In recent years, the use of Cannabis has become a much debated topic in professional and laic circles, in Slovenia and abroad. However, this phenomenon is due to numerous and complex links with values and views, which only a few authors tackle without prejudice, and is also reflected in the collection of facts. Cannabis is not a standardized commodity. The proportion of THC and other Cannabinoids in Cannabis can vary greatly, so it is difficult to compare individual research results.
We have recorded a mix of statistical correlation and causal relationships, which is evident from the unconvincing ‘entry theory’ (use of Cannabis should lead to use of more dangerous drugs). It is of no wonder that polls suggest that Cannabis is a plant/substance which continues to polarize public opinion. Media coverage is full of unverified and tendentious information, so that the proponents of prohibition of Cannabis and its opponents gain supporters on their side. Reliable information is essential for an adequate response, enabling greater efficiency of measures, if used.
According to a National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) survey from 2011/12, 15.8% of the population aged 15–64 have used Cannabis recreationally at least once in their life; 4.5% in the past year, and 2.3% (or 32,141 residents) of Slovenia have used Cannabis in the last month. We do not know any cases of overdose leading to death. 64% of the public does not support the full legalization of Cannabis, especially for recreational purposes, although a large part supports evidence-based reform of Cannabis Policy for medical purposes. Due to outdated international conventions and regulations governing the classification of illicit drugs, prejudices, beliefs and (commercial) interests, Slovenian legislation and policy towards Cannabis is lacking adequate evidence-based support and has little to do with life, empathy and humanity.
The aim of linking research in public health with policy and practice is to improve evidence-based legislation and policies towards Cannabis. In this context, the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) cooperates with both policy-makers in ministries and NGO’s and civil initiative. The fact is that the international scientific community has not reached a consensus on the understanding of the degree of harmfulness of Cannabis and effectiveness of different measures.
Cannabis is not a harmless substance but its dangers have been overstated, and our existing legal, social and health policies are disproportionate to the effects of individual and social damage. UN Conventions are a major contributor, responsible for the classification of Cannabis among the most dangerous drugs that require strict international and national control. In this context, the problem of solving drug related issues is getting more and more complex; extensive damage caused by its prohibition, however, raises concerns for public health and well-being.
The overall number of violations of the law related to possession and use of Cannabis has been increasing steadily for almost a decade. However, legislation regarding Cannabis in Europe is not homogeneous. Countries introducing decriminalization along with strict legal regulation of Cannabis are both softening and simultaneously reducing the unregulated black market and recording encouraging trends in the field of safety and health. There is a need everywhere for better and stricter regulation of both the Cannabis black market and the legal tobacco and alcohol trade, which will never be achieved by strengthening the repression.
It is also important to highlight opinions/initiative of patients and civil society regarding their role in legalization of medical Cannabis in Slovenia: doctors should respect patients’ wishes, even if they are sometimes contrary to what they consider is best for the patient. Patients expect from medical organizations and competent ministry to advocate for vulnerable groups and health in general and take a more decisive role in reducing harmful effects of Cannabis prohibition.
With the aim to move the Slovene official policy toward Cannabis from deadlock, it would be advisable to consider the following steps:
- organization of multidisciplinary consultation of the competent governmental and non-governmental organizations about regulation of Cannabis for medical, recreational and industrial purposes (government and relevant ministries);
- fix regulatory classification of illicit drugs: instantaneous transfer of Cannabis from Group I to Group III and provide access to “medical cannabis” (Ministry of Health);
- carry out professional supervision of police and judiciary work in the field of drugs, including analysis of data on criminal charges and felonies in the field of Cannabis for the last decade and propose measures to reduce the harms of Cannabis prohibition, including revision of all unjustified sanctions of Cannabis users in the Republic of Slovenia (National Institute for Public Health, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice and other relevant ministries).