Updated on December 28, 2018.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Polish pharmacies could begin legally selling cannabis on November 1, after a hard-fought battle in Parliament. Piotr Krzysztof Liroy-Marzec, former rapper Liroy, was able to push the legislation through two years after he was elected to the Polish parliament.
The Polish Medical Marijuana Program
In July 2017, a medical cannabis bill was signed by the Polish president into legislation. It made Poland the most recent European nation to allow the use of medical marijuana to all citizens. The Polish government took more than three months to put the legislation into effect, approving it and then starting work on resolving the issues that might arise.
The economy of Poland is in good shape — better than most countries in the region. The medical marijuana industry is expected to flourish in Poland and further boost the economy there. Currently, there are almost 15,000 pharmacies in Poland, 90% of which are approved and authorized for medical marijuana prescriptions. Estimates are that nearly 300,000 patients in Poland will have access to medical marijuana therapy.
After being elected as a member of parliament in 2015, Liroy made medical marijuana his main issue. Liroy was forced to table his medical marijuana draft legislation in February after introducing it in 2016.
Substantial amendments preceded reintroducing the bill that would eventually pass a vote. This new version of the bill removed all clauses to permit home cultivation of marijuana, which Parliament seemed most concerned about. The Deputy Health Minister, Krzysztof Landa, opposed the new legislation because patients in Poland already have access to cannabis-based products like Sativex, the sublingual spray.
Liroy did not agree with the health minister’s position. He recognizes that natural cannabis products have several advantages over synthetic remedies. For many patients suffering from debilitating conditions, access to medical-grade marijuana can make a significant difference in their quality of life.
After almost two years of work revising the bill and campaigning for its passage, Liroy’s position prevailed. Poland’s medical marijuana bill passed the vote in Parliament by a wide margin — in the Lower House, there were only two dissenting votes out of 442.
Medical Marijuana Law Will Change Life of Polish People
According to this new legislation, cannabis will be prescribed for conditions such as spasticity, chronic pain, treatment-resistant epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chemotherapy-induced nausea. The new legislation alone will not permit adult usage of cannabis — instead, patients need to get permission for using medical marijuana from their regional pharmaceutical inspector. Before seeking permission of the pharmacist, a patient needs medical authorization from a doctor. The medicine must also be filed with the Office for Registration of Medicinal Products first.
According to an estimate in 2015, almost 78% of the Polish population support the idea of legalizing medical use of marijuana. The same percentage of people believe that by denying access to medical marijuana, the Polish government is putting unfair restrictions on healthcare, arguing Polish people need cannabis as part of a comprehensive healthcare treatment for some conditions and diseases.
Cannabis oil was already legal in Poland and showing immense benefits for patients. The legal cannabis oil contains a high concentration of CBD or cannabidiol, an anti-inflammatory compound derived from marijuana plants. CBD helps relieve symptoms without giving the patient the high associated with traditional marijuana. This oil also contains a small portion of THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that’s considered to be more effective for palliative care and treating post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
This new legislation gives Polish people the right to access medical marijuana with a high concentration of THC, which is needed to treat many conditions. The new medical marijuana law in Poland will improve healthcare for people suffering from certain medical conditions. Some legislators, physicians and marijuana activists argue, however, that the new law will only help a few patients who can afford it.
According to Doctor Marek Bachanski, a paediatric neurologist notable for treating epilepsy in children with medical cannabis, the new law comes with many shortcomings. He is concerned many Polish people still won’t have access to medical cannabis because it won’t be produced domestically.
The right-wing-dominated parliament of Poland banned recreational use of marijuana in the new law, as well. The law permits medical cannabis to be controlled by prescription with higher concentrations of THC, but restricts Polish pharmacies to imported marijuana only. There is no provision in Poland’s medical marijuana law to allow for production of cannabis in the country.
Conservative lawmakers chose to restrict domestic production of cannabis because they were afraid this would lead to recreational use. If it can be legally produced in the country, for any purpose, recreational use would likely increase, in their minds.
Bachanski pointed out other problems with the new medical marijuana law. He notes the supply of cannabis imported from the Netherlands is too small for all the Polish patients who need this treatment. It will take at least one year to increase the import supply to required levels.
He also said very few Polish doctors know how to use cannabis to treat patients. There is a lack of knowledge and training in this area. Pharmacists, as well, aren’t properly equipped to handle all types of cannabis prescriptions. More education is needed, along with additional equipment, to make medical marijuana a practical solution for patients in Poland.
Impact of the Legalization of Medical Marijuana Worldwide
Under the rules of Europe, patients who can’t fill their prescriptions in Poland, have a right to do so in one of the 13 other member states of the EU bloc where the use of medical marijuana is already legalized. Critics warn, however, that most Poles won’t be able to afford the cost of medical marijuana if purchased elsewhere in Europe.
Medical practitioners and cannabis advocates look forward to continued reforms in the medical marijuana program in Poland. Their hope is that domestic production will be allowed under future versions of the marijuana law. Permission for residential production and processing of cannabis will increase availability and lower the price.
Radziwill, the health minister of Poland, insists these concerns are overstated. There are already dozens of patients, especially kids, who can obtain the medical marijuana they need. Funding for these medications is available, and the imported supply is enough for now. Radziwill stresses the health ministry is considering every case separately.
A more viable and costly solution is marijuana imports to Poland are from the Netherlands or Canada. Pharmacists estimate the cost per gram would be approximately 50-60zl, so a patient using medical marijuana treatment would spend up to 2000zl per month — or the equivalent of nearly $550.
Given the condition of the worldwide medical marijuana market, Liroy has plans beyond the current marijuana bill. He hopes future marijuana legislation will allow Poland to produce its own marijuana and eventually develop cannabis into a viable export market for the country.