Can Cannabis be Grown Legally in Bulgaria?

Novinite Insider » OPINIONS | March 18, 2019, Monday // 16:27| Views: | Comments: 0
Bulgaria: Can Cannabis be Grown Legally in Bulgaria?

In recent months, the media has been saying about growing cannabis for medical purposes on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. One reason was that there are companies that have already obtained a license to grow and process cannabis for medical purposes in Bulgaria, writes

The cultivation and use of cannabis for medical purposes is one of the issues not regulated at the level of the European Union. Member States are given the autonomy to determine whether and under what conditions marijuana may be allowed for medical purposes, although the issue will be resolved at EU level in the near future. On 13 February this year, the European Parliament endorsed Resolution 2018/2775 (RSP) on the use of cannabis for medical purposes. It calls for a clear legal definition of the use of cannabis in medicine and differentiation from all other uses. MEPs insist on strengthening funding for medical research on cannabis, and cannabis-based medicines be covered by health insurance funds. To date, Member States apply different approaches to this. Some countries only allow the registration of drugs containing cannabis-derived substances, others allow the cultivation and processing of cannabis for medical purposes. The focus of this material is the conditions for its cultivation under the current legislation in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Cannabis or hemp is a term that denotes a genus of plants from some of the varieties of which marijuana can be harvested. Cannabinoids are chemical substances in marijuana that have an effect on the human psyche. Of these, the most important is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), ranging from 0.2% to 21%. Among other cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) have a significant effect. Hemp varieties in which the content of cannabinoids is less than 0.2% are qualified as industrial and therefore unsuitable for marijuana production. When establishing cannabis plantations for marijuana for medical purposes, it is considered whether final production can be realized on the local market or should only be used for exports to other countries.

The legal situation of cannabis in Bulgaria is regulated by the Narcotics and Precursors Control Act. It is noteworthy that the attitude of the law to the plant is as strict as other high-risk substances - opium poppy, cocaine shrub. The principle is that the cultivation of opium poppy, cocaine bushes and plants of the genus of hemp is forbidden. Moreover, the law explicitly places an obligation on owners or users of land for agricultural or other purposes to monitor the emergence of such plants and to ensure their timely destruction.

The law provides for the classification of narcotic substances and plants according to their danger to the life and health of humans (and animals). Cannabis and marijuana fall into List I - Plants and substances with a high risk to public health due to the harmful effect of their misuse prohibited in human and veterinary medicine. The remaining lists of classified drugs are: List II - Substances with high risk for use in human and veterinary medicine and List III - Risks. It is from this classification of marijuana / cannabis that we can conclude that it is forbidden for use in medical devices. Moreover, the production, processing, marketing, storage, import, export, re-export, transit, transport, supply, acquisition, use and possession of the plants, narcotic substances and their preparations listed in List I are prohibited under current legislation.

History recognizes a number of cases where hazardous substances treated as dangerous to the population subsequently enter human medicine, and vice versa.

The normative acts in the field take into account the possibility to reach new results from scientific researches and the Ordinance on the order of classification of plants provides for a special order in which the classification of a given plant or substance can be changed as well as the rules for its use. Such a change can be expressed in several ways - excluding a particular plant from the list of narcotic substances, including a new plant / substance on these lists or moving plants from one list to another.

Proposals to make changes to the lists are addressed to the chairperson of the National Narcotics Board, which instructs the expert council to prepare a reasoned opinion on each of the submitted proposals. It may be necessary to include, delete or displace a plant or substance from the lists from obligations of the Republic of Bulgaria under an international treaty. In these cases, the procedure is identical and an expert advice is required again.

In order for a substance to be listed in the narcotic drugs list, it must meet one of the following criteria: to have a proven psychoactive effect, to cause a state of dependence, to cause harmful effects similar to those of narcotics and psychotropic to be transformed into an anesthetic or psychotropic substance, to have abusive data from another country, be placed under control in another country. It is clear from the criteria set out that cannabis can not be excluded entirely from the narcotic lists, but there is no obstacle to be moved from list I to list II. The switching of cannabis into list II could open doors for cannabis use in human or veterinary medicine, but would not only allow cannabis cultivation (containing more than 0.2% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol). It is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is the key active ingredient of cannabis, which is also used in the development of medical products. To this end, a change to the Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act, which contains an explicit ban, as well as other related acts, will be necessary. The more important part is to conceive this concept in society and only then introduce changes made by professionals familiar with local legislation, European acts and world practices.

As mentioned above, the principle is that cannabis cultivation on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria is forbidden. An exception is permitted - where the hemp grown for cannabis (cannabis) is intended for fiber, for feed and forage and seed and has a content of less than 0,2% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol, as determined by the leaf, the color and the fruit tips. Cannabis cultivation, even under these conditions, is not free - this activity is subject to control by the State Agency for National Security. Persons who grow cannabis intended for fiber, feed and food and seed crops must be licensed to carry out this activity. A non-public register is kept for the licenses issued.

In March 2018, Ordinance No 1 was adopted on the terms and procedure for issuing a plant breeding license for cannabis (cannabis) intended for fiber, for feed and food and seed for sowing, with a content of less than 0,2 the weight percent of tetrahydrocannabinol specified in the leaf, color and fruit tips for trade and control and Order No 3 on the conditions and procedure for issuing an import license for seed of hemp not intended for sowing. With the issue of these two regulations, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forest has established clearer rules in the area. However, it is noteworthy that even with regard to hemp plants with a content of less than 0.2% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol, which do not affect the human psyche, strict regulation is applied both in terms of cultivation and in terms of conversion of production.

Lastly, it should also be noted that the Narcotics and Precursors Control Act provides for the possibility for natural and legal persons to produce, acquire, import, export, store and use limited quantities of plants and substances in List I for medical, scientific and laboratory research, for educational purposes, as well as for maintaining the working condition of official dogs finding narcotic substances. Eligible quantities are set by an ordinance, and at present limited allowances for hemp and marijuana are 30,000 grams.

The comparative analysis of the legislation in the sphere of the different EU states implies the necessity of reforming our national legislation. The aim of such a reform would be to develop more modern rules on the cultivation, import, export and processing of plants such as hemp. The experience of some neighboring countries shows that, with adequate regulation of the sector, the emerging new business opportunities are substantial. Of course, the issue of the status of cannabis as a drug but also as a substance should undergo a profound public debate to anticipate possible legislative changes. Here, social attitudes will play a key role in striking a balance between society's fears and the desire to unveil new business.

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