At the end of March, the court in the Bulgarian city of Lovech found Marin Kalchev not guilty. He is a 31-year-old multiple sclerosis patient, who uses marijuana extract to manage the negative symptoms of his chronic disease.
The young man was diagnosed 12 years ago with multiple sclerosis, and after a few months his condition started to worsen. After lengthy internet research, and several consultations with medical doctors, he decided to take his own action. He began using marijuana extract to manage the symptoms of this incurable disease. In the beginning, he was buying cannabis from street dealers, but he was worried about the quality of the substance, and he wasn`t sure if it was the right type or contained other illegal substances. That`s why he decided to grow his own cannabis plants.
Kalchev was arrested on the 26th April 2013 for growing two cannabis plants at his home. After a long police investigation and public trial, he was acquitted on 26th of March 2014. Three medical expert witnesses concluded that use of medical marijuana moderated MS symptoms, decreased feelings of fatigue and stiffness, and favorably affected Marin Kalchev’s general condition. The judge, Galja Mihailova, concluded that he had committed the crime under conditions of extreme necessity, in order to improve his health.
The court decision became extremely popular on social networks and online media, and attracted huge support within Bulgarian society.
Kalchev's lawyer, Kalin Angelov, explained how strange it was that the public prosecutor decided to attack the acquittal, bearing in mind that the prosecutor’s office only started showing significant interest to the case after it became public.
On 23rd April 2014, the Lovech District Court found Kalchev guilty of keeping two cannabis plants in his own home, weighing 59.101 grams, and valued at 177,31 euro.
The court exempted Kalchev from criminal responsibility and imposed an administrative penalty – a fine of 500 Euro, plus expenses. The verdict is final and cannot be appealed.
Part of the prosecution’s argument was that there was no evidence the defendant had tried all other forms of treatment, and there was no evidence proving the influence of marijuana for improvement of his health and the symptoms of the disease.
Unfortunately, the first breakthrough in Bulgarian restrictive drug policy failed. The case proves that the Bulgarian political and justice systems refuse to accept scientifically-proven information and prefer to refer to an outdated and non-evidence-based legal framework.
Yulia Georgieva, Initiative for Health Foundation, Bulgaria