Zelensky Calls For Legalizing Medical Cannabis

Volodymyr Zelensky
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: Shutterstock

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is calling for the legalization of medical marijuana to help Ukrainians cope with trauma amid the ongoing war with Russia.

In an address to the Ukrainian Parliament on June 28, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that “all the world’s best practices, all the most effective policies, all the solutions, no matter how difficult or unusual they may seem to us, must be applied in Ukraine so that Ukrainians, all our citizens, do not have to endure the pain, stress and trauma of war,” according to a translation.

“In particular, we must finally fairly legalize cannabis-based medicines for all those who need them, with appropriate scientific research and controlled Ukrainian production,” he said, as Ukrainska Pravda first reported.

The president stressed that providing access to medical cannabis could be a therapeutic option for citizens who have endured over a year of intense conflict after Russia invaded the country in February 2022.

During his 2019 presidential campaign, Zelensky also voiced support for medical cannabis legalization, saying that he felt it would be “normal” to allow people to access cannabis “droplets,” which is possibly a reference to marijuana tinctures.

Zelensky’s cabinet has taken steps to legalize medical cannabis, approving draft reform legislation last year that must still be passed by parliament.

“We understand the negative consequences of war on the state of mental health. And we understand that there is no time to wait.”

Minister of Healthcare Viktor Liashko said then that the bill would permit “the circulation of cannabis plants for medical, industrial purposes, scientific and scientific-technical activities to create the conditions for expanding the access of patients to the necessary treatment of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from war.”

“We understand the negative consequences of war on the state of mental health,” he said. “We understand the number of people who will need medical treatment as a result of this impact. And we understand that there is no time to wait.”

The policy change would put Ukraine in stark contrast to its long-time aggressor Russia, which has taken a particularly strong stance against reforming cannabis policy at the international level through the United Nations. The country has condemned Canada for legalizing marijuana nationwide.

The deputy of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last year that legalization efforts in the United States and Canada are matters “of serious concern for us,” according to a social media post from the office’s official account. “It is worrisome that several Member States of the [European Union] are considering violating their drug control obligations.”

In the US, congressional lawmakers are stepping up pressure on the Biden administration to take steps to secure the release of an American citizen, Marc Fogel, who is facing a 14-year sentence in a Russian prison over possession of medical cannabis that he obtained as a registered patient in Pennsylvania.

Fogel “is serving a 14-year hard-labor sentence for possession of medical marijuana used to treat his severe back injury, a charge very similar to that of WNBA player Brittney Griner,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) said in a June 27 press release. The basketball star served time in a Russian prison over possession of cannabis oil that she lawfully obtained as a medical marijuana patient in Arizona.

Reschenthaler was introducing a bill that would require the State Department to explain why Fogel and other Americans detained abroad haven’t been designated as wrongfully detained, to escalate diplomatic efforts to free them. Unlike Fogel, Griner was designated by the State Department as wrongfully detained, before being released as part of a prisoner swap that the Biden administration negotiated.

The comments of Zelensky on legalizing medical cannabis came on the same day that Luxembourg’s parliament voted to legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, making it the second country in the European Union to end prohibition.