularly proud that Minister Liashko is interested in our experience and recognizes Grünhorn as an important player in the cannabis sector.”

Creating the market – driving education and awareness

But while the legislation gives the green light for the establishment of a medical cannabis market in Ukraine, it could be some time before these products are routinely prescribed and treated the same as other more conventional medicines. 

Hlushchenko expects the model to be similar to those seen elsewhere in Europe, such as Portugal and Germany.

Cannabis-based medicines will only be available when prescribed by a doctor and dispensed through licenced pharmacies, of which there are only thought to be around 200 out of 18,000 pharmacies in Ukraine.

It will also take time to shift long-standing attitudes among the general public and healthcare professionals, in a country with a generally ‘conservative’ view of cannabis, says Hlushchenko, who is working with the Ukrainian Medical Cannabis Association on educating doctors on the use of medicinal cannabis. 

“Creating the market is not just helping international companies who intend to supply products to Ukraine, it is also about educating doctors, educating patients and spreading the word that cannabis is not as bad as it is sometimes seen to be,” she explained.

“It happens in every country when the market opens, doctors have concerns, but through connecting with international clinicians and companies they become more educated.”

Hlushchenko added: “I invite international companies to help in this regard, not only in how they can export products to Ukraine, but also in helping Ukrainian doctors understand how it works.”

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 titles, Cannabis Wealth 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 / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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