Bulgaria is the land of sunny beaches, awesome skiing retreats and unique historical monuments. But what many people don’t know about Bulgaria is that it’s also the home of controversial, sometimes conflicting cannabis laws.
What is the legal situation of cannabis in Bulgaria? Can you get in legal trouble for lighting a spliff? Read on to find out.
Drug laws in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria, all drug-related activities fall under The Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act, implemented in 2010. The Act also refers to the lists of controlled substances and plants, which can sometimes complicate things, as you’ll see further on.
The Bulgarian Penal Code makes a clear distinction between high-risk and moderate-risk narcotics. Drug use is an administrative offence and is punishable by a fine, regardless of the drug involved. However, the fine varies between BGN 2,000 and BGN 5,000 (approximately €1,020 to €2,550) and those using moderate-risk drugs tend to receive smaller fines than those using high-risk drugs.
Drug possession for personal use is considered a minor offence and is punishable by a fine. Offenders who are caught possessing small amounts of narcotics, such as a spliff of cannabis, 1 gram of cocaine or up to five ecstasy pills can receive a fine of up to BGN 1,000 (approximately €510).
If offenders are caught in possession of larger amounts of drugs, they may be imprisoned for up to five years if they were carrying moderate-risk drugs or from one to six years if they were carrying high-risk drugs.
Drug trafficking is punished with prison sentences of one to six years for moderate-risk drugs and two to eight years for high-risk drugs. However, trafficking large amounts of drugs or other aggravating circumstances can extend the sentence to up to 15 years of imprisonment.
An interesting fact about Bulgaria’s drug laws is that a quantity of trafficked drugs is considered small or large based on its monetary value.
Cannabis in Bulgaria
Cannabis is the most popular illegal drug in Bulgaria. A survey showed that 10.3 percent of the young people aged 15 to 34 consumed cannabis at least once in 2017.
Cannabis is also the most frequently seized drug in Bulgaria. Located on the Balkan drug trade route and representing the southeastern border of the EU, Bulgaria is regarded as a transit country for most types of illegal drugs.
As a result, most of the cannabis seized in Bulgaria comes from countries like Macedonia, Albania, Syria, Turkey or Lebanon and is on its way to West and Central Europe.
In Bulgaria, cannabis is included in the highest risk category for illicit narcotics, along with cocaine, heroin or opium. This classification makes the possession of even small amounts of cannabis a costly, punishable offence.
But here’s the thing. Cannabis, as a plant, is not forbidden by law. Only its psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is included on the high-risk drug list. And that gives way to some controversies.
Cannabis cultivation controversy in Bulgaria
In March 2018, Bulgaria adopted Ordinance No 1, which allows farmers to grow cannabis that has a THC concentration lower than 0.2 percent intended for fibre, feed, food, textiles and so on. Simply put, Bulgaria legalised the cultivation of hemp.
But here’s the thing. The Bulgarian Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act precedes all other legislative acts when it comes to narcotics. And the Act clearly states that THC is an illegal narcotic substance, which makes growing cannabis, including industrial cannabis like hemp a crime.
So, from a legal point of view, the lack of a legally-allowed minimum amount of THC makes all the products on the market that contain THC illegal. However, as you might expect, the reality is different.
Hemp in Bulgaria
Despite the legal controversy, hemp is considered legal in Bulgaria. Farmers who grow hemp are not arrested by law enforcement agents overnight. However, they have to get a special permit to be allowed to cultivate hemp.
Bulgarian individuals or legal entities can only apply for a hemp-cultivation licence if they are registered as farmers and have no previous drug-related convictions.
The farmers have to submit their application with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry along with a declaration that they won’t separate, use or process the hemp plant. They also need to have a clear court record. In the case of legal entities, all board members must provide declarations and court records.
Each application is verified by a committee within three months of the submission and may receive a hemp-growing licence that’s valid for three years.
CBD in Bulgaria
Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in Bulgaria. You can buy CBD products online, in pharmacies or in headshops. However, CBD production is forbidden.
Bulgarian legislation allows farmers to process the hemp’s stem and seeds but prohibits them from processing the plant’s leaves or flowers.
Medical cannabis in Bulgaria
Cannabis is classified as a high-risk narcotic, so human or animal consumption is prohibited. Further, the Bulgarian Narcotic Substances and Precursors Control Act bans everything related to cannabis, including cultivation, acquisition, import, export, distribution or trade.
However, there are two exceptions made through different ordinances — one allows the cultivation of hemp, which was covered in the previous sections, and the other allows limited quantities of cannabis to be used for medical, scientific or educational purposes.
So, from a legal point of view, medical cannabis is allowed in Bulgaria. However, Bulgarian patients cannot access cannabis medication because the country doesn’t have a legal framework in place that would allow them to do so.
Doctors who prescribe narcotic substances that are not approved can be sanctioned with a fine or a prison sentence of up to five years, and they may also lose their rights to practice medicine. As you can imagine, Bulgarian doctors are not too eager to recommend cannabis treatments.
So, even though it’s technically legal, cannabis medication doesn’t exist in Bulgaria.
The future of cannabis in Bulgaria
As is the case with most ex-communist states, there’s a huge rift between the old and the new generations of Bulgarians. While older Bulgarians see cannabis as a gateway drug, many young people see it as a valuable resource that could revitalise the country’s economy.
At the moment, the cannabis industry in Bulgaria is expanding every year. But this progress is not enough. Bulgaria should also create a legal framework that allows medical patients to access cannabis medicine.
As for cannabis legalisation or decriminalisation, the country’s lawmakers don’t seem very eager to take conclusive steps in that direction, even though there are several NGOs that demand it.