Cyprus has become one of the few EU countries to legalise the cultivation and use of medical cannabis after a 30 to 18 majority vote in parliament approved the legislation.
Cypriot MPs voted in a law making it legal to cultivate, import and export, and to possess and use medicinal cannabis.
On Friday, the House passed an amendment to the Drugs and Psychotropic Substances law which allows the import of cannabis seeds and cannabis plants for cultivation purposes, as well as regulating licenses to be issued.
The law voted in by MPs also sees the adoption of a legislative framework regulating the cultivation, production, import and export of pharmaceutical cannabis and its use for conducting medical research, production of pharmaceuticals and the free prescription of pharmaceutical cannabis to eligible patients.
The amendment to the drug law was passed with 34 votes in favour and 18 against with major opposition party AKEL MPs and extremists ELAM rejecting the bill.
The Cyprus Green Party welcomed the development: "We hope that the process will be launched immediately for hundreds of patients seeking an alternative, non-chemical way to manage their health problems."
"Although we had proposed many more improvements to this legislation, we believe that the road opens for medical cannabis in Cyprus".
The Greens said the European Parliament has urged the European Commission and national authorities to clearly distinguish the use of cannabis for pharmaceutical purposes from other uses.
“The resolution urges the European Commission and the Member States to address the legislative, economic and cultural barriers that hamper scientific research in the field while encouraging them to finance such research,” said the Greens.
AKEL MP Irene Charalambides MP gave her reasons for voting against the law, expressing grave concerns.
“We could not vote for a law that allows for private cannabis plantations, the moment the police has officially said that they will not be in a position to monitor them,” said Charalambides.
She added: “As usual, in Cyprus, we have put the cart before the horse. We have not studied what other countries have done with regards to monitoring these plantations”.
The AKEL MP added that while there is a serious problem with drugs in schools, Cyprus should be very careful about whom it gives licenses to and who will be in charge of monitoring them.
According to the law, licenses will be given only to three producers during the first 15 years, aiming to draw in financially sound companies with worldwide experience in the field of cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis.
The government is seeking to motivate these companies, by giving them partial exclusivity of cultivation and the production of medicinal cannabis for the long term.
The licensing of just three producers is also recommended for reasons of safety and effectiveness, so that cannabis does not end up in the illicit market or in illegal use.
According to the new law, medicinal cannabis will be given on prescription to patients suffering from chronic painful conditions associated with, among others, cancer, HIV, degenerative diseases of the motor system, rheumatism, neuropathy and glaucoma. It will also be given to patients suffering from Tourette's syndrome and Crohn's disease.
In earlier comments to the Financial Mirror, the head of the Pharmaceutical Services, Louis Panayi said: “Patients will be supplied with medicinal cannabis by pharmacies upon presentation of a prescription from a specialist physician. This process ensures that patients will receive quality cannabis, under the supervision of a specialist, avoiding the need to obtain cannabis of dubious quality from the illegal market.”
Panayi also gave a picture of the benefits the Cypriot economy is to see from the production, distribution and export of the medicinal cannabis to be produced in Cyprus. He said that exports of medicinal cannabis will be vast since the global market for the cultivation and production of medicinal cannabis is a ‘virgin one’.
He explained that as Cyprus has a comparative advantage over countries like the Netherlands (the EU Member State with a monopoly on medicinal cannabis exports) due to its ideal climatic conditions and its long periods of sunshine, and to Israel (which currently does not permit the export of medicinal cannabis) as Cyprus is an EU Member State.
According to estimates, Cyprus may see EUR 180 mln worth of medicinal cannabis being produced every year, with a big chunk of going into state coffers.
The head of the pharmaceutical services calculates that the state is to see a significant profit.
“It is estimated that in a greenhouse of 20 hectares of land, about 20,000 cannabis plants can be grown… an estimated 9,000 Kg of dry cannabis can be produced in such a greenhouse. The export price of medicinal cannabis amounts to €7,400 per kilo. In other words, in such a greenhouse, quantities of medicinal cannabis worth €66.6 mln can be grown and produced for every 150 days (the period it takes for cultivation and production) for exporting.
The cost of production amounts to €9.9 million, while the profit for the state amounts to EUR 56.7 mln,” said Panayi.
Also commenting on the bill, prior to its approval, Antonis Tryfonos, the Coordinator of the Psycho-Social Support Services of the Cyprus Association of Cancer Patients and Friends PASIKAF, said that Medicinal Cannabis could offer relief to a lot of patients.
Tryfonos said that Medicinal Cannabis could replace other opioids which are used by patients at a terminal stage.
“Opioids, such as morphine, used by patients essentially sedates the patient, diminishing whatever quality of life the patient may have,” said Tryfonos.
He said that, although it is not a cure, a number of patients who have taken medicinal cannabis found that it significantly improved the quality of their lives.
“As a society, we should not be afraid of medicinal cannabis and we should provide proper training to our medical staff.”
“We are not against the introduction of medicinal cannabis. Quite the contrary we are all for it. We just believe that we should have started with the approval of import and then think about becoming producers and exporters”