During the last few months in Poland, cannabis has been receiving a good deal of attention. This is a result of a few events – both positive and negative – which have placed the issue of cannabis regulation in the mainstream media limelight.
Cannabis Activist Arrested
Last month, on Easter Monday, the case of Jakub Gajewski, an activist from Wolne Konopie, was probably the fastest-spreading story among drug policy activists and others in Poland who take an interest in this subject. Jakub was arrested and charged with intra-EU acquisition of psychoactive substances in significant quantities, for which the statutory penalty is up to 15 years' imprisonment. The controversial aspect of the case, is that he was caught with 900 grams of Rick Simpson Oil, which he had been delivering, risking his freedom, to people willing to use it for treatment.
As a result of this situation, a march was organized in Warsaw, on April 20, under the slogan “Free the accused! End cannabis repression!”. Medical marijuana patients began to speak out openly about the benefits they had experienced. The most involved and supporting person in this movement is the mother of a five-year-old boy, who was the first child in Poland known to have benefited from treatment with medical marijuana for epilepsy. In the last few months, nine children in the Children’s Memorial Health Institute have begun treatment with medical cannabis treatment, for medicine-resistant epilepsy. Marek Bachański, the doctor responsible for supervising this treatment, says that the number of seizures have in some cases decreased by as much as 90%, following the introduction of cannabis treatment.
On May 6th 2015, another man, suffering from a rare disease, was sentenced to a year's imprisonment suspended for two years, and a fine. He had been charged with the production of significant quantities of cannabis (he had three plants in his house), and could have faced a prison term of between three and fifteen years, under the terms of the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction. The actual sentence imposed was relatively mild, considering the statutory penalty. Nevertheless, one might question whether – especially from a human rights perspective – criminal punishment is an appropriate reaction by the state towards someone seeking to be cured of an illness. What makes the situation of even greater concern, was that the judge, in his summing-up, suggested that if the man wanted to continue treatment, he should perhaps move to a different country.
Medical cannabis in the law
Many countries around the world are starting to relax their laws in relation to cannabis, especially cannabis for medical purposes, and yet it is still not legal in Poland. Children in the Children’s Memorial Health Institute can be treated with it, thanks to the existence of a procedure for so-called 'direct import'. It should be emphasised that this is a very complicated procedure, often taking months to complete. Firstly, the doctor supervising the patient has to submit an application. This is in itself problematic, since in Poland not only cannabis, but even medicines like morphine are demonised, and there are very few physicians willing to undertake such unconventional treatment procedures. Second, the decision is made by the Ministry of Health, which has the final say about approving direct imports. As a result of drug-hostile attitudes, between 2012 and 2015, only thirteen approvals were issued for direct import of medical marijuana. Moreover, the cost of such medicines, even if approved, is very high – approximately 650-900 Euro per month, depending on the region. On the other hand, back in November 2014, the Constitutional Court in its decision stated the “desirability of legislative action to regulate the issue of medical use of cannabis”. At the same time, it emphasised that cannabis should be available for medical use, in the light of best contemporary medical knowledge, and that this is not possible because of faults in the Polish legal regulations concerning psychoactive substances. Since that decision, the Polish Parliament has taken no action to implement it and change the regulations. Even worse, a law was recently adopted, which included the stems and leaves of a plant in the definition of “marijuana”.
In March 2015, there was a lot of coverage, in the mainstream media, of the death of a 19-year old, who choked to death on a small package containing 1 gram of marijuana. The young man had cannabis in his possession when he noticed a police patrol. He tried to run away, but the police officers followed him. In the meantime – apparently out of fear of arrest – the boy tried to swallow the small package. Officers caught up with him up, brought him to the ground, and, according to statements from witnesses, tried to take out the cannabis from his throat using force. As a result, the young man died. A peaceful memorial march by several hundred people degenerated into a two-day street fight with the police. In a current affairs program on one of the major TV stations, a right-wing politician stubbornly repeated that the Polish anti-drugs law is a very good one. In his view, all that was required was for the boy to stop, get arrested, plead guilty and wait for the prosecutor to suspend further action, under the provisions of Article 62a of the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction. He was deaf to the argument that only a very small fraction of such cases are ever suspended. He didn’t want to hear that arrest is in itself a traumatic experience; he wouldn’t even accept that in such situation, people are not necessarily going to act rationally – being influenced by fear and instinct. For him, this case was evidence that cannabis kills. For me, as well as for many other people concerned about this situation, it is evidence that Prohibition kills.
In writing this article I was using the following Polish sources :