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The recent release of WNBA basketball star Brittany Griner, who had been jailed in Russia on charges of possessing and smuggling cannabis, raises questions about the role of cannabis in this region. The Soviet Union has the distinction of being among the world’s biggest manufacturers of hemp, which is used for oil, cloth, and food. Ukraine has also cultivated hemp for centuries. 

While consumption of any form of cannabis remains illegal in Russia, public sentiment toward legalizing cannabis in Ukraine seemed to be shifting prior to the current war. According to the Kyiv Post, nearly 65% of respondents in a 2020 national poll conducted by then-presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyy said they supported the legalization of medical cannabis to relieve pain for people with terminal illnesses, while 29% were opposed. In April 2021, Ukraine partly legalized the use of certain cannabis products—synthetic cannabis-like chemicals dronabinol and nabilone, as well as cannabis extract nabiximols—for medical purposes. 

As reported by NPR, Ukraine’s government is moving again to legalize medical cannabis, in part due to the trauma wrought by Russia. In a Facebook post dated June 7, 2022, Ukraine’s Minister of Healthcare Viktor Liashko wrote, “Ukraine’s cabinet had approved a bill on regulating the circulation of cannabis plants for medical, industrial purposes, scientific and scientific-technical activities to create the conditions for expanding the access of patients to the necessary treatment of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from war.” 

In 2020 as Ukraine was opening up Igor Dunaevsky founded AskGrowers.com, as an outlet for telling the story of the cannabis industry in this country. Since its inception, the site has grown to 330K in total traffic.  

When asked how Ukrainians obtain their cannabis, Tina Moskalenko, Communications Manager at AskGrowers and the co-host of the AskGrowers podcast, notes how a lot of people in Ukraine grow one pot of cannabis for their personal use, though they cannot sell cannabis legally. She also observes that many people ranging from teenagers to the elderly like to relax and have a joint. “I still think we’re in the process of accepting cannabis,” she said. 

In Moskalenko’s experience, most Ukranians perfer to smoke cannabis via gravity bongs, glass bongs, and joints. She has seen fewer people consume edibles, pills, and tinctures.  

Since the war began, she’s noticed the laws getting stricter for those who caught smoking cannabis. In particular, those in the military cannot have any cannabis at all, so they are unable to relax with this method. Moskalenko also reports an issue getting medicine to the front line. “Russian invaders have literally bombarded the cities in the East of Ukraine every couple of hours, which made it hard for us to bring some pharmaceuticals over there.” 

While people have begun to see the medicinal value of cannabis since the war started, Moskalenko offers this cautionary note: “We must wait until the war is over to understand how cannabis will impact Ukrainians.” 

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As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School and Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith...