Greek Lawmakers OK Medical Marijuana Production

(AP Photo)

ATHENS – Despite criticism it could lead to more widespread use of marijuana, the Greek Parliament approved legislation to allow the manufacture of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The law sets guidelines setting out rules for the cultivation and production of the particular types of the plant that are used for pharmaceutical purposes, as well as the operation of manufacturing units.
It had the backing of the Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition, including its junior partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) as well as the new center-left group the Movement for Change, a melting pot of the former PASOK Socialists, Democratic Left and To Potami, but not the major opposition New Democracy.

Conservative lawmaker Konstantinos Vlasis said the legislation has loopholes allowing for the recreational use of cannabis.

“Unfortunately, it not only leaves a window open for recreational cannabis, but an entire veranda door,” he said, adding that if the government is thinking of promoting “endless weed” use, “we won’t allow it.”

The KETHEA Therapy Center for Dependent Individuals, which treats drug users, said it was worried the law might be used to go beyond using marijuana solely for medical and pharmaceutical uses.
The legislation was prepared jointly by officials at the Health, Economy, Agriculture and Justice ministries and require producers must be at least 21 years old and have no drug-related convictions and have at least an acre of land to cultivate.

Government officials earlier said the law bill will boost domestic production and attract foreign investors. “The purpose is to promote productive investments in this field and to benefit the economy and state,” said Health Minister Andreas Xanthos, while Agriculture Development Minister Vangelis Apostolou noted that there is already “huge interest” in investing in the field.

Medical use of cannabis was legalized in Greece last year as SYRIZA, looking for cash everywhere to offset a nearly eight-year-long economic and austerity crisis, accelerated the scheme.

Pot is still unlawful for recreational use, but if  possession of a small amount is found to be for personal use, it is decriminalized in court. Individuals are arrested, although rarely convicted by court although possession of large quantities can bring prison sentences.

A project to cultivate, process and export medical marijuana in Veroia, in the fertile north of the country, shows how Greece sees cannabis as a growth industry for the country, which has a warm, dry climate similar to California. New legislation could make the plan a reality as soon as next summer, a report from the financial news agency Bloomberg said earlier.

The Veroia site will create more than 2,000 jobs in the next two to three years, Georgios Zafeiris, Chief Executive at Golden Greece, the company responsible for coordinating the project’s group of 10 investors from countries including Canada, Kazakhstan, Poland and Israel told the agency.

The first round of investment is seen at 400 million euros ($497.03 million,) rising to more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.86 billion) with reports some 80 percent of the jobs in areas such as cultivation, trading and transport could go to Greeks.

“In Greece, we’re not looking at bringing people in from other areas that have cannabis experience,” Michael Blady, one of the investors involved in the Veroia project told the agency.  “We’re going to train as many people as we need and we’re going to start our own culture here.”

Greece allowed the use of medical cannabis products last year, but currently relies solely on imports until the legal framework for domestic growers was prepared. Government officials, presenting details of the bill, said they hoped domestic production and processing could attract investments worth 1.5 billion euros (1.85 billion) over three years.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)