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Medical cannabis bill paves way in Lithuanian legislature

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Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN

Otherwise conservative Lithuania has made a big stride forward legalising cannabis for medical use with 92 Lithuanian parliamentarians voting Thursday, November 15, to open the bill draft on medication containing cannabis. The law draft should go back to the parliamentary floor for deliberations on December 12.

After the vote, which registered only one abstention with none opposed to it, Mykolas Majauskas, a Conservative MP and chairman of the Seimas Commission for Suicide and Violence Prevention, who has been an outspoken spearhead of the legislation, stated the amendment is «the first time»that a decision on such a sensitive issue enjoys a broad public and political support.

«All the best possible treatments have to be available and we suggest starting a discussion on the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of severely ill patients,» Majauskassaid at a news conference.

According to Majauskas, medical cannabis is used to treat cancer patients, as well as people suffering from multiple sclerosis, severe forms of epilepsy and HIV/AIDS and those suffering from chronic pain.

Irena Degutienė, a stalwart of the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, known as the Lithuanian Conservatives, also expressed support to legalising medical cannabis for treating severely ill patients.

Feliksas Jankevičius, head of the National Cancer Institute, noted that many countries had legalised the use of medical cannabis and that the European Medicines Commission had also approved the use of medical cannabinoids.

Meanwhile, Lithuania’s legislation makes no distinction between medical and recreational cannabis. The Law on Pharmacy only allows the medical use of substances that are on List II of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances which is approved by the health minister

In Lithuania, cannabis is a List 1 drug, which prohibits marijuana for medical use due to the «harmful consequences to human health,» as the law stipulates. Other List 1 substances include heroin, MDMA, cocaine, psilocybin and opium.

If the amendment is approved after the December debate, it would allow the medical use of any List 1 drugs, as long as the substances pass strict safety tests and are scientifically proven to be medical substances.

The chair of Lithuania’s health committee, Agnė Širinskienė, representing the ruling Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), also expressed support for the approval, saying she believes the government will be able to «ensure that Lithuanian patients achieve safe and effective scientific evidence-based medical products.»

She has spoken against legalisation of medical cannabis before, however.

If the amendment is successful after the parliamentary debate in December, the change will require final approval from Lithuanian Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga.

Last April, Veryga also endorsed the idea of decriminalising cannabis for possession and use with «some exceptions.»

In an interview to the author of this article in September, Veryga said he did not want to «see it happening» in Lithuania.

«Look, in America, the medics still disagree on the effects of cannabinoids and their curing effect. However, the ongoing political discourse over the subject of marijuana use has shifted heavily towards its legalisation. In medicine, morphine, a very powerful narcotic substance, is also used in certain cases, but yet no one calls on its legalising. I believe there should be drawn a clear line between cannabinoids’ use for medical and recreational purposes,» he said then.

Asked what he would do if he found out that his 16-year-son has smoked a joint of weed, the minister, who is father of three children, answered he would «engage in a lengthy conversation first.»

«Certainly, I’d not be happy upon hearing it, however, again, I do not wear a pair of rose-tinted sunglasses. I do not console myself that my children (the minister has three of them) will be always smart and never take a risk out of curiosity,» Veryga said.

Back in April, in another interview, Veryga said he did not support the legalisation of cannabis, but he would back a proposal to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of marijuana and subject such persons to administrative liability instead.

«I’d support decriminalization where the consumer is not punished for marijuana possession and use, because an addict has to be treated, not punished. A second thing is the legalization and use of medicines. That does not require legalizing anything,» the minister said then.

It seems he has shifted 180 degrees from his tough initial stance on the issue, although, in an interview this week, he emphasised that «a very clear and strict mechanism» should be put in place to prevent any abuse.

Currently, cannabis cultivation for any reason in Lithuania can lead to imprisonment for up to five years.

With the hope the amendment receives final approval from MPs and the health minister in December, the change would be enacted by 2019.

As elsewhere in the world, part of pro-cannabis Lithuanians have risen in defence of the plant, staging a rally outside the parliament building in Vilnius last summer, urging the lawmakers, in the first place, to decriminalise possession of small amounts of the drug.

A group of pro-cannabis Lithuanians have launched a public cannabis support campaign on the official petition site www.thepetitionsite.com. As of last week, there were over 300 Lithuanians who signed the petition, although its spearheads have pledged to collect an impressive 50,000 e-signatures in support.

«Many people in Lithuania see cannabis as devil’s offer or something taboo, many more has cancer, Parkinson, diabetes and other diseases. But Cannabis can help you lose weight, regulate and prevent diabetes, fight cancer, help depression, provides a safer alternative to drugs and alcohol, help regulate seizures, help broken bones heal faster, helps treating serious addictions or ADHD, Glaucoma etc. You name it,» the petition authors say in the introduction.

«Lithuania is the 1st country in Europe using most alcohol and having highest suicide rates. If cannabis was legalized, people would become aware of its benefits, because those with knowledge would have a chance to spread real information. Whole country would have a substitute and be able to beat addiction to alcohol, help to handle depression, beat diseases and get better. People lives would improve tremendously,» the site says.

A set of legal amendments that took effect in Lithuania at the start of this year allow subjecting a person to criminal liability for possessing cannabis. Before, only administrative penalty would be applied.

Last August, the Vilnius artists known for the murals «The Putin and Trump kiss» and «The party is over» have also rendered their understanding of the hot social issue. On August 15, celebrated as the Assumptions day, the anarchic artists in the Užupis, the Mecca of Vilnius artists, they unveiled a sculpture of the angel blowing a trumpet, which looked like the angel would smoke a joint. Around 200 spectators and supporters gathered to drink some cannabis tea and enjoy the newest street art in Lithuania’s capital.

The murals co-author Dominykas Čečkauskas, staited in an interview that: «an estimated 10% of Lithuanian population have tried smoking weed or are smoking it regularly, which is a pretty big crowd of people, who have a direct interest in cannabis and there is zero representation from the political elite and also zero attempt to solve the issues of illegal consumption of psychoactive substances.»

Lithuania legalised industrial hemp in May this year. The amendments to the Law on Industrial Hemp were adopted 66 votes to 16 with 22 abstentions. President Dalia Grybauskaitė has signed the amendments into law, which will come into force on January 1. The law defines industrial hemp as Cannabissativa L. plants of the Cannabaceae family, which contain no more than 0.2 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, in the dried form.

Lithuania was the last EU member state to exonerate industrial hemp.

Meanwhile, many Lithuanian doctors are hesitant whether the medical cannabis legislation will do any good for the patient.

«As far as I’ve heard from my colleagues, some patients treated with medical cannabis feel better, but others get too agitated and experience bad hallucinations. Yet at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the doctor under which surveillance the administering will take place and who will decide what medicine can help the patient best,» Vita Žeromkienė, oncologist-radiotherapist at Klaipėda University Hospital, told BNN.

She acknolweged that she sees plenty of terminally-ill patients daily, who are ready to try anything to overcome cancer or prolong their life.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.5218


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