Cannabis: How N. Macedonia Leans Towards Legalization
One of the most controversial topics today is the use of cannabis. Cannabis (marijuana, hemp) is a plant which contains phytocannabinoids, a plant from which the dry flowers and/or leaves are used for recreational purposes or for preparation of drugs/medication for medicinal purposes.
It has a long history of medicinal, religious, recreational and industrial use. The first recorded data of the industrial use (clothes) of hemp dates back to 7000 B.C., while the data for its medicinal use dates back to 3000 BC in China, then India, Ancient Greece and other parts of the world.
From the beginning of the 20th century, cannabis is considered a subject of legal restrictions for possession, usage and selling. At this moment, cannabis is illegal in most countries, but there is a contemporary trend of legalization or decriminalization for medicinal and recreational use.
According to the data from the United Nations from 2014, cannabis is the most used illegal psychoactive substance in the world, and 4% from the adult population worldwide is using cannabis for recreational purposes.
Legislation of cannabis in N. Macedonia
With the Law on the Control of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, cannabis is defined as such in Article 22, and on the List of Controlled Substances, cannabis is placed amongst the prohibited substances and plants, and defined as a narcotic drug.
On the section of The Criminal Code, Articles 215 and 216, regulate the unauthorised production and release for trade of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors as well as enabling the taking of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors.
The possession of narcotic drugs for personal use is not allowed in accordance with the Criminal Code. Furthermore, a person who induces another to take narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors, or gives narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors to someone else, or makes available premises for the taking of narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors, or in some way enables another to take narcotics, psychotropic substances and precursors, shall be punished with imprisonment of three months to five years. If the crime is committed toward a juvenile, or toward several persons, or if it causes especially severe consequences, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment of 1 to 10 years.
On February 9, 2016, the Macedonian Parliament Health Committee gave its approval for the legalization of medical marijuana, therefore, amending the Law on ‘’Control of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances’’, by adding three Articles, 29-a, 95-g, 95-d.
According to the applicable legislation, and starting March 2016, the cultivation of cannabis is allowed only to legal entities that have obtained license for cultivation issued by the Ministry of Health, after previous approval granted by the Government.
A general provision states that the legal entity that intends to invest and perform its operations in this industry must be registered in the Central Registry in Republic of N. Macedonia.
By amending the Law on ‘’Control of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances’’, the cultivation of cannabis for medical and/or scientific purposes has been acknowledged by law and it is followed by clearly established conditions in terms of sowing, seeding, harvesting, packing, transport etc. The cultivator of cannabis is also obliged to keep a record of each phase of cannabis cultivation, as well as the products and equipment used in the process, and is obliged to report all changes and deviations previously planned in the elaborate to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy.
The economy and politics of prohibition
“Generally speaking, every legalization/decriminalization, i.e. more lenient penalties reduce the operations on the black market. For example, if you look at the prices on the black market, they don’t benefit the country, while legalization/decriminalization would mean strict control and taxation, which would benefit the country in future development, in the budget part. The benefits and the blows on the illegal part would be positive and the illegal business will be stopped.” – Ljubomir Gjurchevski, former chief of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of N. Macedonia
It’s a notorious fact that prohibition only brings crime, and a flagrant example of that is the Prohibition in the United States on alcohol. In 1933 in America, there were over 12.000 murders, while in 1941 that number was reduced to around 8.000. Or, as a fresher example, we could take Mexico, when they declared the “War on drugs”, from 2006 to 2011, and around 40.000 people lost their lives.
Canada became the first industrialized nation which legalized cannabis for recreational purposes. The countries worldwide will closely monitor how it will be implemented in Canada.
So far, only Uruguay and nine US countries have given green light for recreational uses of cannabis, and some other countries allow cannabis to be used in medicinal purposes.
It is estimated that with this move, millions of dollars will be diverted from the illegal sales and organized crime back to the government’s cash register.
Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of border security and organized crime reduction said:
“Up until today, a very significant proportion of adults in Canada were choosing to disregard the law, and criminal enterprise had 100% control of the market for production and distribution, and were profiting in the billions, and endangering our children.”
One of the questions that may arise is how will Canada handle the tourists. That is why on the “Ottawa International Airport”, the passengers are kindly reminded that what they smoke in Canada, stays in Canada. According to this, with the decriminalization itself, other than the termination of the black market and reduction of crime, the economy of the country will significantly increase in the budget part, which is a part of the economy itself.
Conclusion and perspectives about cannabis
Since cannabis is legalized for medicinal purposes, the next step would be decriminalization, which will remove one of the main reasons for drug addiction among the young population, and the curiosity to try what is forbidden.
Moreover, if the drug trade is put under state protection and surveillance, it will provide much “cleaner” narcotics. Also, decriminalizing cannabis will lead to less use of cannabis (as opposed to the skeptics’ beliefs that mass use will occur), but also less use of so-called heavy drugs, as well as associated crimes.
Wherever a more liberal drug policy is run, the effect is – significantly reduced use.
Another thing that N. Macedonia has to do is to perform gradation of narcotics according to their danger to human health and potential for creating dependency on the human organism. Gradation of drugs is an international obligation that the Republic of N. Macedonia has under the UN Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
Of course, there are the views and fears that this step would lead to an extreme abuse of cannabis, which is absolutely not true and the statistics reveal it. Take the example of Portugal, which decriminalized possession of all narcotics for personal use, and under the new law, the offense was changed from a criminal one, with prison as a possible punishment, to an administrative one, if the amount possessed was no more than a ten-day supply of that substance. Portugal has the smallest percentage of prevalence of narcotic use in Europe – 2.7% for cannabis, and a notoriously low prevalence for the use of heavy narcotics – 0.2% for cocaine and 0.1% for heroin. In comparison to the Netherlands, the percentage of annual prevalence of cannabis usage for 2009 is 7%, while in the USA is 11.3%.
In terms of the specific proposals, it should be noted that due to legal obstacles it is de jure impossible to legalize any narcotic. This is because the Republic of N. Macedonia is a signatory of The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988, which require an obligation to prescribe offenses for the production, cultivation, distribution and sale of narcotics.
Therefore a kind of semi-solution is proposed by decriminalizing the use of cannabis on a personal basis by modifying the existing or introducing new Articles into the Criminal Code.