Is Croatia attempting to legalize leisure hashish?
Like many EU countries, Croatia has slowly changed its laws to allow more legal (or at least decriminalized) cannabis use. Earlier this year, however, some members of the Croatian government became somewhat impatient and tried to take steps to legalize recreational cannabis.
Two of the legal acts regulating drug law in Croatia are the Criminal Code and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. The manufacture, trade and possession of medicines are governed by the 2001 Drug Abuse Act, which has since been updated. It describes preventive measures to curb drug use and dealings with drug users and in particular prohibits the cultivation, possession or supply of drugs. The criminal code is used to prosecute more serious crimes.
In mid-December 2012, the Croatian parliament voted in a bill to decriminalize the quantities of illegal substances for personal use, making possession of these quantities no longer a crime (but rather an offense). Croatia does not determine the amount for personal use and leaves the designation to the courts in each individual case.
To be clear, while some laws on personal use in other countries have very little impact as long as the amount is within legal requirements, Croatian decriminalization laws still make a perpetrator fined, possibly up to € 2,000, for one Rehabilitation is arranged program or required to do community service. Before the law changes, simple property fees can result in imprisonment of up to three years. The Criminal Code encourages the courts to use alternatives to prison whenever possible, especially if the sentence would otherwise be six months or less.
The law, which came into force on January 1, 2013, did nothing to decriminalize the personal cultivation of drugs for any reason. The cultivation, processing and manufacture of medicinal products can lead to a prison sentence of 6 months to 5 years, even if no sales intent is made. With the intention of selling it can be anywhere between 1-12 years. It can take up to 15 years if the crime affects children and up to 20 years if organized crime is involved.
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Medical cannabis in Croatia
In October 2015, Croatia legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes. According to the law, doctors can prescribe medications in various forms that contain THC. The regulations set a maximum limit of 0.75 grams THC per month for a patient. One of the driving forces behind the law change was a case in which a multiple sclerosis sufferer was caught growing and used cannabis personally to treat his symptoms. The man in question was caught with 44 pounds of cannabis, which he used to produce oil.
In April 2019, changes were made to the Anti-Substance Abuse Act that opened the cultivation and production of cannabis for medical purposes as long as it has a low THC content. With the new update, private institutions can get approval from the Croatian Agency for Drugs and Medical Devices (HALMED) to grow this low-THC cannabis. Approvals must also be obtained from the Ministry of Health for all products.
Until this update, medical cannabis products were only imported to Croatia. The new law enabled cultivation within the country and also opened up to external investments. The regulatory aspects of this new update are still being worked out. Interested investors should keep an eye on whether the final regulations meet their business requirements.
The urge to legalize leisure activities
A look at Croatia's history with cannabis legislation and overall progress shows an upward trend that is developing faster than in some countries like Slovakia or Sweden, while lagging significantly behind others like Spain and the Netherlands. Given that Croatian personal use laws only give offenders criminal status and still treat them essentially like offenders, what happened earlier this year is still out of place.
There are numerous bottlenecks in cannabis supply in newly established leisure markets
In February of this year, the president of the Social Democratic Party's Green Development Council, Mirela Holy, presented a bill to legalize recreational cannabis and hemp for commercial purposes. Holy urged government officials to recognize the economic value of such a bill by citing countries like Paraguay and Canada, which have their own legalization models, and driving forward a hybrid structure where government and private companies would work together.
As a former environment minister during the reign of Zoran Milanovic in 2011-2012, Holy has been committed to environmental issues for years, with hemp being a large part of it. One of their desires is to make full use of hemp, which throughout history means that almost everything is made, from paper to clothing to fuel and so on. The bill would also allow adults to grow up to nine plants for personal use.
When asked if this was too early for a country like Croatia, which has liberalized more slowly than other places, Holy replied: “When I started talking about it a few years ago, the reactions were terrible, but things have changed The bill was put up for debate in the following weeks.
Will it happen?
Given that Croatia appears out of the blue for this debate, it makes sense that Mirela Holy is a force to be reckoned with. While bills of this type (which are published in a country for which they are much more liberal than the country's general reputation) are usually put in place fairly quickly (often as a starting point for a much longer struggle), this has not happened way.
How the corona virus paradigm shift affects the CBD and cannabis industry
The corona pandemic has done a good job of temporarily changing the general conversation, and the upcoming elections will focus on many different issues, but the issue of legalization is far from over. On July 5, Croatians will vote in the parliamentary elections demanded by current President Zoran Milanovic. The two most important parties in the competition are the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Social Democrats (SDP). The SDP – the party of Mirela Holy – has easily left the HDZ behind, but if it wins, one of the first tasks will be to pass legislation on recreational cannabis.
As the gap between the two top parties is only a few percentage points, this offers Mirela Holy, the Social Democratic Party, and the proposed law on recreational cannabis very good chances of success.
Conclusion – what does that mean?
This means that Croatia would not only open its laws to give private individuals far more freedom for themselves, but also curb the illegal drug market and open up more space for external investment. In addition, hemp, its applications and its economic possibilities would be examined much more seriously, especially in connection with environmental relief.
Mirela Holy really has an eye on the ball when it comes to economic measures that can open up entire sectors and at the same time offer ways for a cleaner environment. Their push for more hemp use and their law to legalize recreational cannabis show a forward-looking person who may be a little ahead of their time in their country, but who appears to be able to bring their country up to date.
If nothing else and even if Holy loses and the bill is not passed, Croatia has already started to enter the global medical cannabis market. If Croatia defines its system and distributes licenses, the cannabis money will go in, and with a person like Holy, the urge for free time is unlikely to subside until the relevant laws are passed. So here's a SDP victory next month, and Croatia is actually making the leap to legal recreational cannabis.
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