Cannabis – the illegal resource that Moldova ignores for no good reason
Being a traditional country with hard routed views on illegal substances, Moldova has had a long and controversial relationship with recreational drugs. Though cannabis was cultivated for industrial purposes, during the Soviet period, it has been left with almost no crops and harsh penalties for growing and using it as a drug.
Even today, the use of the drug is criminalized, though only if done publicly, or within public or educational facilities. Though the sanctions are limited to fines or community service, they add up to $2000 - $3000 or 180 to 240 hours of work. We can also add the social stigma presented by any criminal conviction in Moldova, as many employers ask for criminal records or equivalent documents.
This, however, represents a small deterrent for cannabis users, which represent 80% of the officially registered drug users in Moldova. The Ministry of Health, Work and Social Protection estimates that there are over 80 thousands drug users in Moldova compared to the official data that presents 12 thousand users.
It is also the only drug category that presents a growth in users according the official data and does not seem to be affected by criminal prosecution. There are also no changes in the evaluation of different quantities of the drug in the List of narcotic and psychotropic substances that establish the limits of liability in different crime categories of the Moldovan legislation. Although this list does not seem to pose great importance for the population, it also shows that the state will criminally prosecute a person for the possession of as little as 2 grams of cannabis.
Since 2012, 5 371 persons were prosecuted for drug-related case, over 3/5 of these were first offenders, most likely involved in ‘scoring some weed’. For a country with numerous issues in the penitentiary system and multiple ECHR convictions on human rights violations of detainees, this is a supplementary burden that might not be worth it.
The tendencies in the region also show a different approach. After multiple protests over police brutality in cases related to drugs, the Constitutional Court of Georgia has abolished all sanctions for the use of cannabis, while maintaining the sanctions for the cultivation and distribution of the drug. Nevertheless, the sanctions for the public use of the drug remain in place. The newly elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky has declared his support for the legalization of medical cannabis while not detailing his plans on the issue.
How could Moldova’s policies on cannabis improve?
As we see a global trend for the legalization of cannabis, Moldova seems to miss on the trend. A recent article written for the LA Times, describes the economic opportunities for growing cannabis for medical uses in Israel an industry under strict regulation, but still a profitable one. In 2018, the Moldovan Ministry for Agriculture, Regional Development and Environment has proposed measures to ease the conditions for the industrial growth of the cannabis plants, but the medical avenue of the business is not explored enough in Moldova yet.
The National Antidrug Strategy for the period 2012-2018 declares the fight against cannabinoids and synthetic drugs as ‘a priority for the Strategy’ without going into specifics of the measures needed to be done. The Strategy outlines among the priorities the prevention of the drug use, but the wording of the strategy does not provide some clear distinction between the approaches to different categories of drugs.
In an exercise thinking about a better Strategy for the coming years, we consider that some measures should be gradually put in place:
The transfer of the offenses linked to cannabis from the Criminal Code to the Contraventional Code with a lowering of the sanctions for the following period.
The gradual raising of the minimal limits for different categories of substances and the legalization of owning 5 grams of cannabis for personal use.
The development of a National Program for medical use cannabis both for the national market and the regional one.
The development of an informational campaign on the benefits and risks of cannabis use in order to start a public debate on the opportunity of the legalization of the recreational drug.
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