Hashish entered Greece for the first time in the 19th century, as the War for Greek Independence began against the Ottoman empire. After the Greco-Turkish war, the population of Anatolia- more than one million people- adopted the habit of smoking hashish, which had been brought from Turkey. Bars were set up where people could smoke openly. In 1890 however the the first decree was passed prohibiting the importation, production, sale and use of cannabis and hash as it constituted an ”imminent threat” to society. From this time onwards the laws regulating drugs in the country have been extremely severe. After the first world war consumption of cannabis skyrocketed when soldiers and refugees brought the habit home with them, but this faded out with the death and disorder caused by the post-second world war German occupation.
The Journeys of Herodotus of Ancient Greece
But long before this, in Ancient Greece, cannabis use was already extremely popular and there is a long history documenting the consumption of the plant in the country. The historian Herodotus discovered that cannabis had been grown for its fibre and also that it grew wild in the Tracia region. He also revealed was that the nomadic Scythian tribes that travelled across the north of Greece and Asia Minor burnt it and inhaled its smoke in order to experience its psychoactive effects.
The works of Herodotus documenting these facts were written between 450 and 420 BC, but the Greek knowledge of the plant went way beyond its use as fabric or as an intoxicant. To quote “The ancient Greeks used cannabis as a remedy to treat inflammation, earache and edema" (Examples of ancient Greek medical knowledge, Michael Lahanas, 2006)
Democrito and the Potamasgis
Although cannabis fibre dates back to the year 200 BC and was widely used to make ropes, fabric for sales and other fabrics like sailing ropes, ancient recreational use seems to have been more limited. The philosopher Democritus wrote in 460 BC of a potion made with wine, cannabis and myrrh that caused alutionary and visionary states and that was known as potomaugis or potamasgis. In 70 AD the doctor Dioscorides registered cannabis amongst his medicines and at this time it was commonly used in Greek medicine, the leaf for nosebleeds and the seeds to treat tapeworms and earache.
Production of high quality Cannabis
Before its prohibition in 1890, Greece produced both cannabis and hashish,of outstanding quality, which was exported all over the European continent. Although recreational cannabis use is illegal in the country, the courts are lenient with people prosecuted for possession if it is believed to be for personal use and it is rare that these proceedings end in a custodial sentence. This changes, however, if the possession is of large quantities, which is punishable with several years of prison
1987 and the International Treaties
The Single Convention of 1961 on Narcotic Drugs and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 reached Greece in 1987. In this year a law was passed to bring the country into line with international treaties. This legislation makes a distinction between addicts and non-addicts, stating that the former should be treated more leniently and should receive receive treatment without punishment. Those not considered addicts aren´t so lucky, receiving much more severe punishments, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison, even for those carrying small quantities.
Huge developments for Cannabis in Greece from 2011 to 2016, through 2013
In the year 2011, the Greek government briefly flirted with the idea of decriminalisation for cannabis in small quantities, but this never came to pass, nor to become law. According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction(OEDT) the penalty for possession, processing or cultivation for personal use is a maximum of 5 months in prison. This penalty can be substituted for a rehabilitation or counselling program.
2013 was an important milestone, as the laws were relaxed for users of many drugs in Greece. Previously, a case of possession could be punished by 5 years´ incarceration, the maximum sentence. in this year the limits for personal consumption, which in the past had been 2,5g of hash and 20g of cannabis, were removed, In march of 2013 the cultivation of varieties of cannabis containing less than 0,2% of THC was legalised and in April 2016 the conditions for the cultivation of these varieties were further improved.
Some of the harshest laws in Europe
Greek laws remain tough compared to European standards. The use of any type of recreational drug, including cannabis, can carry a custodial sentence of up to 8 years if the offence is serious. And if we are talking about trafficking involving professionals such as doctors or persons involved in organised crime, a life sentence may be imposed.
The 1987 legislation has been amended several times, first in 1999, so that users were not so harshly penalized. The 2009 amendment established a limitation for personal possession of 0.5 grams. The 2013 amendment removed all limits and leaves the courts to decide whether the amount found is for personal use or not, and particularly if the end goal was to facilitate personal use. In these cases, it could mean a minimum term of six months, often reduced to a suspended sentence or treatment order.
Illegal sale of cannabis
Currently, people caught carrying or consuming cannabis can be sentenced to a prison term of up to five months. Trafficking or distributing small amounts, especially if the person is addicted or it is to facilitate personal use, can lead to much more lenient sentences. These sentences can be reduced if there is reasonable cause to believe that this is an isolated incident and will not reoccur. Furthermore, the incident will be wiped from the police records if no similar offense is committed in five years. If personal use is not proved, the cultivation and sale of cannabis can be subject to sales and trafficking penalties, which range from eight or more years in prison to a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 euros, or as much as 1, 000,000€.
Despite its repressive past, it seems that the new Syriza government is bringing change with the legalization of industrial hemp and the celebration of the first Cannabis Festival in May 2015. This event brought hundreds of activists and cannabis users together in Syntagma Square in Athens.
Confusion between cannabis and hemp
In Greek the word cannabis refers to both cannabis and cannabis, and although hemp is completely legal, these laws were for some time used to block the sale of products made of hemp. In 2000, the European Commission complained and the country was requested to lift inappropriate restrictions that constituted a barrier to free trade.
2017 and medicinal cannabis
In July 2016, the Ministry of Health announced that a scientific committee of academics, psychiatrists and other experts would investigate the possibility of legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes. In April 2017, the Ministry declared that measures were being taken allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for certain conditions.
In June 2017, Greece joined the list of countries where cannabis is legal for therapeutic use. The Greek government approved a ministerial decree that legalizes the importation and trade of cannabis-based pharmaceutical products on advice from the Greek Ministry of Health. However, although medical use has been legalized, it still has not yet been implemented.
Positive impact on the precarious Greek economy
In addition to the positive effects that this measure would have for the patients, who would no longer have to look for their medication on the black market, President Alexis Tsipras pointed out the positive impact it would have on the country's economy, especially in the primary and secondary sectors. The government also stated that cannabis should be reclassified from Class A (the most restrictive of the categories which includes heroin, LSD and MDMA) to Class B (which includes methadone, cocaine and opium). This recent law could boost the Greek economy, since it allows for the creation of a legal medicinal industry.
Since the new favourable legislation, cannabis project investors are looking at Greece with interest, as a country with a particularly warm and sunny climate, similar to that of California, and very conducive to cannabis cultivation. This industry is widely considered to be the way to take the country out of the economic crisis which it has suffered for the last seven years.
Producers have expressed interest in injecting more than 1,500 million euros in projects for the construction of greenhouse parks for their cultivation and manufacture. A single campus could create 400 jobs. It is anticipated that around 2,000 jobs could be created, which would rather than being given to cannabis experts from other countries, would be given to specially trained unemployed Greeks. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared his belief that this investment will stimulate economic recovery and allow the country to exit the third rescue program.
In the summer of 2017 Syriza planned to present a draft law which would legalise medical cannabis by the end of the year. There was talk of a first harvest for the summer of 2018. Finally, it is now expected that the amendment defining the legislative framework for the culture and manufacture of cannabis pharmaceutical products will be sent to Parliament during the first weeks of February.