Despite various researches demonstrating its effectiveness in the treatment of certain serious diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, different types of tumours, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the recommendations given by the World Health Organisation, cannabis is still illegal in BaH, and those who decide to use it take the risk of being criminally prosecuted.
Writen by: Snjezana Anicic Petkovic, Photograph: Ajdin Kamber, Video: Vanja Stokic and Ajdin Kamber
Mahir Ocuz was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2016, and a year later he decided to start the treatment with cannabis oil. He admits that he did everything on his own and that he never asked for medical advice. He was aware that doctors to a large extent disapproved the use of oil because it is not legalised here. According to him, the symptoms were relieved as soon as he started using the oil.
“I followed the practice of foreign doctors and their experience from the studies that I managed to find on the Internet. I am feeling relatively well at the moment. I have not been using this oil for more than six months now, and I feel that my situation has seriously deteriorated after I stopped using it. While I was using it I had no problems. I could run, I could exercise, I did trail running for 36 km. I felt completely normal, very healthy and very good, however I do not dare to undertake such ventures any longer”, Mahir says.
He has stopped using cannabis oil, because he and his wife are under investigation for its possession.
“I live under the pressure of investigation which is still ongoing, I am not sure what the outcome will be, and it is very stressful, especially for a person who is very sensitive to stress. Thank God, I am under no additional pressure by the prosecution, the judiciary or the police. Regardless of that, it is quite inconvenient to know you cannot use oil, which you have in the house and which would do you good. If oil was to be legalised tomorrow, I would be the first one to use it and would not stop as long as I am alive. Sure, I would recommend it to everybody. I have a lot of friends who ask me where they can get the oil because they would like to use it for prevention purposes, and I support them in this, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I believe that legalisation and decriminalisation would make people feel less burdened”, he adds.
Black market and high prices
The very fact that you are doing something illegal and that you can reach your therapy only illegally is an additional burden for all ill persons, because they can be punished for trying to get their cure.
Irfan Ribic, an actor and an activist for cannabis legalisation, highlights that the purchase of oil on the black market is a very risky endeavour because the purchaser cannot be sure what he/she will get and this is why it is necessary to talk more about the treatment itself. He himself had to undergo the treatment for multiple sclerosis and is familiar with the problems patients face.
“Legalisation would lead to the abolishment of black market and the patients would be in a situation where they would be granted much better safety, which is perhaps something they need the most. When I got involved in this, for me it was only important to find the seller who would not cheat me. At that moment I could not possibly know to what extent this was going to help me, or whether I would be cured, I did not want to set such high goals. But it was crucial for me not to put myself in an even worse situation”, notes Ribic.
Mahir explains that during his purchase of oil he never met any drug dealer nor did he deal with any. He only met doctors and professors who had earlier researched the cannabis flower oil extraction. He adds that he was aware all the time that the police might come to his door, but nevertheless he decided to fight the disease in this way.
“It is a risk that you have criminal evidence in your pocket, in the refrigerator or that you live with the knowledge that the police may come for you at any time. I was not surprised at all when I saw the police at my door, because I expected them sooner or later. I spoke publicly about this and there is nothing for me to be ashamed of, I just helped myself and would do anything to help other people, if I can in any way. I am sorry that people cannot reach this oil, that they cannot use it and perhaps help themselves, if nothing else, at least to relieve the symptoms as I did. I believe that something that might help people should not be classified as a black, grey of whichever sector of crime”, our interlocutor is honest and explains that the doctors and pharmacists should be the first ones to be educated on this.
Cannabis oil is being purchased on the black market at very high prices, and the resellers even put the lead in it to make it heavier. Sanja Sefic Kasumovic, ophthalmologist, explains that this is yet another attack on the patients.
“Lead is a silent murderer, it is a poison for the body having a cumulative effect. It is dangerous because it practically deposits in all organs of the human body, especially in the brain, heart, kidneys and liver. Now imagine a person who is seriously ill, who is forced to get the cure which he cannot legally purchase in his country and he is looking for any possible way to buy it as cheaply as possible, so that he could help himself. Not to mention a high price the patient has to pay”, adds Doctor Sefic Kasumovic.
Hope for legalization and decriminalization
All our interlocutors are optimistic that this problem will soon be resolved in BaH and that sick people will have an access to the medicine that could save their lives. Ribic highlights that cannabis legalisation cannot take place as long as we do not decriminalize it.
“People who are in possession of cannabis oil, believe it or not, would be prosecuted almost the same as if they had killed someone or committed a serious crime. They can be charged and sent to jail. If these people are forced to look for cannabis oil on the black market, then at least they should not be treated as criminals because they are only human beings making a last ditch attempt. This is the story of people whose lives are in danger and who are just trying to find salvation”, says Ribic.
Mahir shares his opinion and accentuates that it is important for the sick not to feel like criminals or drug addicts. Doctor Sefic Kasumovic adds that it is necessary to hear the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and the medical professionals.
“On several occasions, the BaH Parliamentary Assembly discussed this issue at length. In 2016, the Council of Ministers formed an expert team consisting of professionals to give a clear and justified explanation of the use of medical cannabis for health purposes, and to elaborate on proper procedures, the method of use, the type of therapy, prescribers of this medicine…..So, there is a good will, but this has also been slowed down. There should be no dilemma as to whether medical cannabis should be legalized or not. Its legalisation is only a matter of time”, he explains for eTrafika.
Politicians (do not) recognise the needs of the citizens
Damir Arnaut, a deputy in the House of Representative of the BaH Parliamentary Assembly, is in favour of legalisation and he highlights that in the next four years he will give his contribution to the resolution of this problem.
“This is due to political parties which do not recognise the real needs of the citizens. Medical purpose is a real need of a great number of people living in BaH, and it is irresponsible not to approach this matter in the way other matters are allegedly approached (workers’ rights, miners’ rights…). This is the right of ill people to make their lives easier”, says Arnaut.
In his opinion, administrative issues are not the ones that halt the entire process. He believes that if there was a political will, then the legalisation process would be easy. According to him, it is only necessary for the commission, consisting of the representatives of different levels of government, to meet and to put THC on the list of substances the use of which is allowed for medical purposes.
“We have a paradox here where the main component of cocaine is already on that list and it is being used for different medical purposes, whereas, for example, THC is not. It is an absurd, especially because the medical history of this product has been proven multiple times, it relieves the pain in malignant diseases and the like. There are numerous benefits, and it is unjustified not to have it legalized. As for legalization, it is necessary to adopt a couple of laws at the entity and the state level, focusing on trade and distribution, to specify the permissible weight, as nowhere in the world is it unlimited. The current establishment does not have a political will, but I will certainly advocate for this in the next four years”, promises Arnaut.
On the other hand, Ribic does not blame politicians for the status quo. He admits that few years ago he thought it would all be resolved soon, but we are still stuck in the same place.
“I said long ago that cancer is the same for HDZ, SNSD, SDA, SDP and SBB, and it should in no way be an obstacle. To be honest, based on my experience gained from discussions with those who decide about our future, nobody makes any fuss about this issue. But what is the break then, well I think the answer should be sought somewhere else. Maybe it is the pharmaceutical lobby or something else, and in these six or seven years I have not found the true cause, I cannot point a finger at any politician and primarily blame him or her for this”, Ribic is honest.
Although he is aware that the Association Kana BaH he is the leader of has no possibility to directly make any decisions regarding the legalisation, he is trying to contribute as much as possible to spreading useful information and he concludes that a lot of things could be copied from those countries that have much better regulations with regards to this matter.