Serbian Patients Face Jail as Medical Marijuana Legalisation Stalls – Balkan Insight

Medical Cannabis Legalisation
Serbian officials step up anti-drug rhetoric

Increasing numbers of studies have been published in recent years showing that cannabis helps to relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy, reduce pain in patients with cancer, relieve cramps and pain connected with multiple sclerosis and treat epilepsy, and that it even has the potential to shrink certain tumours.

Increasing numbers of countries around the world have legalised cannabis treatment, including two in the Balkans – Croatia and North Macedonia – but initiatives to change the law in Serbia appear to have stalled.

In Serbia, owning or growing cannabis for medical treatment is a crime. People caught in possession of cannabis can end up in jail for up to three years and growing it attracts penalties ranging from three to 12 years.

“We have many association members who have stopped their illness progressing or the consequences of the illness have decreased, and they have the support of their personal doctors, but they are being blocked,” Simic said.

Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar announced in April that Serbia, as a member of the United Nations, will respect the decision of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to remove marijuana from the list of “particularly dangerous” narcotics.

However, just a week later, President Aleksandar Vucic said that Serbia will not decriminalise marijuana, and will prosecute drug dealers more vigorously than ever.

Vucic’s statement was a response to rumours that the UN decision could stop the prosecution of Predrag Koluvija, the owner of the Jovanjica farm, and his associates from the Serbian police and security services.

The illegal marijuana production at the Jovanjica farm posed the question of whether there was state involvement in an illicit drug operation, due to the amount of cannabis found – 1.6 tonnes of high-quality psychoactive cannabis, and the numerous ties between officials and the farm.

For the Serbian public, however, most eye-catching were the high-profile guests who visited the farm. These included, in 2015, Aleksandar Vulin, who at the time was the minister for social affairs. Vulin is now Serbia’s interior Mminister and has been making the strongest statements against the softening of the laws prohibiting cannabis.

“While I am a minister, there is no chance that marijuana will be legalised. Ninety per cent of those who tried heroin tried marijuana first. We will take them out for six months for five grammes of marijuana, and they will not poison our children for at least that long,” Vulin said in June.

Mladen Nikolic, co-author of the Serbia’s current Law on the Legalisation of Psychoactive Substances, argued that the political aspects of the Jovanjica case should not prevent Serbia from respecting the UN decision, because it could have deeper consequences.

“We now have legislation that is not in accordance with the facts. In our law, we refer to the UN list [of prohibited drugs], and that list has been changed, so we need to make amendments,” he told BIRN.

“I told Prime Minister Ana Brnabic at one meeting that Serbia will pay a lot of money to people who go to the European Court [of Human Rights] if they are arrested in the period after the UN’s decision,” he added.