Medical marijuana is now legal for certain suffering patients in the Eastern European nation of Croatia.

Marijuana PlantThe Croatian government announced in October that it was legalizing medicinal cannabis for patients with a short list of conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. But there’s a catch: No THC-based drugs have been registered in the country, and that means there is no medical marijuana to be bought.

The new laws prohibit home growing, and they require the oversight of a licensed physician, so the hurdles for patients are high. But the decision does mark a step, if only a small one, toward a more sane drug policy in Europe.

A step forward for European drug policy

Medical cannabis is now common across the continent, with MMJ available to patients in Germany, France, and the Netherlands, among other countries. Nor is Croatia the first Eastern European nation to allow medicinal cannabis; the Czech Republic legalized the drug for medical use in 2013.

The new rules in Croatia took effect Oct. 15, but local media reported that no THC preparations have been registered. And Croatian officials made no promises that any such medications would clear the government bureaucracy any time soon.

The Croatian Health Ministry noted that home cultivation remains illegal and that only doctors may prescribe marijuana as a medicine. The new rules allow possession of up to 0.75 grams of pure THC per month.

Croatia’s liberal political environment

Activists have worked for months to bring Croatia into the modern era on medical cannabis. The country, a recently joined member of the European Union, has a relatively liberal political scene compared to the rest of Eastern Europe.

But patients will apparently have to wait a while before they actually gain access to the medicine they need. It could take months if not years to certify THC-based drugs for the medical market, and any number of reform opponents could block the program entirely in the meantime.

Medical cannabis is hugely popular in the United States and in neighboring Canada, but it’s surprisingly hard to find elsewhere in the world. Africans typically have no access to MMJ, although its use may be legal in Cameroon; reformers are also pushing legislation that would allow it in South Africa.

Where else is medical marijuana available?

medical_marijuana_doctorThere is no medical marijuana in Asia, either, except in Israel, though there are disputed reports that cannabis is widely used in North Korea. The drug is semi-decriminalized in parts of Australia, but that country does not allow MMJ. Uruguay has legalized all marijuana, and it is the only country south of the equator that officially recognizes medical use.

That means that despite its exploding popularity, medical cannabis is legal only in parts of Europe, a small part of South America, swaths of North America, and in select islands in the Caribbean (Jamaica legalized MMJ earlier this year). Croatia’s announcement will expand those borders, if only by a little.

Most importantly, the decision reflects growing global tolerance for marijuana use by patients who need it. Many countries remain in the Dark Ages, but Croatia’s move is a signal that that medical cannabis is likely to continue its spread, sooner rather than later.

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