On Wednesday, the German government passed a bill to partially legalize cannabis, but there are no such plans on the table according to Estonian politicians.
Minister of Health Riina Sikkut (SDE) told ERR that the issue should be studied by specialists before decisions are made at the political level.
"In Estonia, decisions on liberalization and legalization cannot be made without improving access to mental health services," Sikkut said, adding that it is important to provide support for people to overcome addiction.
The minister explained that Estonia could follow the example of Portugal, where the issue of legalization is not a political debate, but has been addressed by researchers and experts. According to her, the priority is public health and internal security, not a debate between conservative and liberal worldviews.
"Unlike in Germany, we have a shorter life expectancy for men and women. The damage caused by addictive substances is very high in Estonia and we see the effects every year," Sikkut added, comparing Estonia and Germany.
However, if cannabis is needed as a medicine for health reasons, Sikkut continued, the first thing to do is to listen to what health professionals have to say.
There are currently no discussions about the legalization of cannabis on the agenda of the Social Democrats, the minister added.
There are advocates for opening up the debate
Riigikogu member Züleyxa Izmailova (Eesti 200) told ERR that so far Eesti 200's position has been that the party is against regulating the recreational cannabis market.
"If there is to be a debate on this issue, it should be carefully thought out. Personally, I would like to see this debated," Izmailova said.
Izmailova explained that if the issue were to become a major debate in Estonia, the experiences of Malta, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg could be studied.
In addition, Izmailova suggested that local representatives of the agricultural and tourism sectors should be involved in it as well.
"In any case, Estonia's regulation should be flexible so that the rules can be changed quickly and effectively if new factors arise or new data become available," she said.
At the same time, the use of cannabis and cannabinoids for medical purposes is already permitted in some cases. However, she added, it remains largely inaccessible to patients.
"I have heard that for technical reasons it is not even possible for Estonian doctors to write prescriptions for herbal cannabis remedies, because they are not listed in the European register of medicinal products as medicines, but as herbal remedies. Weighing the raw material in the pharmacy and putting it in a labeled package or making tinctures from it makes it a medicine, but a digital prescription cannot be written for such a process," Izmailova said.
Legalization of cannabis is not currently on the table of the coalition parties, but Izmailova added that there are plans to modernize the entire drug policy.
Therapeutic use of cannabis should be considered separately
Former Health and Labor Minister and current member of the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Tanel Kiik (Center) told ERR that he, like many health experts, is skeptical about drug use in general.
"Of course there are exceptions in terms of medical indications, therapeutic use and other such things where there is real expertise and real evidence-based research behind it. But in general, my understanding is that the availability of different drugs should be going down," Kiik said.
Kiik added that Estonia is concerned about excessive consumption of alcohol and tobacco products. He said that the focus should be on promoting healthy lifestyles. This is also the position of the Center Party.
Riigikogu member Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) told ERR that from his and Isamaa's point of view it is definitely not advisable to legalize cannabis in Estonia.
However, Kokk said a different issue is the use of cannabis for medical purposes, where the advice of health professionals should be followed. He cited the example of Canada, where cannabis is used medicinally for its pain-relieving effects, but on the basis of medical prescriptions.
Yoko Alender, a member of parliament from the Reform Party, also said that a distinction must be made between the use of medical cannabis and full legalization.
Alender also suggested that the legalization of cannabis could be broadly and openly debated, as well as drug policy in general.
The therapeutic use of cannabis is also met with skepticism
Helle-Moonika Helme (EKRE) told ERR that she is strongly against the legalization of cannabis. She said that if Germany does something first, it does not automatically mean that Estonia should do the same.
She said that politicians can make decisions on a political level, but more thought should be given to the consequences of legalization.
"The authorities who then deal with the aftermath, the medical professionals, the police, the mental health professionals, they say, and they also say in the Netherlands, please don't do it, please don't go down that road," Helme explained.
Helme added that, although doctors can already prescribe cannabis in certain cases, it must be taken into account that in some cases drugs are prescribed too easily and addiction problems must be taken into account, as well as the fact that cannabis prescribed for therapeutic purposes can fall into the wrong hands.
Legalization not yet in force in Germany
Although the German government has given the bill the green light, it still needs to be approved by parliament. Currently, the bill allows an adult to possess up to 25 grams of cannabis and grow up to three plants for personal use.
Among other things, people will be able to join "cannabis clubs", which can have up to 500 members and will be allowed to legally grow and purchase cannabis.
Editor: Grete-Liina Roosve, Kristina Kersa