Interview with Mirela Holy, VERN’ University

Mirela Holy - GCI Content Hub - Global Cannabis Institute

An interview with Mirela Holy, former MP and Minister for Environment in Croatia

Could you give our readers a little background on your professional life? At what point in your career did you start to really focus on cannabis-related issues?

After a political career as an MP and Minister for Environment, I now work at the VERN’ University in Zagreb as Head of three graduate studies. I have published six books and many articles about the environment, human rights and communication, and received the Miko Tripalo national award for outstanding contribution to the democratisation of society and promotion of human rights in 2012. In 2013, I founded the ‘Sustainable Development of Croatia (ORaH)’ party and in 2014, won a seat in the EU Parliament.

As President of the ORaH in 2014, I presented a policy document regarding complete legalisation and liberalisation of cannabis and proposed a law that would completely legalise cannabis – recreational, medical, and for industrial purposes. The reason I am interested in cannabis is its sustainability. Hemp is an incredibly sustainable plant both economically, environmentally and socially.

What is the current state of play in Croatia regarding current cannabis legislation? What are the prevailing attitudes towards cannabis across parliament and wider society?

At the beginning of ORaH campaign for the legalisation of cannabis, the reactions of the Croatian public were divided, but in seven years – in which I have been intensely promoting cannabis – positive changes are visible. The public in Croatia today are ready for such a law. Regarding cannabis regulation in Croatia, according to the Law on the Suppression of Drug Abuse, which entered into force on 14 February 2019, varieties of hemp whose total THC content does not exceed 0.2% are not considered as drugs. These varieties of hemp can be used for different forms of industrial production. The law also allows the cultivation and production of hemp with a THC content of more than 0.2% (Indian hemp), but only for medical purposes.

Approval for medical purposes is given by the Ministry for Health, but this request can be submitted only by legal pharmaceutical entities. However, since the Ministry of Health has not adopted an Ordinance that would prescribe the procedure for obtaining a permit for the cultivation of Indian hemp, it is still not possible to produce Indian hemp in Croatia (those varieties of hemp that have a higher percentage of THC of 0.2%).

Do you expect to see future developments in Croatian cannabis legalisation this year? If yes, what changes would you expect to see with regard to cannabis law? What is the SDP doing to push this along? What are the potential road blocks here?

As President of the Green Development Committee for the Social Democratic Party, I proposed ‘Lex cannabis’ at the beginning of 2020 – a special law that would completely legalise and liberalise cannabis in Croatia for industrial, medical and recreational purposes. This law proposal allows independent cultivation of nine female plants in full bloom to every adult in Croatia for personal use. For the SDP, hemp is a key crop to boost the bio-economy and transition from current linear-to-circular economy.

Removal of the legally defined limit, which includes a content of 0.2% THC in the plant, would facilitate the production of hemp, especially since a number of studies have shown that this percentage increases significantly during dry years. The full potential of hemp as a plant is not possible without an integrative approach embracing the total potential of the plant.

What benefits do you believe the relaxation and/or transformation of cannabis legislation in Croatia would bring to the country and its citizens (e.g. medical, economic, agricultural)?

All parts of hemp are usable. Hemp is used in almost all known industries: construction, paper, textile, food, cosmetics, chemical, pharmaceutical, automotive, space and as an energy source (biomass). Croatia is a destination for tourists so can also become destination for cannabis.

The phytoremediation and environmental potentials of hemp should be especially emphasised. Hemp can improve the state of the environment, not only in terms of cleaning contaminated soil, but also in terms of mitigation i.e. the reduction of CO2 emissions. Hemp can reduce greenhouse emissions because it consumes four times more CO2 than many trees. Hemp has a short cultivation cycle (between 12 to 14 weeks) and as such, the phytoremediation characteristics make hemp an extremely sustainable crop because, in addition to the already mentioned CO2 absorption, hemp also removes radioactive chemicals and toxins from the soil.

How does Croatia’s stance on cannabis differ to those surrounding countries in the region? Do you expect any of these nations to liberalise their legislation in the coming years?

Italy and Slovenia have legalised marijuana for medical purposes; Austria allows the cultivation of up to three plants for personal usage. Other neighbouring states are still restrictive to cannabis. I must confess that I am not familiar with the current debates regarding cannabis in surrounding countries in the region, but I am sure that the future belongs to cannabis. Globally.

You can hear more from Mirela Holy at the GCI Europe Virtual Summit.

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