The first museum of cannabis has just opened in Croatia’s capital of Zagreb.
The goal? To educate the public about cannabis.
The new museum offers an experiential guide through the history of cannabis along with cultural exhibits that include everything from cannabis-themed music to movies.
Themed museums are nothing new to Zagreb, which offers “museums” on topics from hangovers, broken relationships, and the 1980s. However, this experience promises to be a little different, just because cannabis reform is a zeitgeisty, if not universal, issue.
Visitors will be guided through two floors of cannahistory, including the plant’s use for the past 10,000 years as well as educational topics like the use of medical cannabis and the wide utility of hemp. However, the museum also focuses on the topic of recreational use—along with warnings about the potential health hazards of use.
Where is Legalization in Croatia?
In Croatia, like other European countries, hemp is legal; medical use is allowed in very limited cases and small amounts of possession of high THC are decriminalized but can lead to fines ranging from about $700 to $3,000. Growing and selling, however, are harshly punished with a minimum three-year jail sentence.
For most people who care about these issues, this status quo is far from enough. The limited legalization reform for medical use happened in October 2015 after an MS patient was caught growing his own to try to keep his symptoms in check. Cannabis for medical use is a good step, however, in Croatia as well as elsewhere, this still leaves patients in danger of being criminalized, particularly if their doctors refuse to prescribe the drug.
In February 2020 the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) tried to introduce a bill into Parliament to fully legalize the plant, but this failed for a variety of reasons, including ongoing conservative opposition and, of course, COVID.
The Great Cannabis Stall
Many countries in Europe who have legalized medical use are realizing that the current status quo on cannabis is far from enough. The people who pay the biggest price for the slow pace of reform are patients, who tend to have larger quantities of the drug at hand when caught—or are so desperate to control their condition that they resort to the more dangerous practice of growing for self-use when they cannot access the medical system (for one reason or another).
This is certainly true in places like Germany, Europe’s largest medical market, where 40% of cannabis applications to health insurers — which means patients are referred by doctors — are turned down (and for increasingly specious reasons, such as quoting old or outdated medical studies). In such cases, patients often have no recourse but to try to sue their health insurers and source the cannabis from other places including home cultivation. This is also very dangerous. Chronically ill palliative patients do not suddenly stop being sick.
Unlike Croatia, German politicians have now promised to pass recreational reform legislation sometime in the next year or so, but this has been pushed to a back burner. Germany already has a cannabis museum in Berlin.
Why is Cannabis Reform Different in Europe?
There are several reasons that cannabis reform is on a much slower trajectory within the EU. Unlike Canada, the states within the United States and Mexico, both sovereign and EU courts have been reluctant to rule on constitutional rights to possess and grow cannabis. The issue has been diluted by the attempt to shift the conversation into a mostly medical track — although CBD reform has gradually begun to take hold.
However, there is another reason which is now front and center: Governments who legalize recreational use want a fully legit, taxable, and accountable industry. While there is nothing wrong with this, and it is a sensible way to ensure consumer health, the approach so far has been to deny patients the right to grow their own in circumstances where health insurers refuse to cover the costs. Patients with severe illnesses are usually also the most economically vulnerable, and of course, will also not be able to participate economically in the coming recreational reform — just because they cannot afford to buy licenses.
Beyond this, tragically, even as a stop-gap measure, the idea of nonprofit patient caregiver collectives has also been a non-issue in the EU (unlike the American hemisphere).
Education, like museums, public campaigns, and social media along with efforts like Croatia’s new cannabis museum remain very important. But it is also increasingly obvious that they are not enough. A major shift in the education of lawmakers and politicians, as well as doctors and other authorities, needs to become mainstream.
The time of demonizing the plant and those who use it is overdue to come to an end. Prohibition itself is a museum piece. The time to make it that way everywhere is now.