The tiny nation of North Macedonia may go down in history as the first country in the Balkan region to legalize adult-use cannabis.
North Macedonia may not be a familiar name to people living outside of southern Europe, for a number of reasons. The country has been trying to become a member of the European Union for over 14 years now, with little success, and has no major business industries to speak of. The landlocked nation is also a less popular tourist destination than neighboring Greece, Montenegro, and Croatia, which all have lovely views of the Adriatic Sea. And to make matters worse, the country's economy has been heavily impacted by the ongoing COVID pandemic.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has a new plan that he hopes will solve these issues by bringing jobs, money, and tourism to his country. Last week, Zaev announced a new proposal to legalize adult-use marijuana in the country's biggest tourist hotspots. But instead of mirroring the full retail markets seen in Canada and adult-use US states, the new proposal would be modeled on Amsterdam's cannabis cafes.
Under this new plan, the government would only allow cannabis cafes to open in the country's capital Skopje, the lakeside town of Ohrid, and other popular tourist destinations. The government would strictly regulate the production and sale of cannabis, which would not be made available outside of these specific licensed cafes.
“The idea is to allow consumption of marijuana in cafes, both in existing and new ones, and in tourist places, including Skopje, if they respect certain standards on ventilation, proof of origin of the marijuana and so on,” said Zaev in a recent interview, Balkan Insight reports.
Zaev cautioned that the government has yet to make any official decision on the issue of weed legalization. The prime minister added that he is also willing to back down on legalization if he is unable to find support for his proposal. Fortunately, other leading government officials seem to be on board. Earlier last week, Justice Minister Bojan Maricic said he was glad that the country was finally ready to discuss the prospect of cannabis reform.
“A quality regulation in this area can bring several benefits to the country, such as regulating the marijuana trade, curbing criminality and of course economic benefits, mostly in the tourism and hospitality sectors,” Maricic said, according to Balkan Insight.
At the end of the summer, Zaev met with Michael Straumietis, aka “Big Mike,” founder of Advanced Nutrients, a company that makes one of the most popular fertilizers for cannabis grows. “North Macedonia is full of hardworking and intelligent people ready for a change,” Big Mike wrote in a social media post after the meeting. “Cannabis can be that change. With around 40,000 potential new jobs after legalization, there’s a huge opportunity for North Macedonia — if they do it right.”
North Macedonia already legalized medical marijuana in 2016, and there are currently over two dozen companies legally growing medical pot in the country today. The current law allows cannabis products containing less than 0.2 percent THC to be sold without a prescription, and the country is working to build up its medical cannabis export industry.