The argument over whether to legalize cannabis has led to many countries making distinctions between different components of the plant.
These distinctions have meant that the cannabinoid CBD has been treated more leniently than the rest of the plant, and is often no longer subject to the same regulation. But this is not the case everywhere, and in the EU, Slovakia is the sole holdout in keeping CBD illegal.
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What is CBD?
Before getting into CBD, let’s define cannabis itself. Cannabis is a species of plant in the Cannabaceae family. Some look at it is simply being one species: c. sativa, while others argue that the family is made up of up to three species including: c. indica, and c. ruderalis. Originally from central Asia, it is now cultivated around the globe.
Cannabis is made up of many different constituent parts with the majority being cannabinoids, the two most prevalent of which are THC and CBD. While THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – is known for its psychotropic effects, the basic reasoning for the plant’s illegalization in the first place, CBD – cannabidiol – has no psychotropic effects, and has been linked in research to having many possible medical benefits.
Positive results have been shown in many categories including pain management, help with anxiety, and as an aid for neurodegenerative diseases among many other possible uses. When cannabis was originally outlawed around the world in the early to mid-1900’s, no one was thinking about what the specific parts of the plant did individually, it was just taken as a whole.
As we’ve gained the ability to both isolate parts of a plant (taking CBD out), as well as identify strains that are low in THC and higher in CBD to begin with (as hemp strains are), the ability to consider one part alone has led to the legalizing of extracts like CBD oil, so long as the extract falls in line with whatever THC limits are applicable for the specific location.
Europe, for example, has a blanket max of .2% THC in any CBD product in order for it to remain legal. Individual member states, however, have their own stipulations for max THC amounts. In the case of Slovakia, while THC certainly is illegal, CBD unfortunately shares the same regulation.
A little about Slovakia
Slovakia is a central European country, landlocked between Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine. It has about 5.4 million residents, and was under communist rule from 1948-1993 when the regime controlling Czechoslovakia came apart.
Things were slow for Slovakia directly after separating from Czechoslovakia, but since that time it has developed into the 38th richest country in the world as per the International Monetary Fund for this year, and has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe.
About 80% of the country’s GDP is based on exports of automobiles and electronics. Slovakia is a parliamentary republic, its capital city is Bratislava. It joined the EU in 2004, and the euro zone in 2009.
Slovakia and drugs
To say that Slovakia takes its drug policies quite seriously is an understatement. For one thing, unlike many other countries, Slovakia has no personal use laws which means being found with any amount of an illicit substance is subject to section 171 of the penal code and incurs up to three years imprisonment if caught with the equivalent of 3X a standard dose, and up to five years if the amount found is up to 10X a standard dose.
For amounts of more than 10X a standard dose, the offender is charged under section 172 of the penal code. As of 2013, the minimum sentence had been reduced to three years from four. Section 172 also covers trafficking and illegal production which comes with sentences of 3-25 years depending on the specifics of the crime.
One of the issues with Slovakian drug law is that it doesn’t differentiate between harder and softer drugs, meaning cannabis is just as illegal as cocaine or heroin, and subject to the same repercussions. In the same way, Slovakia does not distinguish different parts of the cannabis plant, which helps explain why legalizing CBD has been such a headache in the country.
Why so strict?
At first it actually looked like Slovakia might lighten up on CBD. In August of 2019, a bill was introduced to amend the Psychotropic Substances Act which would have removed CBD from the list of psychotropic substances. The law would have gone into effect January 1, 2020. CBD has been a regulated substance in Slovakia since 2011 when the pharmaceutical version of cannabis, Sativex, was denied for use by the Slovakian government, since it has THC in it.
Slovakia’s parliament lamented that it didn’t know Sativex contained CBD as well, but made no move to make a formal differentiation between the two compounds legally, thus leaving them grouped together to share the same regulation with each other, and a slew of other narcotic drugs.
Currently any importing, exporting, or handling of CBD requires the Ministry of Health to give permission. The amendment came about because the World Health Organization had itself released a report saying CBD was not a public health risk and posed no addictive threat.
Unfortunately, it was all short-lived. The Slovakian parliament rejected the proposal and opted instead to keep CBD on the list of psychotropic substances with the likes of cocaine and morphine. It is joined by Sweden, another EU-related country that has a zero-tolerance policy for the cannabis plant, and does not differentiate between the component parts of it.
As far as why Slovakia has remained so strict on CBD, its hard to say. Eastern European countries have in general moved a little slower toward decriminalization and legalization, possibly owing to their more repressive and conservative backgrounds. In the case of Slovakia, it’s hard to say when another similar initiative can be expected. Though it doesn’t make sense to assume it will always be this rigid, especially as the EU generally gets looser with cannabis regulation, it certainly isn’t in the cards for the near future.
Does Slovakia have a weed culture?
One of the things that seems to be as sure as death and taxes, is that everywhere you go, you can find someone smoking weed. Even Slovakia isn’t an exception to the rule. Restrictive environments certainly make the drug trade harder, but especially in the case of cannabis which can be easily home-grown and isn’t related to mass addiction or destruction, you can bet it’ll be around, at least a bit.
One article claimed that a European school survey on alcohol and drug use found that about 40% of Slovakians who responded between the ages of 15-24 had used cannabis in the last year. Cannabis is the most popular drug in Slovakia, and the only illegal drug that has shown long term popularity and growth. Whether this will translate to more lenient legislation in the future is hard to say at present, but it seems often that as populations and societies themselves become more accepting of things like cannabis (and at the very least CBD), governmental legislation follows behind, even if slowly.
The EU sure has a big range when it comes to cannabis regulation. Countries like Luxembourg are playing around with outlines for legalization on a recreational level. Other places already exist with interesting laws like the Netherlands with its infamous coffeeshops, Spain with its legal-through-a-loophole cannabis clubs which allow for localized smoking, and Denmark which actually has an entire enclave in the form of Freetown Christiana where drugs are sold (nearly) freely on the streets (of an otherwise strict country).
And then there are countries that are moving slower, like Lithuania, which only recently put in place a medical cannabis program (that is moving pretty slow), and others like Sweden and Slovakia which make cannabis out to be the complete enemy, maintaining very strict regulation akin to 1930’s Reefer Madness hype.
For Slovakia’s sake, and the heath of their people, I hope new proposals arise for medical cannabis programs. Hoping for more than that right now is a stretch for a country that only just shot down legislation to legally separate CBD from cannabis.
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