Kostadin Dukovski, President of North Macedonia’s Association of Medical Cannabis Cultivators, tells MCN about Macedonian policy, economy and future developments.
The Association of Medical Cannabis Cultivators in North Macedonia (MAKKANABIS) was founded last year with the goal of uniting North Macedonia’s medical cannabis industry to campaign for clear, fair policy and promote the industry as a key economic opportunity. Kostadin Dukovski, President of MAKKANABIS, tells MCN about North Macedonia’s cannabis industry landscape.
What is the legal status of cannabis in North Macedonia?
As of March 2016, cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been permitted by law in North Macedonia. Legalisation was introduced through amendments to the existing law on control of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Only licensed cannabis cultivators are allowed to grow and sell cannabis oil or finished cannabis products.
Recreational cannabis is prohibited. Even the smallest amounts of possession of cannabis are subject to criminal penalties including prison sentences.
Do you think cannabis policy should be more lenient? How could patients and producers be better supported?
By all means – yes! In order to see benefits for patients, we must see clinical research into the use of cannabis to treat various illnesses and conditions. So far medical practitioners, with rare exceptions, are reluctant in prescribing cannabis for treatments to patients; although the law allows certain types of specialist clinicians to prescribe cannabis for the treatment of HIV; relief of chronic pain; multiple sclerosis and a few other conditions.
There are no Macedonian clinical studies into the benefits of cannabis use. We would be happy to change this situation, and we are pushing for it through the Association of Cannabis Cultivators. We initiated talks with government stakeholders and hospitals in order to develop projects for clinical research of cannabis; and we took steps in forming an institute for research into cannabis for medicinal use. Our hope is that by the end of 2020 we will set up the foundation for these clinical studies and research projects, and that we will then have them up and running in 2021. The real benefit for the patients will become visible in the years ahead.
Have North Macedonia’s economy and industry benefited from licensed cannabis cultivation?
According to most of the relevant analysis and predictions, the cannabis industry will rapidly grow by 2025, with an estimated value of tens of billions of dollars worldwide. This is one of the reasons why many companies invest in this industry in North Macedonia. Unfortunately, so far we have not benefited from licensed cannabis cultivation due to several factors, among which two are most important:
- The law prohibits the export of cannabis dry flower, which is the main product for many licensed cannabis cultivators. The domestic market is pretty narrow, so the majority of cultivation companies based in North Macedonia are export oriented. The law only allows bulk cannabis oil or finished products to be exported; and bearing in mind all the certificates each company has to obtain in order to satisfy European regulatory standards, it takes additional time and investment in new technologies and certification. Thus, most of the companies must make additional investments in order to be able to export their products abroad; and
- Acquiring Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificates is a must for licensed cannabis cultivators. A significant problem with this is that EU countries do not recognise the GMP certificates issued by Macedonian authorities, although we have implemented and are guided by the relevant EU directives in this field. Therefore, each of the licensed cannabis companies must enter into a GMP certification procedure with GMP auditors from abroad. This is a lengthy and costly process, which several cannabis cultivators are currently undergoing. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to additional delays. Still, during 2020 we expect that several companies in Macedonia will obtain EU GMP certificates, which will enable them to enter into EU markets.
Are there any developments or issues in the North Macedonian cannabis industry that you would like to highlight?
MAKKANABIS pushed for amendments to the present law which would both create more favourable conditions for the cannabis industry in North Macedonia, and would also set up a better regulatory framework in general. These amendments entered into parliamentary procedure, but due to the scheduling of early elections, proceedings are on pause for the time being. We surmise that certain provisions of the proposed law would be beneficial for the cannabis business and for the country as well, with measures such as:
- Legalising export of cannabis dry flower;
- Permitting the use of the whole plant of cannabis for industrial purposes (biomass), unlike the present law which only allows use of the cannabis flower only while the rest of the plant must be destroyed; and
- Forming a separate agency for cannabis, which will act as a regulatory body for the cannabis industry (unlike the current situation, where we have several ministries and institutions which have authority over various different aspects of the cannabis industry).
The next step will be to push for a new, separate law on cannabis, since we believe that it is not justified to regulate cannabis under the same law which covers narcotics and opioids. Therefore, we are excited about the forthcoming session of the UN bodies at the end of the year, where the prospects of removing cannabis from Schedule IV and excluding cannabidiol (CBD) from the UN Conventions from 1961 and 1971 are real. We believe that when that happens, we will see a real expansion of the use of cannabis; and that this would give us grounds to push for significant changes to domestic legislation regarding cannabis use.