Lithuania is the latest country to legalize medicinal cannabis after performing a total about-face in its attitude towards marijuana.
Previously, Lithuanians have been jailed for simply sharing a joint and campaigners have long protested its draconian approach. But the country’s lawmakers have just voted 90-0 in favour of a regulated medicinal marijuana industry and president Dalia Grybauskaite will sign it into law. Patients will begin receiving it in May 2019 on prescription, bringing Lithuania in line with several other European countries.
“It is a historic decision to ensure that patients can receive the best possible treatment,” said lawmaker Mykolas Majauskas, who tabled the bill. He told the people of Lithuania that cannabis is used to treat multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy patients, complex epilepsy, symptoms of autoimmune diseases and brain cancer across the world.
“We are talking about physical pain, nausea, anxiety, insomnia,” he added, reiterating that recreational marijuana is not being legalized and that you cannot simply get high and go to a nightclub.
The news broke just hours after UK home secretary Sajiv Javid decided to legalize medicinal cannabis. The story from Britain made international news, while Lithuania’s announcement barely registered. That is understandable, as the UK has one of the world’s largest economies and a population of 60 million, whereas Lithuania has just 2.8 million people. But Lithuania’s decision is just as significant, if not more so, as it previously maintained such a strong anti-cannabis stance.
The Baltic state shares a border with Russia and Belarus, and there is a chance that its softening approach to cannabis could inspire others in the region to follow suit. Influential street artists in the capital, Vilnius, are credited with helping to shift public opinion about cannabis. They estimate that 10% of Lithuanians enjoy cannabis and they used their art to rally against the heavy-handed approach to it from Seimas, the Lithuanian government. The artists had gone viral with a mural of Vladimir Putin kissing Donald Trump and they used their fame to highlight awareness of the desire of many citizens to bring about a change in cannabis laws.
Majukas was all ears and in November 2017 he got the ball rolling in a bid to legalize medicinal marijuana. At the time he said it was the first time in Lithuania that a decision on such a sensitive issue had enjoyed broad public and political support. The Seimas has spent the last 11 months working on the legislation and it went smoothly through parliament this week.