Eastern Europe Might Get Greener with Lithuania Decriminalization

We talk all the time about the US, and Canada, and Germany, and Mexico, but a lot of the world exists in smaller countries that get less press. When looking at global changes in legalization measures, these countries, and their policies are important as well. They show how far-reaching change actually is, even beyond the big stories. This is now exemplified by the Eastern Europe country, Lithuania, which is working toward a new drug decriminalization policy.

Eastern Europe is in flux these days with different countries updating drug laws, including Lithuania which is eyeing a widening decriminalization. Welcome to an entirely independent publication centered on the changing cannabis and psychedelic industries of today. Play along by subscribing to our THC Weekly Newsletter, which comes chock full of deals on all kinds of items including cannabinoid products like HHC-O, Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP HHC. With all the options out there, you’ve got plenty of choices, so make sure to choose only the products you are comfortable with using.

The news in Lithuania

Eastern Europe isn’t known for its progressive drug laws, but it seems this is changing with countries like Georgia (recreational legalization), Albania (impending medical legalization), and now Lithuania, which is looking at a decriminalization measure. Georgia was the first to really break, legalizing cannabis in 2018 via a constitutional court ruling, and becoming the 3rd legalized country in the process. Admittedly, Georgia has wonky laws since the legal change was not based on the passage of a bill. There is legal use and possession, while buying, selling, and cultivating are illegal.

Anyway, it’s somewhat close neighbor Lithuania, isn’t legalizing, but is trying to push through a further decriminalization for small amounts of drugs like cannabis. The push to do this started last year, and was moved forward yet again in June. Last month, 70 members of Lithuania’s legislative branch – Seimas, voted in favor of amendments to the Criminal Code and Administrative Offenses. There were 46 votes against the amendments and ten abstentions. These amendments would decriminalize the possession of cannabis in ‘small quantities’, as well as products of cannabis.

According to Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, Speaker of the Seimas, “People should not be sent behind bars because of those offenses that can be reacted to in a different way. Lithuania is one of the strictest countries in the field, and the decriminalization of cannabis products is a common-sense solution that is rational. It is obvious that most civilized, democratic countries have long made such decisions.”

Lithuania cannabis

As always, there was opposition. Said chairman of the opposition Union of Democrats, Saulius Skvernelis, “Those who have a constructive opinion on this issue will not change it. I don’t think drugs, even cannabis or herb, are less evil. It is a drug, a huge addiction, with huge consequences in every sense – from health, addiction to criminogenic factors that affect addicted people.”

Should the amendments pass into law, they’ll allow the following legal changes: possessors of small amounts of drugs will receive a warning, or a fine of €30-250. The fine level would increase for further infractions to €250-400. The drugs in all cases would be confiscated.

The amendments also mention a possible requirement for treatment for personal possessors, and an exemption from administrative liability should the offender get medical treatment of their own free will, or return drugs of their own free will. The amendments have not become law, and are onto the next step in the process. If they do pass, only then will the Health Ministry determine what a ‘small quantity’ is.

Cannabis in Lithuania now

The Republic of Lithuania is a small country of 2.8 million people in the Baltic region. It shares land borders with Latvia, Belarus, Russia, and Poland. Lithuania does okay economically, and is ranked 41 out of 137 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. It has what is considered a high-index economy by the World Bank. Lithuania is a member of the EU, eurozone, Council of Europe, Schengen Agreement, NATO, OECD, and Nordic Investment Bank.

Currently cannabis is illegal for recreational purposes. It was approved for medical purposes on October 11th, 2018 by the Seismas. Cultivation of industrial hemp was legalized earlier, in 2013. It’s not a super strict country in terms of punishments, and generally hands out administrative punishments for drug use. First-time offenders are likely to receive a fine of €30-150, and possibly court-ordered rehabilitation treatment.

In 2017, the country passed a measure to further decriminalize small amounts, so long as there’s no intent to distribute. It’s now considered a misdemeanor that comes with community service or incarceration (non-prison) of 10-45 days. Once the personal use amount is gone over, criminal sanctions are applied, of up to two years in prison, and fines up to €19,000. Should the new amendments go through, the incarceration would be dropped, with fines used instead.

cannabis decriminalization

Drugs are classified in four groups according to how dangerous they are. And the personal use amount varies depending on the specific drug. Sale and trafficking crimes are illegal, with intent to sell garnering 2-15 years behind bars.

Cannabis is the most popular drug in the country, with approximately 6% of residents 15-34 partaking in 2017 according to EMCDDA. Lithuania is pointed to as a transit country for illicit trafficking, with much of the cannabis coming from the Netherlands, and going towards Russia. In the past 10 years there has been an increase in cannabis legalization protests, which is likely one of the reasons that Lithuania is eyeing wider decriminalization measures at this time.

Elsewhere in Eastern Europe

When it comes to Eastern Europe, Lithuania is joined by semi-neighbors Albania and Georgia in looking to make drug reforms. The Republic of Albania is a similarly small country of 2.8 million that lies in Southeastern Europe, and shares borders with Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Greece. The country was ruled by a series of dictators until the 1990’s, which led to it being an isolated country, not that much associated with its neighbors.

Albania is interesting when it comes to cannabis for a couple reasons. For one, the 1994 Albania Law of Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances dictates that cannabis is a controlled substance. However, the following year’s Criminal Code of the Republic of Albania doesn’t mention cannabis at all, effectively decriminalizing personal use amounts. It was subsequently stated that a ‘single dose’ per person is decriminalized, which is as subjective as it sounds. More than that single dose, however, and the possessor can be found guilty of sale, or trafficking charges.

So Albania holds cultivation, sale, and supply of the plant illegal, but does allow people to self-medicate with it, should they be able to procure it without getting in trouble. The other interesting aspect of Albania and cannabis, is the part Albania plays in the international market. As of a 2017 National Drug Report, Albania is brought up as a large illicit cannabis producer, which exports to neighboring countries in the EU and Balkans.

According to a Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs report, “Albania is a source country of cannabis and a home base for organized crime groups moving illicit drugs from source countries into European markets.” It’s expected the illicit cannabis market bring in around €4 billion euro a year based on recent seizures. To give an idea of what this means to the country, this equals about half the GDP, making this not just big, but a primary industry of the country, illicit or not.

cannabis decriminalization Lithuania

Albania is also, apparently, willing to listen to its people. Or, at the least, time legislative changes to appear like it does. After a vote last year turned up a majority of 308,000 in favor of cannabis use for medical purposes, the government announced that it would therefore legalize it for these uses. Stated Prime Minister Edi Rama: “We will legalize cannabis for medical purposes, paving the way for new jobs and economic prosperity. What the public have stated will be done; there will be no debate.”

And Georgia

Can’t get into Eastern Europe without giving a shout-out to Georgia. Not only is Georgia the 3rd country to legalize recreational cannabis in 2018, but the first former Soviet Bloc country to do anything of that nature, and the first in the European region as well. These firsts are strange for a country in that area, and make Georgia stand out from its neighbors.

The legal update didn’t come through passage of a bill, but through a constitutional court case, in which it was ruled that its unconstitutional to punish the possession or use of cannabis, as it doesn’t hurt a 3rd party. In fact, the only time such use becomes an issue, is if a third party is being hurt. The right to privacy in this way is considered an inalienable right of the people of Georgia.

What Georgia didn’t do, is pass a bill to go along with it, leaving extremely uneven drug laws. While possessing and using cannabis are now legal in the country, no update was made to laws regarding sale or cultivation. This means residents of Georgia are free to use cannabis, but they have no legal way of obtaining it. This is much like Albania, and the ability to self-medicate, without a legal way to procure it. Hopefully in the future, laws will be updated to either create a sales market, or open up personal cultivation for the population.

Conclusion

Lithuania is a tiny little country, and for that reason, a lot of people might not care about a drug decriminalization policy. The reason its interesting, is because it shows how much things are changing. Plus, it’s good to see more countries looking to end (or lessen) the harsh drug laws that have monopolized the last hundred years worldwide. Stay tuned to life to see if it goes through.

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