Nowadays, cannabis has been legalized nationwide for recreational use in only one country: Uruguay. Decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana has occurred in various jurisdictions of Europe and several states in the US. Four US states have legalized possession and sale for recreational use.
In Poland, production, sale, or possession of marijuana remains illegal. Of course, this does not mean that cannabis does not exist in Poland at all. Marijuana is produced and sold in large amounts on the black market, often to students.
Meanwhile, the ruling Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) party in Poland is a conservative party that claims to value personal freedoms. However, the party has also long stymied efforts to broaden legalization of cannabis.
This has extended even to medical marijuana. Only in rare cases is any importation of medical marijuana allowed, and enforcement is often strict. For example, a few years ago an elderly married couple was arrested because the couple tried to bring hemp oil into Poland. They were trying to help the husband's ailing mother, who died shortly after the couple's arrest. Not even much-publicized cases like this had much effect on the government's intransigent position against medical marijuana.
So, why is potential legalization of medical marijuana now suddenly an issue in Poland? The answer may be simple: a powerful politician is seriously ill.
Last month, Poles learned on national television that one of the prominent politicians of the leftist party, Thomasz Kalita, has brain cancer and needs medical marijuana as part of his treatment. Suddenly, the party, which has in the past rejected legalization, is now considering the matter. The party now also has the support of conservative deputy minisiter of Justice Patryk Jaki.
Due to decades of restrictions, however, the price of even legalized medical marijuana treatments are likely to be exceedingly high. Up until now, only three types of marijuana based treatments have been allowed, and they are imported on a patient-by-patient basis :
The problem is, that the price of one packet of medical marijuana exceeds 2500 zlotys — equivalent to over half the average salary in Poland. There are only few dozen patients using “destined import” in the country, so there is not enough will and courage among doctors to prescribe pharmaceuticals incorporating medical cannabis. Despite that, on 17th April 2015, the Constitutional Court recommended to Parliament that medical marijuana should be regulated. It pointed out that scientific evidence confirms that its medical value, especially for treating the side-effects of chemotherapy.
Given the degree to which the market has been so controlled in the past, it is unknown how quickly cannabis treatments might become more affordable.
Naturally, with such a small step toward legalization, the black market may remain the only affordable option for many. Total legalization would be preferable, of course, but this appears to be politically impossible at this time. Only total legalization, however, would allow for even non-wealthy Poles to access the medicines that the Polish state has kept unavailable for so long. It's unfortunate that it took the illness of a politician to bring these basic freedoms to the fore of the political debate.
Wojciech Szabaciuk is a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Wroclaw in Poland, and is a Mises University alumnus.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.