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Is North Macedonia about to legalize the recreational use of marijuana?

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Croatia and North Macedonia, along with Czechia, Lithuania and Poland, are among the few countries in Europe to have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The two Balkan countries could also soon follow in Georgia’s footsteps by decriminalizing recreational use as well.

North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev recently promised to transform the capital Skopje into an “Amsterdam of the Balkans”, with similar plans also being put in place for the picturesque lakeside town of Ohrid.

Zaev’s proposal is for marijuana use to become fully legal and widely available in Dutch-style coffeeshops across the country.

The move would aim to encourage the growth of tourism in both cities and take cannabis cultivation and distribution activities out of the hands of criminals. Amsterdam authorities announce plans to bar foreigners from its cannabis coffeeshops as part of wide-ranging changes aimed at reducing drug tourism.

Critics of this idea, such as Vlatko Gjorcev of the far-right IMRO party, have questioned the effects such a policy change could have on the health and morality of the nation. Others also questioned Zaev’s motives for speaking out so openly on the subject, with many linking it to his family’s involvement in a profitable cannabis business.

In an interview last month with Deutsche Welle North Macedonia, Zaev denied that personal interests were behind his bill and promised that efforts would be made to ensure that potential profits would be reinvested in the country. He further stressed that the issue of full decriminalization and legalization has not yet been actively discussed and that his party, the Social Democratic Union, would be ready to withdraw if the majority of Macedonian citizens agree. opposed the proposal.

Although possession and use of the plant is not yet legal in all cases, marijuana cultivation has already established itself as a thriving business in the country. As North Macedonia is one of the few countries in the world that allows both the cultivation and export of marijuana, it is now seeking to become a world leader in the export of the substance.

The country has taken inspiration from Canada’s liberal approach to growing and selling cannabis, with private companies allowed to cultivate and distribute the plant.

In 2018, Canadian International Cannabis Corp. (ICC) has agreed to acquire 100% of Balkan Cannabis Corp., which holds Macedonian licenses for the cultivation and extraction of medical cannabis, as well as Bulgarian licenses for the cultivation of medical cannabis and hemp.

“ICC will leverage Balkan Cannabis’ extensive network in Eastern Europe to target the second wave of European cannabis legalization,” a company spokesperson commented on the purchase.


In the meantime, Croatia has not only legalized marijuana for medical purposes: in 2012, the country also became one of the few countries in Europe to decriminalize the possession of all drugs for personal use.

Mirela Holy, chairwoman of the Green Development Council of the Croatian Social Democratic Party and former Minister of the Environment, proposed last February to introduce legislation to fully legalize the position and limited cultivation of marijuana for personal use .

The proposed bill would also legalize the cultivation of hemp for commercial purposes.

Holy points out that marijuana has been proven to be less harmful and less addictive than alcohol or cigarettes, while the hemp byproduct can be used as a biodegradable alternative to certain types of plastics and that its culture offers great potential.

“We propose a hybrid state agency model (state/private) to maintain high quality (of the product) in the market. Regarding recreational cannabis use, the bill would allow each adult to cultivate up to nine high-THC female plants for their personal needs,” adds Holy.

The leaders of the two Balkan countries appear attracted by the various economic opportunities that full legalization of cannabis could bring to their countries, notably through tourism and trade. However, in the only emerging European country to have already fully legalized the possession and use of this drug, legalization was a much more bottom-up decision.

Draconian rules

Prior to full decriminalization and legalization in 2018, Georgia’s cannabis rules had been described as “draconian” in various international publications. Reports include a prison sentence of up to 14 years and daily drug testing by police. After five years of protests in front of the Tbilisi Parliament and cannabis legalization festivals, the Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled that “marijuana consumption is an action protected by the right to freedom of personality.”

Georgia is therefore today the only country in emerging Europe, and also one of only four in the world, to have legalized this substance throughout its territory. Despite being part of this small club, Georgia does not seem to aspire to turn it into a business opportunity.

Instead, Tbilisi, which is take active steps to encourage sustainable rather than mass tourismis making a name for itself with its unique and ancient winemaking techniques.

Despite some concerns about the full legalization of cannabis in Croatia and North Macedonia, Georgia and other countries where similar bills have already become a reality show that these upcoming bills are unlikely to have negative effects on the population of these countries.

In fact, studies consistently show that persistent arrests and incarcerations on drug-related charges do not lead to a decrease in substance abuse or dependence.

It could, however, break the hold of organized crime groups on the sector, generating a flow of revenue out of the underground economy, while driving down prices and introducing regulations to ensure product safety.

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