Greece is widely seen as a land of white-sand beaches, skewered souvlaki, and seaside nights enhanced by Ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif. While the local economy is still reeling from the multi-year financial crisis, culture in the sun-kissed Mediterranean country is already coming back to life — as is Greek use of the cannabis plant.
In April, the central government in Athens legalised the cultivation and processing of hemp, ending 60 years of prohibition of the traditional, non-psychoactive plant.
One of the first milestones to date is the return of hemp to Greek fields. Just after the law was enacted, Evia-based hemp cooperative Kannabio immediately sowed hemp on two small plots, and the group is currently preparing a small processing unit. The cooperative wants to introduce new opportunities and build markets in a country still trying to get back on its feet.
Overcoming anti-cannabis hysteria is never easy, but the situation in Greece is finding support both from the top down and the bottom up.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party (Coalition of the Radical Left) hold favorable views of cannabis and have advocated for a pragmatic approach. Their work is being supported on a grassroots level by steady pressure on politicians from Greek cannabis advocates and the Iliosporoi Network, which has organised the country’s Global Marijuana March since 2005.
As a result of Greece’s climate, soil, and geography, agriculture and farming are major segments of the economy. Kannabio Hemp Social Cooperative aims to produce domestically grown organic hemp products as well as to provide expertise, networking, and promotional opportunities to local partners and farmers. The co-op will oversee the production of organic hemp oil extraction products, nutritional supplements, food and personal hygiene products, and hempcrete for construction.
Kannabio members have been involved in the hemp trade for almost 20 years and have been at the forefront of hemp legalisation campaigning in Greece since 2005. Two this year became among the first five farmers to receive permits to cultivate hemp in Greece. They’re growing hemp on just under a hectare as part of a pilot cultivation project in Psachna, Evia, and in Chania, Crete. The group hopes to work with farmers to cultivate 25 hectares by 2017.
Both farmers had hemp shops that were raided by police in 1998, their products — hemp clothing — were confiscated, and they faced multi-year court proceedings before finally being acquitted. The government never compensated them for the seized goods.
“Greek organic hemp can become an international standard of quality through cooperative cultivation and processing,” said Michalis Theodoropoulos, president of Kannabio and coordinator of GMM: “By the establishment of a healthy and cooperative hemp market in Greece, Kannabio will promote sustainable agricultural practices and social economy approaches to hemp production.”
It’s just attitudes toward hemp that are evolving in Greece. Prime Minister Tsipras also recently established a health ministry committee tasked with drawing up proposals that would legalise medical cannabis.
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The Iliosporoi Network called the committee “promising progress that followed our continued input with best practices and legal frameworks regarding medicinal cannabis in Europe.”
“The movement will make all necessary efforts to ensure patients' rights to self-cultivation and easy-access to organic and low-cost medical cannabis,” the network said.
The group opposes cannabis pharmaceuticals from what it describes as “big multinational companies.”
Greek medical cannabis is still a ways away, but there’s no shortage of plans for the country’s blossoming hemp industry.
Kannabio wants to establish a museum dedicated to Greek hemp and launch a mobile Hemp Caravan Museum that would travel around the country. The goal is to reintroduce hemp to the Greek people and help educate them after 60 years of prohibition.