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Ukraine: Zelensky signs bill to legalize medical cannabis

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill legalizing medical cannabis in Ukraine, with patients expected to have access to regulated medicines as early as 2024. In what was described as a “huge victory”, last Tuesday, February 13, Zelensky approved legislation that allows the prescription of cannabis-based medicines for illnesses including pain, cancer and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD).

The legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine has been a long time coming, with activists campaigning on the basis that it could help millions of veterans and patients across the country. The Ministry of Health has estimated that up to six million people will suffer not only from PTSD but also other mental health problems as a result of the trauma they suffered during the two years of war with Russia.

The bill to legalize medical cannabis passed its first reading in the Verkhovna Rada in July 2023, with President Zelensky and Health Minister Viktor Liashko expressing their support for the availability of this treatment to help address the crisis. of mental health in the country.

However, its second reading was postponed after an opposition party presented a large number of amendments, allegedly in an attempt to “block” the progress of the bill. On January 16, the Verkhovna Rada rejected the opposition's Resolution No. 7457-p, meaning the process could move forward.

Iyrna Rachynska from the Ukrainian Patients' Association commented: “Undoubtedly, the adoption of the law on the legalization of medical cannabis is a great victory for the entire patient community.”

“Patients, the public, doctors, military personnel and activists fought for this decision for more than five years. We organize actions, rallies, conferences, written appeals and try to transmit to society information about the suffering of patients who are forced to live without the opportunity to receive high-quality and affordable treatment.”

Over the next six months, ministries will outline legislation that allows for the immediate import of cannabis-based products into Ukraine, with the first products expected to be on the market in the third or fourth quarter of 2024.

The draft law also allows for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis in Ukraine, but this will take a few years to establish, with domestic supply not expected until 2028 at the earliest.

“In the next six months after the publication of the law, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the Ministry of Health must develop all necessary statutes. But it will be possible to import cannabis-based medicines into Ukraine sooner when changes are made to the 'List of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors', transferring cannabis from the table of prohibited drugs to the table of drugs permitted for circulation under strict control ”, explained Rachynska

Hanna Hlushchenko, an independent European consultant on medicinal cannabis, who has been working with the Ukrainian Medicinal Cannabis Association, added: “Today we have 100% confirmation that there is a possibility of a medicinal cannabis market in Ukraine, what we should do now is create the market.”

“My opinion is that the products will be on the market by the end of the year. It may seem optimistic, but the process is moving quickly. There is political will and this is explained by the number of patients, the war and the military who need access to medicinal cannabis. Not just for PTSD, but for military veterans who suffer injuries and chronic pain,” he said.

Germany pledges support to Ukraine
Last week, Liashko met with German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at the German-Ukrainian health summit in Berlin, where it was agreed that Germany would step up its support for Ukraine and provide more assistance with healthcare.

Together with Deputy Minister Maryna Slobodnichenko, other representatives from her ministry and the Ukrainian Association for Medicinal Cannabis, Liashko also visited Germany's largest cannabis manufacturer to learn more about the production of cannabis-based medicines.

Sven-Roger von Schilling, managing director of Schurer Pharma & Kosmetik GmbH, part of the Grünhorn network, commented in a press release: “We feel deep sympathy for Ukraine and agree with the decision to use medicinal cannabis to overcome the consequences of the war.”

“At Grünhorn, we have already been actively involved in providing medicines and emergency supplies to Ukraine. We are therefore particularly proud that Minister Liashko is interested in our experience and recognizes Grünhorn as a player important in the cannabis sector”, he said.

Creating the market – driving education and awareness
But although the legislation gives the green light for the establishment of a medical cannabis market in Ukraine, it may be some time before these products are routinely prescribed and treated in the same way as other more conventional medicines.

Hlushchenko hopes the model will be similar to those in other parts of Europe, such as Portugal and Germany. Cannabis-based medicines will only be available when prescribed by a doctor and distributed through licensed pharmacies, of which there are estimated to be only around 200 of the 18.000 pharmacies in Ukraine.

It will also take time to change long-standing attitudes among the general public and healthcare professionals in a country with a generally “conservative” view on cannabis, says Hlushchenko, who is working with the Ukrainian Medical Cannabis Association to educate consumers. doctors about the use of medical cannabis.

“Creating the market is not just about helping international companies that want to supply products to Ukraine, it is also about educating doctors, educating patients and spreading the word that cannabis is not as bad as it sometimes seems to be,” he explained.

“It happens in every country, when the market opens, doctors are worried, but through connecting with international doctors and companies they become more educated.”

Hlushchenko added: “I invite international companies to help in this regard, not only in the way they can export products to Ukraine, but also to help Ukrainian doctors understand how it works”, he concluded.

 

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[Disclaimer: Please note that this text was originally written in Portuguese and is translated into English and other languages ​​using an automatic translator. Some words may differ from the original and typos or errors may occur in other languages.]

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