Medical Cannabis Goes on Sale In Poland
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Fourteen months since medicinal cannabis was legalized in Poland, and three months since the Polish government approved the first medicinal cannabis supplier for the country’s pharmacies, medical marijuana has finally hit the shelves in Polish pharmacies. Before now, patients in need of medical cannabis therapy had to go through the additional, and often costly, complications of importing their medicine from abroad.
Cannabis law in Poland
Like many other countries — including the United States, Great Britain, China, and Germany — Poland was a signatory to the 1925 International Opium Convention. In addition to agreeing to tight restrictions on the import and export of opium and coca, as was the primary focus, the convention also included language that criminalized the use and cultivation of cannabis in all of the countries that signed on.
Since then, public opinion in Poland swung dramatically, with one 2015 poll recording over 78% public support for the legalization of medical cannabis in the country, with a similar proportion endorsing a statement calling the denial of access to cannabis medicine “cruel” on those who need it.
The use of non-psychoactive cannabinoid oils, such as cannabidiol (CBD) oil derived from hemp was previously legal in Poland for consumption; but the medicinal cannabis legalization bill more specifically legalized the use of cannabis with more than trace amounts of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for medicinal purposes. The bill passed through Poland’s lower house of parliament with an astounding majority of 440 votes in favor to two against and one abstention.
North America’s European cannabis expansion
The legalization of medicinal cannabis in Poland was seen by many big players in the cannabis industry as a prime opportunity to establish a foothold in the European cannabis market, especially given the lack of domestic cannabis production operations in Poland and the continued ban on home cultivation.
In October 2018 the Canadian medicinal marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis Inc. became the first cannabis company to be given approval by the Polish Ministry of Health for the importing of medicinal cannabis into the country. At the time of the announcement, Aurora Cannabis Inc. had plans to supply a pain treatment center and a hospital in the Polish capital of Warsaw.
In addition to Aurora Cannabis Inc. another Canadian cannabis company, Canopy Growth Corporation, has also seized this opportunity for expansion in the European marketplace. Canopy Growth’s Toruń-based team, Spectrum Cannabis Polska, has also started importing medical cannabis flower to Poland after receiving regulatory approval.
The realities of medical marijuana in Poland
Now that medical cannabis is legal, and that various supply arrangements have been made, doctors in Poland are free to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients wherever it is deemed suitable.
“The law in Poland does not contain a closed list of medical conditions in which cannabis can be prescribed,” explains Samia al-Hameri, a pharmacist from Spectrum Cannabis, talking to Emerging Europe. “We expect that about 60 percent of products will go to patients with chronic pain, for example associated with cancer or migraines, and the rest to people with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, amongst others.”
Given the lack of a fixed list determining what medical conditions constitute eligibility for medicinal cannabis, there are some concerns surrounding what the medical cannabis system in Poland will look like as it moves forward. With no standardized set of conditions, the decision to prescribe medical cannabis treatment will be left up to individual doctors. Generally, the guidance given to doctors is that medical cannabis should be used as an alternative when other methods of treatment are ineffective for a certain patient, and where their medical condition is one of those thought to respond to cannabis medicine.
“Expectations are enormous, but this therapy is only for a few patients,” says Dr. Jerzy Jarosz, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist at St Krzysztof Hospice in Warsaw, also to Emerging Europe. “Only 15 percent of my patients qualify for the use of this treatment, and only when other methods of treatment are ineffective.”
While medicinal cannabis would be relatively accessible (it could be prescribed by any doctor, as opposed to specialists only), the costs involved with medicinal cannabis treatment may be a deterrent to some eligible patients. Based on the need to import cannabis rather than produce it domestically, pharmacists estimate that the cannabis product needed is expected to cost around 50-60 zł ($13-16 USD) per gram, correlating to around 2000 zł ($550 USD) for a month’s worth of cannabis treatment.
One additional concern is the absence of any sort of documentation which medical marijuana patients can hold, that would prove that any cannabis in their possession is for strictly medicinal purposes if they are stopped by a member of the police and found in possession.
“Perhaps the receipt from the pharmacy will be enough proof,” adds Dr. Jarosz.