International Cannabis: Legalization in Slovenia

A small European country surrounded by Hungary, Italy, Croatia, and Austria, the Republic of Slovenia has become increasingly interesting for a few reasons.  One, it is First Lady Melania Trump’s home nation.  Second, unlike the First Lady’s home in New York, Slovenia is tiny.  It has a Cannabis in sloveniapopulation of 2 million people whereas New York has a population of about 8 million people.  Third, it offers an incredible deal to new parents: mothers are given 105 days of 100% paid maternity leave and fathers are given 90 days of paternity leave at 90% of their salary.  Finally, it’s slowly making moves toward the legalization of cannabis.

Though vastly different in many regards, when it comes to cannabis legalization, the United States and Slovenia have a lot in common

For one, both countries use a scheduling system to classify substances as legal or illegal.  In the United States, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 substance or a substance with a high potential for abuse and no medical use. This classification has rendered it illegal according to federal law.

Slovenia’s Drug Scheduling System

Slovenia uses a similar classification system, and like in the United States, cannabis has been classified as a Schedule 1 drug. In Slovenia, this means the same thing that it means in the United States. Schedule 1 drugs are regarded as highly dangerous and lacking any medical utility.

Another similarity is that, despite the prohibition of cannabis, marijuana is the most widely used illicit substance in both countries. People like to use cannabis regardless of the law, and that’s probably because it is a highly effective therapy for a host of conditions and it is a far less dangerous recreational activity than alcohol consumption, which everyone seems to be okay with.

Slovenia’s Pharmaceutical Industry

Another similarity between the two countries is their seeming devotion to the pharmaceutical industry despite research suggesting that cannabis is a better alternative to synthetic medication. Since 2014, synthetic versions of cannabis have been legal in Slovenia.  For example, patients have access to Marinol, a synthetic version of THC.  Similarly, in the United States, certain synthetic cannabinoids are FDA approved while the real thing remains illegal.

Despite Slovenia’s approval of fake weed, whole plant cannabis has been illegal in the country

a disappointing trend of prohibition countries around the world has been upholding for far too long. While synthetic cannabinoids may have some efficacy in treating medical conditions, they pale in comparison to the power of whole plant cannabis consumption.  Cannabis contains a variety of chemical compounds including cannabinoids and terpenes, and the synergistic relationship between these compounds known as the “entourage effect” has been found to amplify the therapeutic potential of cannabis and outperform synthetic cannabinoids.

Like in the United States, cannabis’ illegal status in Slovenia forced patients looking for relief to the black market, causing people seeking medicine to risk criminalization, stigma, and exposure to unreliable cannabis.  Furthermore, the lack of legalization forced patients to consume cannabis without the supervision of a medical professional.

Public Support is Widespread

However, like in the United States, public support of cannabis has steadily increased, and pressure for the government to change its legal status has been building to a point the Slovenian government could not ignore.  A large part of this surge of interest in cannabis, especially medical cannabis, has been a result of the activism of Rick Simpson.

Rick Simpson, an advocate of medical marijuana, has made it his mission since 2003 to inform the global community of the medicinal value of cannabis.  And his perspective is a unique and powerful one; Simpson cured himself of skin cancer by using cannabis oil.  Simpson was inspired by his experience to teach people how to create a concentrated cannabis oil product, commonly known as Rick Simpson oil, with a solvent.  He has cannabis in sloveniasuccessfully treated thousands of patients with cannabis oil but has faced incredible push back from the Canadian government and the pharmaceutical industry. Simpson visited Slovenia several times, even discussing the advantages of cannabis with Slovenia’s parliament in 2012.

Simpson’s activism, the public’s increased use of cannabis, and the piqued interest of Slovenian scientists in cannabis’ medical efficacy created a sociopolitical environment that made prohibition seem unsustainable.

The interest in legalizing cannabis is primarily for medical purposes, though; recreational marijuana use by adults is not nearly as popular an idea as medical use

In October 2016, Slovenia’s National Health Committee assembled to discuss “the legalization of the cannabis cultivation and use for medical purposes,” and came to a unanimous consensus that the Ministry of Health should take no more than 60 days to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 substance.  This would reclassify cannabis from a highly dangerous substance with no medical value to a dangerous substance with medical use.  The Ministry of Health responded positively to this recommendation, but as critics noted, delayed its response.

The Future of Medical Cannabis in Slovenia

In December of 2016, the Ministry of Health produced a draft of legislation that would allow a regulated medical cannabis program.  At that time, the draft did not reschedule cannabis or legalize its cultivation.  The initial draft would specifically allow patients to access doctor prescribed cannabis flower, extracts, or synthetic variations.

In March 2017, Slovenia’s Health Ministry finally implemented its response to the National Health Committee’s consensus, deciding to use cannabis for medical reasons.  The Ministry has also mandated a study into the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy in children.  While this is an exciting development, it’s not nearly as progressive as one would hope.  The positives?  Cannabis has been officially rescheduled as a Schedule 2 substance.  This changes its description from a substance deemed “very dangerous” to human health to one that is still dangerous, but acceptable for use for medical purposes.

Despite cannabis’ rescheduling, the production of cannabis for medical reasons remains illegal.  Cannabis cannot be cultivated, produced, or possessed, a rather strange stipulation for a law meant to make cannabis more accessible to patients.

The silver lining remains in sight, though.  As we have seen in the United States, legalization has to start somewhere, and though it may take decades to progress, change does find its way.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.