People with a doctor’s prescription can now go to Polish pharmacies and buy one of the most ancient medicine in the world: cannabis. Read Adam Stasiak’s report from Warsaw!
Although the Act on so-called medical marijuana entered into force a year ago, cannabis and cannabis-derived medicines have been unavailable in Poland until now. This was due to the requirements to register and obtain market authorization for the materials needed to manufacture such drugs. After a long and demanding procedure, Spectrum Cannabis obtained consent for importing such materials to Polish pharmacies. 17th January 2019 – this day will remain in the memory of many people for the rest of their lives. Finally, within the law, they will be able to buy the medicine they need. From today, we can fill in prescriptions for medical cannabis in Polish pharmacies. It can be written out by any medical specialist.
Why do we need cannabis?
I cannot describe what cannabis means for the people who need it. It can heal, relieve pain, make people who were condemned to death by doctors come back to strength. Basically, it lets them live. There are many doubts about the medical use of marijuana and there is still little research confirming the exact mechanisms of their operation. Together with the narcophobia that marijuana is burdened with, this leads to aversion and distrust among the rulers, doctors, and the public around its medical use.
One thing is certain – cannabis helps. Among other things, with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Leśniowski-Crohn’s disease, it relieves the side effects of chemotherapy. Numerous studies are currently under way around the world regarding the possibility of a broad medical use of cannabis. There are great hopes placed on this common plant. Perhaps it can be even helpful in the fight against cancer.
There is a common denominator about the diseases that I mentioned. These are very difficult conditions that modern medicine still cannot deal with. Receiving dozens of medications in some cases helps, in some it doesn’t. In every case they are a dramatic interference in the body, they often weaken and are addictive. Until recently, doctors and thus patients remained helpless.
Seeking advice to improve their situation or that of their loved ones, many came across information on the medical benefits of cannabis. There was only one problem. In Poland, cannabis was illegal.
The only option was to import the drug from abroad in a special direct import procedure. Unfortunately, very few doctors in Poland were ready for such a responsibility. Strong social reluctance and stereotypes meant that marijuana was widely recognized as a harmful and addictive drug.
For many people in need it was an impassable barrier. Another possible path was the illegal acquisition of medicinal cannabis. This, of course, was associated with moral questions. To become a criminal? To be arrested or detained? And what about their children or their work?
There were 3 ways to get medicines for yourself or your loved ones:
1. Buying cannabis from a dealer.
Advantages: Proximity. A person selling marijuana can be found in almost every local residential area.
Cons: The medicine from the black market is of unknown origin. We do not know its composition, which is often adulterated with substances that increase the weight or strength of its effects. Nobody wants to give their child an unknown medicine. The Polish state, however, gave people no choice.
People in possession of cannabis are subject to the relevant provisions of the Act on Counteracting Drug Addiction.
Art. 62 1. Who, contrary to the provisions of the Act, has narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances is subject to imprisonment of up to 3 years.
2. If the object of the act is of significant amount, the perpetrator is subject to imprisonment from one year to ten years.
2. Growing cannabis on your own.
Advantages: It is by far the cheapest method of obtaining the medicine. You can be sure that the product is clean, without any additives.
Cons: To produce a high-quality medicine you need to have the know-how. In addition, time and space are needed. The hemp bushes give off an intense smell that can expose the illegal grower.
Art. 63. 1. Whoever, contrary to the provisions of the Act, grows cannabis is subject to imprisonment for up to 3 years.
3. If the object of the act referred to in paragraph 1, is a crop that can provide a significant amount of cannabis, the perpetrator is subject to imprisonment from 6 months to 8 years.
3. Importing cannabis bought in a country where medical cannabis is legal.
Advantages: A wide range of proven, good quality medicines. When buying bigger quantities, a much lower price than is found on the domestic illegal market is possible.
Disadvantages: Bringing a significant amount of cannabis from abroad is a felony.
Art. 55. 1. Who, contrary to the provisions of the Act, imports narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, new psychoactive substances or poppy straw, is subject to a fine and imprisonment of up to 5 years.
3. If the object of the act referred to in paragraph 1, is of significant amount the perpetrator is subject to a fine and imprisonment for a period not shorter than 3 years.
Is a person who acquires the necessary medicines in order to save his or other people’s life a criminal? My intuition tells me that it can’t be the case. However, Polish law states otherwise.
Honour your mother and your father
Dariusz Dołecki wanted to help his mother. On October 25, the court sentenced him to a year of imprisonment suspended for two years for importing cannabis oil into Poland. Jakub Gajewski, who is said to have helped in importing the oil, received a 2-year prison sentence suspended for four years. The judge in his verbal justification, said that there is no doubt that the cannabis oil was imported in order to save the health and life of the mother. It was brought to Poland as a medicine. Dariusz Dołecki, as well as his wife, who was also accused by the court and then finally acquitted, spent two months in custody. They were freed the day after the death of his mother – the woman died in solitude.
For importing a medicine illegally, Dariusz Dołecki was treated as a dangerous criminal. At the time of the verdict, the law introducing cannabis as a medicine lasted almost a year.
This situation poses more than a few questions. Would it be similar if it were other drugs, for example opioids and not cannabis? Do we ourselves have no right to decide whether we want to take the risk of using cannabis if we have exhausted all other possibilities and doctors do not know how to help us? Do we have to exhaust all other possibilities? Who is a criminal? A person who risks his life in order to help others? Or maybe the system that condemns patients to suffering and death?
Ola Janowicz, born in 2012, struggled with a severe case of drug-resistant epilepsy. After an unsuccessful attempt to check the effectiveness of the 20th anti-epileptic medication, Ola’s mom, Paulina Janowicz, when she heard about the medical effects of marijuana, began to give her daughter a CBD extract. It brought results – from 5 heavy attacks a day, the number of attacks reduced to the same number, but per month. From 2014, Ola was treated at the Children’s Memorial Health Institute (CMHI) in Warsaw under the supervision of neuroscientist Marek Bachański, a pioneer in the cannabis treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy. As the CBD extract alone was insufficient, Dr Bachański planned treatment with a drug consisting both CBD and THC, which were to be imported as part of the target import from the Netherlands. Unfortunately, due to publicity related to the treatment with cannabis by Dr Bachański, he was banned from using this type of therapy, and then he was fired. The official reason was irregularities in his records. Bachański sued the Institute and having won the lawsuit, the labor court ordered CMHI to bring him back to work.
Although the CMHI had promised to continue the cannabis therapy, when Ola and her mother came for the prescription, they discovered that CMHI was no longer performing treatment with pre-planned medical cannabis. Finding another doctor, getting there with sick and travel sensitive Ola, formalities related to submitting the application, waiting for its consideration, and finally bringing the drug to Poland took months. It was too long for Ola, and she died on May 6, 2016. Three weeks later, the pharmacy phoned her mother with the information that the drugs were waiting to be picked up. Paulina Janowicz, with the support of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, sued the Children’s Memorial Health Institute. This will be the first trial for refusing marijuana treatment.
A step forward
The possibility of purchasing marijuana for medicinal purposes in Polish pharmacies is a milestone for Polish society. It will save lives and improve health for many people in Poland. Unfortunately, however, it will only be available to some. The first limitation is the requirement that other available medicine should not be effective. In fact, the patient will have to try treatment with at least 5 other medications, often more dangerous than marijuana. The second limitation is money. The Act from the beginning assumed that this treatment will not be funded by the state. In practice, this means that with a monthly cost of therapy sometimes reaching even 7,000 zlotys, only the richest will be able to afford it.
The rest have only two paths to choose – suffering or crime.
Polish Drug Policy Network