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The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is the land of sunny beaches, awesome skiing retreats and unique historical monuments. But what many people don’t know about Bulgaria is that it’s also the home of controversial, sometimes conflicting cannabis laws.

What is the legal situation of cannabis in Bulgaria? Can you get in legal trouble for lighting a spliff? Read on to find out.

Drug laws in Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, all drug-related activities fall under The Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act, implemented in 2010. The Act also refers to the lists of controlled substances and plants, which can sometimes complicate things, as you’ll see further on.

The Bulgarian Penal Code makes a clear distinction between high-risk and moderate-risk narcotics. Drug use is an administrative offence and is punishable by a fine, regardless of the drug involved. However, the fine varies between BGN 2,000 and BGN 5,000 (approximately €1,020 to €2,550) and those using moderate-risk drugs tend to receive smaller fines than those using high-risk drugs.

Drug possession for personal use is considered a minor offence and is punishable by a fine. Offenders who are caught possessing small amounts of narcotics, such as a spliff of cannabis, 1 gram of cocaine or up to five ecstasy pills can receive a fine of up to BGN 1,000 (approximately €510).

If offenders are caught in possession of larger amounts of drugs, they may be imprisoned for up to five years if they were carrying moderate-risk drugs or from one to six years if they were carrying high-risk drugs.

Drug trafficking is punished with prison sentences of one to six years for moderate-risk drugs and two to eight years for high-risk drugs. However, trafficking large amounts of drugs or other aggravating circumstances can extend the sentence to up to 15 years of imprisonment.

An interesting fact about Bulgaria’s drug laws is that a quantity of trafficked drugs is considered small or large based on its monetary value.

Cannabis in Bulgaria

Cannabis is the most popular illegal drug in Bulgaria. A survey showed that 10.3 percent of the young people aged 15 to 34 consumed cannabis at least once in 2017.

Cannabis is also the most frequently seized drug in Bulgaria. Located on the Balkan drug trade route and representing the southeastern border of the EU, Bulgaria is regarded as a transit country for most types of illegal drugs.

As a result, most of the cannabis seized in Bulgaria comes from countries like Macedonia, Albania, Syria, Turkey or Lebanon and is on its way to West and Central Europe.

In Bulgaria, cannabis is included in the highest risk category for illicit narcotics, along with cocaine, heroin or opium. This classification makes the possession of even small amounts of cannabis a costly, punishable offence.

But here’s the thing. Cannabis, as a plant, is not forbidden by law. Only its psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is included on the high-risk drug list. And that gives way to some controversies.

Cannabis cultivation controversy in Bulgaria

In March 2018, Bulgaria adopted Ordinance No 1, which allows farmers to grow cannabis that has a THC concentration lower than 0.2 percent intended for fibre, feed, food, textiles and so on. Simply put, Bulgaria legalised the cultivation of hemp.

But here’s the thing. The Bulgarian Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act precedes all other legislative acts when it comes to narcotics. And the Act clearly states that THC is an illegal narcotic substance, which makes growing cannabis, including industrial cannabis like hemp a crime .

So, from a legal point of view, the lack of a legally-allowed minimum amount of THC makes all the products on the market that contain THC illegal. However, as you might expect, the reality is different.

Hemp in Bulgaria

Despite the legal controversy, hemp is considered legal in Bulgaria. Farmers who grow hemp are not arrested by law enforcement agents overnight. However, they have to get a special permit to be allowed to cultivate hemp.

Bulgarian individuals or legal entities can only apply for a hemp-cultivation licence if they are registered as farmers and have no previous drug-related convictions.

The farmers have to submit their application with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry along with a declaration that they won’t separate, use or process the hemp plant. They also need to have a clear court record. In the case of legal entities, all board members must provide declarations and court records.

Each application is verified by a committee within three months of the submission and may receive a hemp-growing licence that’s valid for three years.

CBD in Bulgaria

Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in Bulgaria. You can buy CBD products online, in pharmacies or in headshops. However, CBD production is forbidden.

Bulgarian legislation allows farmers to process the hemp’s stem and seeds but prohibits them from processing the plant’s leaves or flowers.

Medical cannabis in Bulgaria

Cannabis is classified as a high-risk narcotic, so human or animal consumption is prohibited. Further, t he Bulgarian Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act bans everything related to cannabis, including cultivation, acquisition, import, export, distribution or trade.

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However, there are two exceptions made through different ordinances — one allows the cultivation of hemp, which was covered in the previous sections, and the other allows limited quantities of cannabis to be used for medical, scientific or educational purposes.

So, from a legal point of view, medical cannabis is allowed in Bulgaria. However, Bulgarian patients cannot access cannabis medication because the country doesn’t have a legal framework in place that would allow them to do so.

Doctors who prescribe narcotic substances that are not approved can be sanctioned with a fine or a prison sentence of up to five years, and they may also lose their rights to practice medicine. As you can imagine, Bulgarian doctors are not too eager to recommend cannabis treatments.

So, even though it’s technically legal, cannabis medication doesn’t exist in Bulgaria.

The future of cannabis in Bulgaria

As is the case with most ex-communist states, there’s a huge rift between the old and the new generations of Bulgarians. While older Bulgarians see cannabis as a gateway drug, many young people see it as a valuable resource that could revitalise the country’s economy.

At the moment, the cannabis industry in Bulgaria is expanding every year. But this progress is not enough. Bulgaria should also create a legal framework that allows medical patients to access cannabis medicine.

As for cannabis legalisation or decriminalisation, the country’s lawmakers don’t seem very eager to take conclusive steps in that direction, even though there are several NGOs that demand it.

The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Romania
The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Turkey

About author

Victor Bercea

Victor is a staff writer at Strain Insider and a digital marketer. He writes about cannabis, health & wellness, and marketing topics. When he’s not writing, Victor usually wastes time online looking for the perfect gif.

Can Cannabis be Grown Legally in Bulgaria?

In recent months, the media has been saying about growing cannabis for medical purposes on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. One reason was that there are companies that have already obtained a license to grow and process cannabis for medical purposes in Bulgaria, writes money.bg

The cultivation and use of cannabis for medical purposes is one of the issues not regulated at the level of the European Union. Member States are given the autonomy to determine whether and under what conditions marijuana may be allowed for medical purposes, although the issue will be resolved at EU level in the near future. On 13 February this year, the European Parliament endorsed Resolution 2018/2775 (RSP) on the use of cannabis for medical purposes. It calls for a clear legal definition of the use of cannabis in medicine and differentiation from all other uses. MEPs insist on strengthening funding for medical research on cannabis, and cannabis-based medicines be covered by health insurance funds. To date, Member States apply different approaches to this. Some countries only allow the registration of drugs containing cannabis-derived substances, others allow the cultivation and processing of cannabis for medical purposes. The focus of this material is the conditions for its cultivation under the current legislation in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Cannabis or hemp is a term that denotes a genus of plants from some of the varieties of which marijuana can be harvested. Cannabinoids are chemical substances in marijuana that have an effect on the human psyche. Of these, the most important is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), ranging from 0.2% to 21%. Among other cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) have a significant effect. Hemp varieties in which the content of cannabinoids is less than 0.2% are qualified as industrial and therefore unsuitable for marijuana production. When establishing cannabis plantations for marijuana for medical purposes, it is considered whether final production can be realized on the local market or should only be used for exports to other countries.

The legal situation of cannabis in Bulgaria is regulated by the Narcotics and Precursors Control Act. It is noteworthy that the attitude of the law to the plant is as strict as other high-risk substances – opium poppy, cocaine shrub. The principle is that the cultivation of opium poppy, cocaine bushes and plants of the genus of hemp is forbidden. Moreover, the law explicitly places an obligation on owners or users of land for agricultural or other purposes to monitor the emergence of such plants and to ensure their timely destruction.

The law provides for the classification of narcotic substances and plants according to their danger to the life and health of humans (and animals). Cannabis and marijuana fall into List I – Plants and substances with a high risk to public health due to the harmful effect of their misuse prohibited in human and veterinary medicine. The remaining lists of classified drugs are: List II – Substances with high risk for use in human and veterinary medicine and List III – Risks. It is from this classification of marijuana / cannabis that we can conclude that it is forbidden for use in medical devices. Moreover, the production, processing, marketing, storage, import, export, re-export, transit, transport, supply, acquisition, use and possession of the plants, narcotic substances and their preparations listed in List I are prohibited under current legislation.

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History recognizes a number of cases where hazardous substances treated as dangerous to the population subsequently enter human medicine, and vice versa.

The normative acts in the field take into account the possibility to reach new results from scientific researches and the Ordinance on the order of classification of plants provides for a special order in which the classification of a given plant or substance can be changed as well as the rules for its use. Such a change can be expressed in several ways – excluding a particular plant from the list of narcotic substances, including a new plant / substance on these lists or moving plants from one list to another.

Proposals to make changes to the lists are addressed to the chairperson of the National Narcotics Board, which instructs the expert council to prepare a reasoned opinion on each of the submitted proposals. It may be necessary to include, delete or displace a plant or substance from the lists from obligations of the Republic of Bulgaria under an international treaty. In these cases, the procedure is identical and an expert advice is required again.

In order for a substance to be listed in the narcotic drugs list, it must meet one of the following criteria: to have a proven psychoactive effect, to cause a state of dependence, to cause harmful effects similar to those of narcotics and psychotropic to be transformed into an anesthetic or psychotropic substance, to have abusive data from another country, be placed under control in another country. It is clear from the criteria set out that cannabis can not be excluded entirely from the narcotic lists, but there is no obstacle to be moved from list I to list II. The switching of cannabis into list II could open doors for cannabis use in human or veterinary medicine, but would not only allow cannabis cultivation (containing more than 0.2% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol). It is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that is the key active ingredient of cannabis, which is also used in the development of medical products. To this end, a change to the Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act, which contains an explicit ban, as well as other related acts, will be necessary. The more important part is to conceive this concept in society and only then introduce changes made by professionals familiar with local legislation, European acts and world practices.

As mentioned above, the principle is that cannabis cultivation on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria is forbidden. An exception is permitted – where the hemp grown for cannabis (cannabis) is intended for fiber, for feed and forage and seed and has a content of less than 0,2% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol, as determined by the leaf, the color and the fruit tips. Cannabis cultivation, even under these conditions, is not free – this activity is subject to control by the State Agency for National Security. Persons who grow cannabis intended for fiber, feed and food and seed crops must be licensed to carry out this activity. A non-public register is kept for the licenses issued.

In March 2018, Ordinance No 1 was adopted on the terms and procedure for issuing a plant breeding license for cannabis (cannabis) intended for fiber, for feed and food and seed for sowing, with a content of less than 0,2 the weight percent of tetrahydrocannabinol specified in the leaf, color and fruit tips for trade and control and Order No 3 on the conditions and procedure for issuing an import license for seed of hemp not intended for sowing. With the issue of these two regulations, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forest has established clearer rules in the area. However, it is noteworthy that even with regard to hemp plants with a content of less than 0.2% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol, which do not affect the human psyche, strict regulation is applied both in terms of cultivation and in terms of conversion of production.

Lastly, it should also be noted that the Narcotics and Precursors Control Act provides for the possibility for natural and legal persons to produce, acquire, import, export, store and use limited quantities of plants and substances in List I for medical, scientific and laboratory research, for educational purposes, as well as for maintaining the working condition of official dogs finding narcotic substances. Eligible quantities are set by an ordinance, and at present limited allowances for hemp and marijuana are 30,000 grams.

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The comparative analysis of the legislation in the sphere of the different EU states implies the necessity of reforming our national legislation. The aim of such a reform would be to develop more modern rules on the cultivation, import, export and processing of plants such as hemp. The experience of some neighboring countries shows that, with adequate regulation of the sector, the emerging new business opportunities are substantial. Of course, the issue of the status of cannabis as a drug but also as a substance should undergo a profound public debate to anticipate possible legislative changes. Here, social attitudes will play a key role in striking a balance between society’s fears and the desire to unveil new business.

Bulgarian pensioners grow cannabis for cash

The illegal cultivation of marijuana is booming in southern Bulgaria – cannabis is said to thrive in the temperate climate. Even pensioners are cashing in to boost their pensions.

Growing marijuana may be illegal, but it’s big business

There’s a new trend in southern Bulgaria: instead of growing tomatoes in the back garden, many people are planting cannabis instead.

In the tiny village of Dolna Ribnitza near the border with Greece, police recently seized 1.5 tons of cannabis after being given a tip-off. Behind a high fence, housed in three greenhouses covering an area of about 2,000 square meters (21,528 square feet), pensioners Stefan and Slavka Trentschevi were growing marijuana. Slavka told the police that she needed the money for a hip operation.

“I haven’t killed anyone, nor have I robbed anyone. I haven’t committed a crime,” she said.

The drug is often sold on to markets in Greece

It’s well known in the village that there are numerous cannabis plantations in the nearby woodlands. The residents smile benignly and say the drug is just as widely grown as tomatoes, but with one crucial difference: with cannabis, you earn more money.

Lucrative business

The flowers and leaves of a hemp plant will give you about 200 to 500 grams (7 to 17 ounces) of dried marijuana. Over 1,000 joints can be made from 1 kilo.

People pay up to 30 leva (15 euros/$21) per gram on the black market. That gives an impressive end price of 15,000 euros per kilo.

In the past few years police have been uncovering numerous secret, often difficult-to-access sites where the plants are being grown.

“This is a criminal operation that we’ve been observing for some time,” explains Bojko Dunkin, chief of police in the southwestern Bulgarian town of Blagoevgrad.

This year, 118 cannabis plants were registered in the district. In 42 cases, the perpetrators were already known to the police. New cannabis plantations are uncovered almost daily.

Apart from the temperate climate, there’s another explanation for the boom. Blagoevgrad is not far from the major economic and tourist hub of Thessaloniki in Greece and the Bulgarian capital Sofia, both of which are prime marijuana markets.

Cannabis from grandma and grandpa

Growing vegetables doesn’t bring much extra income

Stefan and Slavka Trentschevi are not alone. Increasingly, it’s older people who are resorting to cannabis gardens, in an attempt to boost their miserly pensions.

Police chief Dunkin is speechless. “They can’t be growing cannabis because of poverty! Here in this region people rely on growing vegetables.” But you can’t sell a kilo of vegetables for a five-figure sum.

Dunkin says in most cases, the pensioners are only a link in a well-organized criminal chain of producers, suppliers and sellers.

He says older people take the blame so the real criminals get away without being punished.

“Often standing behind the old people is a grandchild or a cousin. The elders sacrifice themselves for their relatives. Elderly people are also brought before the court. If they are taking part in criminal activity, then they are aware of what they’re doing. That’s why they also have to carry the consequences,” Dunkin explained.

Author: Yordanka Yordanova / ji
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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