By Roland Sebestyén
The government of North Macedonia is reportedly considering its options that could lead to the country being the first to legalise recreational cannabis use in Europe. The prime minister has said that cannabis has great economic potential, and the public will be able to share their views on decriminalisation and legalisation.
AFP reports that North Macedonia, where adult use is strictly forbidden and medical cannabis can be prescribed for only a number of conditions, could be the very first country in Europe that legalises recreational cannabis.
With this move, North Macedonia could be a true cannabis-pioneer. When talking about a potential discussion on a change in the country’s drug policy, prime minister Zoran Zaev saw another angle: the economic advantage.
The coronavirus pandemic has had its toll on North Macedonia too.
As other countries have turned to the drug to fill gaps in the budget, North Macedonia could easily do the same if the public were behind the idea.
However, Filip Sekuloski, who leads a local NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) to promote more liberal cannabis policies, told AFP that the country needs to change its laws to utilise cannabis first.
Recreational use, as everywhere else on the continent, is forbidden, and medical cannabis has only been legal with conditions since 2016.
Mr Sekulovski said: “The good thing is we have a law for cannabis production, but the bad thing is the law is awful.
“[Decriminalisation] would mean erasing one black market and offering a legal turnover of money, new employment, new tax income.”
PM Zaev pledged that the public will be offered to decide whether the cannabis policy should be changed or not.
Not everyone is on board, though. Mr Zaev’s opposition attacks him as they fear a somewhat looser cannabis policy would see more people smoking the drug on the streets.
Some claim the government is not trustworthy, and some say the prime minister’s relatives are in the business – gossip he vehemently denies.
Others believe the politicians will try not to bother those gangs ruling the streets.
However, these claims are strongly disputed by campaigners and people in favour of an open and legal cannabis market in North Macedonia.
Ognen Uzunovski, 47, a cafe owner in Skopje who is part of the Operation Liberation movement in favour of legalisation, said: “It does not mean that North Macedonia will be flooded with cannabis and everybody will smoke on the streets and the kids would become drug addicts.”
Mr Sekulovski, who was arrested after police found “several hundred grams of cannabis” in his apartment to make his own cannabis oil said, despite the positive signs, he believes cannabis will unlikely be legal in North Macedonia in the next five years.
As North Macedonia wants to join the EU in the next few years, it will surely be interesting to see how the prime minister’s plans pan out.