How a War Helped Push Reform

Illustration: OnePixelStudio / Shutterstock

On a frigid day in late December, amidst a war nearing two years with Russia, Ukraine’s parliament voted to legalize medical cannabis. While December 19, 2023, will go down in history for this pivotal decision, the gain for the international legalization movement is bittersweet when one examines the reason for the legislation.

What’s commonly referred to in Europe as the Russo-Ukrainian War is considered by most of the world to have begun in February 2022, but it actually began in February 2014 when covert Russian troops invaded Crimea and took over the parliament building. Although the conflict didn’t gain the international spotlight during the intervening eight years, war simmered just below the surface in the form of cyberwarfare and naval confrontations.


After years of escalating tension, Russia began massing troops along its border with Ukraine in 2021 while the rest of the world was still focused on the coronavirus pandemic. Ukraine responded in kind. The result was all-out war between two countries that had been united until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 (hence Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia and Ukraine are “one people”).

When hostility turned to open aggression, Ukrainians—like other people worldwide—increasingly turned to cannabis to help them cope with fear, anger, anxiety, and other physical and psychological manifestations of stress and illness.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been open about his support for cannabis reform as an extension of his commitment to maintaining his country’s freedom and its people’s well-being. In June 2023, in an address to the Ukrainian Parliament, he said, “All the world’s best practices, all the most effective policies, all the solutions, no matter how difficult or unusual they may seem to us, must be applied in Ukraine so that Ukrainians, all our citizens, do not have to endure the pain, stress, and trauma of war. In particular, we must finally fairly legalize cannabis-based medicines for all those who need them, with appropriate scientific research and controlled Ukrainian production.”

Ukraine is not the first formerly communist country in Europe to welcome cannabis as an alternative to Western medicine. The nearby Czech Republic decriminalized the plant in 2010 and established a medical program less than three years later.

Ukraine is the fifty-third country in the world to legalize cannabis, and the nation brings a special energy to the overarching movement. Being so far east, the decision undoubtedly will influence neighboring countries like Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Keep in mind most European countries that have legalized are medical-only and located on the western side of the region.

This will be a pivotal year for all of Europe. Pilot programs continue in countries like Denmark, Ireland, and France, with the Netherlands getting ready to join them. Germany’s adult-use laws begin taking effect in April, and Switzerland is eyeing a similar evolution. We will continue to see additional countries come around to medical and/or adult use, particularly in the European Union. With a population double that of Mexico, the United States, and Canada combined, this region undoubtedly will become an epicenter for legal cannabis.

Lance Lambert GreenBroz mg Magazine mgretailer

Lance C. Lambert spent years cultivating brands and telling stories in the digital-media and marketing spaces prior to shifting his expertise to the legal cannabis industry in 2013. In 2022, he was named chief marketing officer at Grove Bags, where he’s tasked with growing the company’s footprint at home and abroad. A cancer survivor, he embraces and actively advocates for the plant.

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