Currently, medical cannabis is legal in most European countries, and the demand for it has significantly grown in recent years. Due to the plant’s variety of medicinal and therapeutic benefits, more countries have taken an interest in legalizing it to help individuals who suffer from different diseases and painful illnesses. The United Kingdom and Lithuania are two European countries that have recently taken the scientific evidence about cannabis seriously, which led to the approval of national medical cannabis programs. Although cannabis used to be federally illegal in both the U.K. and Lithuania, both countries changed their stance after policy makers started paying attention to the strong medicinal value of cannabis.
Moving forward, it’s likely that additional European countries will legalize medical cannabis and/or transition into legalizing recreational cannabis. For now, though, the cannabis legalization changes in the U.K. and Lithuania are significant. Keep reading to learn about each country’s medical cannabis program, the progress that has been made thus far, and the impact these programs will have on other European countries.
Brief Background of Cannabis in the UK
For many years, cannabis was illegal in the UK. Specifically, in 1971, the UK banned cannabis based on fears that it’d be a gateway drug and that it’d lead people to consume other harmful drugs. However, this classification didn’t stop Brits from consuming the illegal substance. Out of all illegal drugs, in the UK, cannabis is the most widely consumed one. Up until very recently, cannabis oils that contained more than 0.05 percent THC were prohibited. However, times started to change when various research findings revealed cannabis’s medicinal value.
Out of all cannabis cannabinoids, CBD has gained significant attention, interest, and usage worldwide, especially because of its array of medicinal properties and non-psychoactive make-up.
Not long ago, a few cannabis-based medicines were approved by UK’s government. As a result, doctors were presented with the opportunity to prescribe these medicines to qualifying patients with epilepsy and seizure diagnoses. Around this time, variations of cannabis oils that contained mostly CBD were sold at different pharmacies throughout the UK. Whereas, individuals who had epilepsy or seizures diagnoses were eligible to purchase various cannabis-based products. Although this limited program helped those with epilepsy and seizures, it didn’t help individuals who suffered from other diseases.
For this reason and several others, in July of 2018, UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs expressed their interest in adjusting the rules about different cannabis-based products. The intention of this was to mostly give doctors the option to prescribe cannabis products to patients with debilitating health issues. The same conversation held by the advisory council debated about the need to conduct more clinical trials to understand the efficacy and safety of cannabis-based medicines. Also, this past July, it was considered mandatory for UK home office licenses to examine cannabis further. From here, numerous changes started occurring.
Current State of Cannabis in the UK
This year, UK’s Home Secretary and member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Sajid David was informed that medical cannabis contains medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Following this information, Sajid David expressed the following message about his decision regarding the country’s cannabis legalization change:
“Following advice from two sets of independent advisers, I have taken the decision to reschedule cannabis-derived medicinal products – meaning they will be available on prescription. This will help patients with an exceptional clinical need but is in no way a first step to the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.”
This month, medical cannabis prescriptions will be legally available, and doctors will be able to prescribe medical cannabis products to qualifying patients. Also, these legalization changes won’t just apply to the UK. They’ll apply to England, Wales, and Scotland as well. To begin, a limited number of medical cannabis-based products will be available for prescriptions. Then, with time, the number of products will increase.
Additionally, for cannabis products to be deemed medicinal, according to Sajid David, they must meet and pass these requirements:
- It must be a preparation or product that possesses cannabis, cannabis resin, cannabinol (CBN), or a CBN derivative
- It’s created for medicinal usage to be consumed by humans
- It’s a medical product, substance, or preparation for the consumption as either an ingredient of, or in the creation of an ingredient of a medicinal product
Currently, there aren’t any plans for recreational cannabis legalization in the UK. However, the medical cannabis legalization changes that have taken place recently will put UK on a similar track to the policies of countries like the Netherlands, Portugal, Canada, and numerous U.S. states.
Background of Cannabis in Lithuania and Its Current State
Moreover, in the past, Lithuania—a Baltic and European Union country grouped cannabis under the same category as that of heroin, opium, MDMA, cocaine, and morphine. However, as more medical evidence came out regarding cannabis’s efficacy in treating various diseases and illnesses, Lithuania made a progressive move regarding the legalization of cannabis. In 2017 though, Lithuania’s MP, Mykolas Majauskas (Lithuanian conservative party member) expressed the strong need to adjust the country’s drug laws to give qualifying patients the opportunity to consume cannabis-based medicines besides only opioid-based drugs.
Then, Lithuanian Parliament members started listening, which led to numerous discussions regarding potential medical cannabis legalization changes. Once October hit, the majority of Lithuanian Parliament members voted in favor of medical cannabis legalization. The next step is for Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite to sign the approved medical cannabis proposal into law. Out of all European Union countries, Lithuania is the last one to approve of a medical cannabis program. Fortunately, Lithuania has taken a large step in a progressive direction, and there are sources claiming that medical cannabis will be legal come May 1st of 2019.
Requirements Regarding Lithuania’s Medical Cannabis Program
For Lithuanian companies to sell medical cannabis products though, they must receive a license from state regulators. Also, all cannabis products that’ll be sold must be registered with Lithuania’s National Medicine Control Agency beforehand. Additionally, before these medicines are sold, their medicinal and therapeutic effectiveness must be supported by scientific evidence and data. Numerous clinical trials will be conducted to further understand the plant’s medicinal efficacy.
For now, Lithuanian residents who have been diagnosed with any of these conditions will be eligible to receive medical cannabis treatments: HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), autoimmune diseases, cancer, and rare yet serious types of seizure and epilepsy disorders. It’s possible that Lithuania will add other ailments onto their list of qualifying conditions from now until May. However, it has been made clear that recreational cannabis will remain illegal.
Although several European countries enacted medical cannabis programs years ago, the legalization changes that the UK and Lithuania approved of speaks volumes. As more medical evidence comes out regarding cannabis and various cannabinoids, it’s likely that other countries will follow suit regarding medical cannabis programs.
Once medical cannabis products are readily available in the UK and Lithuania, the national programs will be on the same page as that of Germany, Italy, Denmark, and several other European countries.
Which European country is next to legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis? Let us know in the comments below!