Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana or hemp, is a plant distinguished by its rich cannabinoid components. These active substances possess not only psychoactive properties but also hold significant importance in the fields of medicine, recreation, and industry.
In this article, we will analyze the consequences and possibilities associated with the application of cannabis within the framework of the European Union and Bulgaria. Recent years have been marked by lively discussions in society, addressing diverse social, health, and legal questions related to the use and regulation of this plant. Matters concerning legalization, medical applications, control, and potential risks have placed cannabis at the center of attention for both the public and legal scholars.
In the present exposition, without claiming comprehensiveness, we present a general overview of the aspects related to the application and legal regulation of cannabis in Europe and Bulgaria.
1. Terminological Clarifications
It is necessary to provide certain terminological clarifications. Cannabinoids are the substances present in cannabis that have a psychological impact on humans. Among the cannabinoids, the most significant is tetrahydrocannabinol, whose content varies.
Depending on the content of cannabinoids, cannabis can refer to both industrial hemp and marijuana. Varieties of hemp in which the cannabinoid content is below 0.2% by weight are classified as industrial hemp according to Bulgarian law and are therefore unsuitable for marijuana production.
If it contains more than 0.2% by weight, it is considered marijuana.
Industrial hemp is not a narcotic plant and differs from marijuana in that it does not have a high concentration of psychoactive substances, whereas marijuana, depending on the plant variety, possesses stronger or weaker narcotic and psychoactive features.
For this reason, industrial hemp is not prohibited in Bulgaria.
2. Application of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp
Marijuana has a variety of potential medical uses, including alleviating chronic pain, treating symptoms related to nausea, muscle spasms, and seizures, as well as potential benefits for mental conditions. It is being researched and utilized for its therapeutic properties in treating a range of disorders and enhancing patients’ quality of life.
On the other hand, industrial hemp also has numerous applications due to its strong and durable fibers. It is commonly used in textile production for clothing and fabrics, as well as for ropes and cords. Furthermore, industrial hemp is utilized in paper production, building materials like insulation and wood particleboards, and even biofuels and bioplastics, making it a versatile and sustainable resource.
3. Legal Regulation of Cannabis at the European Level
There is no common European regulation for cannabis, therefore member states have the freedom to decide how to regulate cannabis, whether it is marijuana for medical purposes or industrial hemp.
It is known that there is a 2019 resolution by the European Parliament concerning the use of cannabis for medical purposes. It acknowledges the therapeutic potential of cannabis-based medicines and calls for patient access, promotion of scientific research, and harmonized provisions across the EU to ensure quality and safety. The resolution emphasizes the need for clear labeling, medical education, and systems for monitoring and reporting adverse events related to the use of cannabis-based medicines.
4. Legal Regulation of Cannabis in Bulgaria
Regarding Bulgaria, the regulation of cannabis is outlined in the Law on Control of Narcotic Substances and Precursors. The law applies to plants and substances classified as narcotic and psychotropic substances. The law distinguishes between marijuana and industrial hemp based on the percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol content.
Due to its high tetrahydrocannabinol content, marijuana is included in a specific list in the Regulation on the Classification of Plants and Substances as a narcotic. According to this list, marijuana falls under plants and substances with a high degree of risk to public health due to their harmful effects when abused, and they are prohibited for use in human and veterinary medicine.
Consequently, it can be concluded that the production, processing, trade, use, storage, import, export, transit, transportation, and accountability of marijuana in Bulgaria are currently prohibited.
For this reason, the law also stipulates that the cultivation of opium poppy, coca bush, and plants of the cannabis genus (hemp) is prohibited in Bulgaria, except in cases where it concerns industrial hemp as defined by the law.
Industrial hemp is a plant of the cannabis genus with a tetrahydrocannabinol content below 0.2% by weight. The cultivation of such plants intended for fiber, feed and food seeds, and planting seeds is only allowed with a permit issued by the Minister of Agriculture. The import of these plants is also subject to such permission.
5. Trends in Marijuana Regulation in Europe
There is no consensus among the different member states of the European Union regarding the policy towards cannabis.
On one hand, there are countries that increasingly advocate for the legalization of marijuana for personal use.
An example can be given with the Czech Republic, where a plan was recently announced to allow the use of marijuana under certain conditions. The Czech National Drug Coordinator believes that there should be clear regulation concerning cannabis, similar to that in place for alcohol, tobacco products, and gambling.
In Germany, a draft law was published that gives the green light for the use and sale of cannabis for personal purposes. They are adopting a two-stage legalization model, which includes allowing cultivation at home and subsequently allowing the sale of marijuana in specialized controlled shops.
A similar wave is seen in Luxembourg, Malta, and Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Estonia, Greece and other states in Europe. The common thread among all these countries is that they want the use of marijuana to be permitted but strictly regulated under the framework of the law. All of these states encourage the European Commission to propose the legalization of marijuana at the European level.
On the other hand, European countries like France, Sweden, Hungary, and Romania are in favor of maintaining a more conservative approach when it comes to the legalization of cannabis.
6. Trends in Cannabis Regulation in Bulgaria
Regarding industrial hemp, in recent years, three similar draft laws have been proposed, according to which the maximum content of cannabinoids that defines when a plant is considered industrial hemp should be increased.
According to the proponents of the draft laws, the specified content of tetrahydrocannabinol in the law is inadequate and that even with the increased cannabinoid content, industrial hemp would not exhibit psychotropic features, and it would not be usable in drug production.
According to these draft laws, the processing of industrial hemp that meets legal requirements should be allowed in Bulgaria, as currently it can be grown but not processed, and is subsequently exported abroad, only to be re-imported as finished products. This unnecessary complication of the process, leading to economic losses, could be resolved by permitting the processing of industrial hemp in Bulgaria.
As for trends in regulating marijuana, with the presence of political will in Bulgaria and considering trends in Europe, it is not impossible that the cultivation, use, and sale of marijuana for medical and personal purposes may gradually be permitted, subject to strict regulations. To achieve this, relevant regulations and established criteria, according to which a substance or plant is classified as a narcotic, need to be changed. If marijuana is moved to a less restrictive list of narcotic substances, this could potentially enable its use for medical purposes, as pointed out above.
In light of the current European trends and the development of regulation and legalization of cannabis for personal and medical purposes, it is evident that Bulgaria cannot remain aloof from these processes for an extended period. European states are undergoing a new interpretation of the role of cannabis in society, harmonizing societal interests with individual needs.
Aligning national regulations with European standards is of paramount importance to achieve a balance between societal protection and individual rights. The processes of rediscovering the potential of cannabis and constructing new models for its application are underway and will continue to evolve in the coming years.
Certainly, a review and update of the national legislative framework are necessary, including the matter of processing industrial hemp. In this process, it is crucial to consider the experiences and scientific research of other countries to establish a modern and effective regulation