Despite a growing number of countries allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, is the Warsaw government still on the side of prohibition? A glimmer of hope appeared recently, but will it be enough to allow those who need the plant in order to be cured?
Medical use of cannabinoids – agents found in cannabis – is increasing in a growing number of countries, including the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and lately in the Czech Republic. Poland, however, still prohibits such use. According to Polish law, marijuana is still listed as a banned substance in the Appendix to the Act on Countering Drug Addiction. Since the law does not differentiate between recreational use and medical use, possession of any quantity could imply up to 3 years' imprisonment.
At the same time cannabis is included in another Annex, which lists substances whose use is not permitted for medical purposes. As the former Health Minister Marek Balicki has said, marijuana was surely placed on that list in error, and the Polish Seym (Parliament) will need to correct that mistake. In December 2012, the Office for Registration of Medicinal Products, Medical Devices and Biotic Products reached a decision enabling trade in the medicinal product Sativex, which contains delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, colloquially referred to as THC. However this decision is in conflict with the prohibition on the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Up to now, it was possible to import Sativex from abroad, but only in exceptional circumstances. Moreover, it is expensive, and requires special approval from the Ministry of Health. Thus, in practice, this decision can not affect the availability of the medicine in the form of marijuana.
Thanks to the decision from the Office for Registration of Medicinal Products, Medical Devices and Biotic Products, Sativex, produced by GW Pharma Ltd in England, is the first medicine of its kind which may be bought and sold in Poland. It will be used for example in order to mitigate moderate and severe symptoms of spasticity among patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, in cases where other medicines are ineffective.
In common with other medicines containing intoxicants or psychotropic ingredients, Sativex is only available on prescription – notably the so-called ‘pink prescription’, a prescription with a duplicate. This type of prescription is used in the case of medicines which carry a risk of improper use, abuse or use for illegal purposes. Such prescriptions are required, for example, in the case of morphine-based medicines.
The effectiveness of Sativex, administered as a spray, has been confirmed by clinical research. In recent years, the preparation has been licensed in Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada.
However, no-one knows when marijuana will be deleted from the list of substances which can not be used in medicines, and how the conflict with the Act on Countering Drug Addiction will be resolved. The Ombudsman for the Addicts' Program helps people who have been detained by the police on charges of marijuana possession for personal use and also those who have been caught in possession of marijuana for medical use. Based on the experiences of the program, law enforcement agencies do not take into account the medical purpose of possessing marijuana, so such cases often lead to a judicial sentence. In Poland, possession of any quantity of an illegal substance is punishable by up to 3 years' imprisonment – which applies equally to users of medical marijuana. The Polish Drug Policy Network prepared a draft amendment to the Polish drug law, aimed at removing marijuana from the Annex to the Act. The amendment, however, stalled in the Polish Parliament, and awaits debate, without any due date having been set.
Agnieszka Sieniawska, Chairwoman of the Polish Drug Policy Network / Polish Coordinator of the EDPI Project / Lawyer of the Ombudsman for Addicts Program