Like many EU countries, Croatia has been slowly changing its laws to allow for greater legal (or at least decriminalized) cannabis use. However, earlier this year, some in Croatia’s government got a bit impatient, attempting to jump steps in order to legalize recreational cannabis.
Two of the legal acts that govern drug law in Croatia are the Criminal Code and The Law on Combating Drugs Abuse. The manufacturing, trade, and possession of drugs are regulated by The Law on Combating Drugs Abuse which passed in 2001, and which has undergone updates since that time. It outlines preventative measures for curbing drug use and dealing with drug users, and specifically forbids growing, possessing or supplying drugs. The Criminal Code is used for the prosecution of more serious crimes.
In mid-December, 2012, the Croatian parliament voted in a bill to decriminalize personal use amounts of illicit substances, making possession of these amounts no longer a criminal offence (but rather a misdemeanor). Croatia does not establish what a personal use amount is, and leaves the designation to the courts in each particular case.
To be clear, whereas some personal use laws in other countries come with very few repercussions so long as the amount is within the legal requirement, Croatia’s decriminalization laws still leave an offender to pay a fine of possibly more than €2,000, ordered into a rehabilitation program, or required to do community service. Before the change in law, simple possession charges could result in up to three years in jail. The Criminal Code encourages courts to use alternatives to prison whenever possible, especially when the prison sentence would otherwise be six months or less.
The law, which went into effect on January 1st, 2013, did nothing to decriminalize personal cultivation of any drug for any reason. Cultivation, processing, and production of drugs, even without intent to sell, can result in 6 months – 5 years in prison. With intent to sell it can be anywhere from 1-12 years. It can go up to 15 years if the crimes involve children, and up to 20 years with the involvement of organized crime.
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Medical cannabis in Croatia
In October, 2015, Croatia legalized the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Under the law, doctors can prescribe medications in different forms containing THC with regulations putting a cap at .75 grams of THC per month for a patient. One of the driving forces behind the change in legislation came about because of a case involving a multiple sclerosis sufferer who was caught growing and using cannabis personally to treat his symptoms. The man in question was caught with 44 pounds of cannabis with which he was using to make oil.
In April of 2019, amendments were made to the Law on Combatting Drug Abuse which opened up the cultivation and production of cannabis for medicinal purposes as long as it is low-THC. The new update allows private institutions to gain authorizations from the Croatian Agency for Medicinal Products and Medical Devices (HALMED) to grow this low-THC cannabis. Approvals must also be gained from the Ministry of Health for all products.
Up until this update, medicinal cannabis products were strictly imported to Croatia with the new law making it possible to grow it within the country, while also opening up for outside investment. The regulatory aspects of this new update are still being worked out. Interested investors should keep an eye on it to see if the final regulations meet their business needs.
The push for recreational legalization
A look at Croatia’s history with cannabis legislation and general progress show an upward trajectory that is moving faster than some countries like Slovakia or Sweden, while being notably farther behind others like Spain and the Netherlands. Considering that Croatia’s personal use laws only knock offenders down to a misdemeanor status, while still essentially treating them like offenders, it makes what happened earlier this year even more out-of-place.
In February of this year, president of the Social Democratic Party’s Green Development Council, Mirela Holy, introduced a bill that would legalize recreational cannabis, as well as legalizing hemp for commercial purposes. Holy pushed those in government to see the economic value of a bill like this, citing countries like Paraguay and Canada that have their own legalization models, and herself pushing a hybrid structure that would involve the government and private business working together.
As a previous Minister for Environment during Zoran Milanovic’s government in 2011-2012, Holy has been pushing environmental causes for years, with the use of hemp being a big part of it. One of her desires is for hemp to be used to its full capacity, which through history has meant being used to make nearly anything from paper to clothing to fuel, and so on. The bill would also permit adults to grow up to nine plants for personal use.
When asked if this was too soon for a country like Croatia that has been liberalizing slower than other places, Holy responded “When I started talking about it a few years ago, the reactions were terrible, but things have changed.” The bill was set for debate in the weeks that followed.
Will it happen?
Considering Croatia seems like an out-of-the-blue country for this debate to be taking place, it makes sense that Mirela Holy herself is quite a force to be reckoned with. Whereas draft legislation of this nature (coming out in a country for which it is significantly more liberal than the general standing of the country) usually gets put down rather quickly (often being a starting point for a much longer battle), this has not gone away.
The corona pandemic has done well to temporarily change the general conversation, and upcoming elections are focused on many different topics, but the question of legalization is far from gone. On July 5th, Croatians will go to the polls for a parliamentary election called for by current president Zoran Milanovic. The two main parties in competition are the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Social Democrats (SDP). The SDP – Mirela Holy’s party – has been slightly trailing the HDZ, but should it win, one of the first orders of business is passing the recreational cannabis legislation.
As the gap between the two top parties is as narrow as a couple percentage points, this actually gives Mirela Holy, the Social Democratic Party, and the proposed recreational cannabis bill, a very good chance of success.
Conclusion – what does this mean?
It means that not only would Croatia open up its laws to allow private citizens vastly more freedom for themselves, it would also curb the illegal drug market, and open up more space for outside investment. Plus, it would take a much more serious look at hemp, its applications, and its economic possibilities, especially in the context of relieving burdens on the environment.
Mirela Holy really has her eye on the ball when it comes to economic actions that can open up entire industries while providing ways for a cleaner environment. Her push towards more hemp usage, and her law for recreational cannabis legality, show a forward-thinking individual who might be a bit ahead of her time for her country, but who seems perfectly capable of bringing her country up to speed.
If nothing else, and even if Holy loses and the bill doesn’t pass now, Croatia has already begun the process of entering the global medicinal cannabis market. As Croatia defines its system and starts handing out licenses, the cannabis money will start coming in, and with a person like Holy around, the push for recreational freedom is not likely to go away until the relevant laws are passed. So, here’s to a victory by the SDP next month, and Croatia actually making the jump to legal recreational cannabis.
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