Espreso. Global

Ukraine set to legalize medical cannabis to help veterans 

7 November, 2023 Tuesday

Ukraine’s parliament may legalize medical cannabis as early as November. The relevant committee has already prepared the bill for the second reading

Mykhailo Radutskyi, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Health, Medical Assistance and Health Insurance, said this in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

According to him, the committee took into account all the amendments to the draft law and adopted it at a meeting on November 4.

He noted that opponents of the legislative initiative are likely to try to prevent the adoption of the document.

"However, I assume that it may be adopted this month," Radutskyi said.

Radutskyi reminded that, according to the Ministry of Health and WHO, about 7 million people need medical cannabis. These include military personnel with PTSD, cancer patients, and epilepsy patients.

Bloomberg also reported on the issue.

The outlet wrote that in the near future, Ukraine is set to take a significant step by legalizing medical marijuana, with the goal of providing potential relief to its veterans. This initiative gained momentum following the outbreak of the war and reached a pivotal point in July when the Ukrainian parliament, in an initial vote, passed legislation permitting the use of medical marijuana.

Public opinion in Ukraine is divided on this issue, with 37% opposing and 35% supporting the legalization of medical marijuana, as indicated by a July survey conducted by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Centre, with a margin of error of 2.3%.

The bill faced opposition from some lawmakers, narrowly passing with 268 votes in favor out of the 450-seat parliament. Critics, including the faction led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, argue that medical cannabis may lead to uncontrolled production and consumption and are calling for a voter referendum.

However, the ruling Servant of the People party supports the bill, and it enjoys the backing of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who stressed the importance of providing medical cannabis treatment for those affected by the war.

Olha Stefanyshyna, a member of the parliament's health committee, said the bill “is especially important now, when our country is in an active phase of the war, to relieve pain from combat injuries and to improve psychological conditions at a time when lots of Ukrainians are stressed.”

While many are hopeful that cannabis can provide relief for anxiety and other conditions, there is ongoing controversy about its effectiveness as a treatment. Some studies suggest that marijuana may only offer temporary relief from traumatic emotions and could have adverse side effects if used over an extended period. Nevertheless, the use of medical cannabis by veterans has been a common argument for legalization in the US.

If the bill is approved, Ukrainians with a medical prescription will be able to purchase marijuana six months after the law comes into effect. Recreational use will remain prohibited, and government regulations will tightly control production.

Combat veterans are expected to make up a significant portion of the user base, as an estimated 4 million Ukrainians, or approximately 10% of the population, have participated in the conflict with Russia, according to Yulia Laputina, the nation's minister for veterans' affairs.

Viktoria Romaniuk, deputy head of the non-governmental organization Athena: Women Against Cancer, supports the draft legislation but advocates for expanded access to marijuana-based treatments, as it has proven beneficial for alleviating symptoms like nausea, insomnia, and pain relief.

“Feedback from the members of our organization who fled from the country due to the war and have had access to marijuana-based drugs abroad are positive,” she said in an interview. “This treatment should be available for those who stayed in Ukraine, as it is too much for people who simultaneously endure cancer and the war.”

Taras Gaevych, a 36-year-old junior sergeant currently engaged in combat against Russian forces, is a proponent of the bill and urges lawmakers to pass it swiftly to ensure that soldiers and society as a whole can access this treatment if needed.

“If it’s not passed, I think it will be a problem for soldiers and thus for the whole society, if they fail to get this treatment,” he said.

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