Cannabis policy reform in Lithuania: history, current status, and future challenges

  • 2022-07-01

On Tuesday, the Seimas greenlighted the draft bill that aims to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of cannabis. If passed by the Parliament, the legislation will remove the need for criminal investigations when someone is caught with a personal amount of the substance. The language of the new bill – which will now be discussed in the Parliament committees – calls for simple citations for such offenses or fines ranging from €30 to €250.

The move is another small step in the direction of making cannabis policy more lenient toward consumers who may be otherwise law-abiding citizens. In November 2021, a similar initiative proposed by the Liberal Party was rejected by the Seimas. The proposition envisaged the decriminalization not only of cannabis but other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, as well. The authors contended that a system of fines for simple users would better serve society’s interests than prison sentences.

Though it joined the European Union in 2004, Lithuania remained for several years the only country in the EU that criminalized even the cultivation of hemp – the non-psychoactive variety of the plant. It was only in 2013 that the country aligned its policy with the rest of the Union and allowed the cultivation of hemp by local farmers. The law defines hemp as the plant with less than 0.2% THC – the chemical that gives cannabis its characteristic effect (‘high’). The law also allows the sale of products made from hemp but only if they contain zero THC.

Technically, this could make certain purified forms of CBD oil legal in the country but due to the zero-tolerance to THC, their sale is restricted and the medicine that is widely used in Europe and elsewhere is largely unavailable in Lithuania. Even cannabis seeds – which contain no scheduled substances or only trace amounts of them – aren’t something that you can find in a local shop.

At the same time, there certainly exists a thriving community of amateur weed growers in the country who buy seeds from other countries. In September 2021, the German police reported confiscating a shipment of 200 kilograms of seeds that were en route from the US to Lithuania. This batch was enough to plant cannabis on an area of more than 300 soccer fields, and the street value of the harvest would be around €2 bln.

Another direction of the cannabis policy reform is to acknowledge the existence of a considerable population of medical patients who might benefit from cannabis-based medicines. Only a handful of European countries have so far recognized the medical potential of this long stigmatized plant and begun to tentatively set up medical marijuana programs.

Lithuania joined the trend in 2018 when the Parliament unanimously voted to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients with certain conditions. The law was supposed to help people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other serious illnesses. The decision amended the country’s laws regulating the use of drugs and psychotropic substances and was effective since 2019.

However, the law stipulates that there must be research proving the efficacy of cannabis-based medicine for a specific condition before doctors can recommend it to their patients. As of yet, no patients in Lithuania have legal access to medical marijuana. As in other aspects of cannabis reform, the medical marijuana law remains a token move, a declaration of intent rather than a set of rules with practical implications.

Both the decision-makers and the society at large seem to understand that cannabis policy based on the war-on-drugs rhetoric is outdated and needs to change. However, they remain uncertain as to what policy would be more sensible, more compatible with civil rights, and at the same time posing no danger to public health.