Hungary Hungary is an ancient land with an equally ancient tradition of hemp use. Hemp was so integral that it was even used to make the Hungarian national dress.
Hungary is a landlocked country in central Europe with a population of just under 10 million. Throughout history, cannabis has held a hugely important place in Hungarian life and culture, but due to the machinations of international law during the 20th century, the nation now has some of the most repressive laws in Europe.
Legality of Cannabis Possession, Sale and Cultivation
Cannabis Consumption and Possession
Cannabis consumption and possession are illegal in Hungary and punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years (for small amounts) and between one and five years for larger amounts. In practice, the harsh penalties for small amounts are rarely enforced, and it is possible for first-time offenders to receive a reprimand, a suspended sentence or a probation order. However, on second or subsequent offences, these are no longer options for the court, and prosecution must result.
Cannabis is not differentiated from other drugs under Hungarian law, so offenders caught in possession (even of small amounts) are subject to the same punishments as those caught in possession of heroin or other “harder” substances. In 2013, Hungary adopted a new Criminal Code that actually increased many of the penalties for possession and sale, and it is now theoretically possible to receive a maximum of fifteen years’ imprisonment for possession or consumption with certain aggravating circumstances.
The limit set for amounts to be regarded as for personal use by the courts is one gram of the active substance. In the case of cannabis, the active substance is THC; thus, the amount considered for personal use may range from 12 grams to 100 grams, assuming that the cannabis seized contains THC in the concentration of 1–8 percent.
Despite the severity of possession laws in Hungary, cannabis is by far the most widely-consumed drug. According to figures from the Hungarian National Report 2011, 19.4 percent of 16-year-olds in Hungary had tried cannabis, compared to just 10.3 percent for the second most popular choice of intoxicant, “alcohol mixed with medicines”.
Sale of Cannabis
Sale of cannabis (or any other drug) is punishable by a custodial sentence of up to two years for small amounts, and between two and eight years for a basic offence involving larger quantities. In aggravating circumstances or cases involving particularly large amounts, penalties may increase to a maximum of twenty years’ or life imprisonment.
Again, “small amounts” are defined by one gram of the active substance, so 12–100 grams for cannabis assuming that the THC concentration is 1–8 percent. It is reported that the courts will always test cannabis specimens for their THC content using forensic laboratories (this same report states that the limit for “small” amounts is 5 grams of pure THC, but the official figures from the EMCDDA give the limit as 1 gram of pure THC).
Just as with possession and consumption, if an individual is found to be selling cannabis in small amounts, sentences may be suspended at the discretion of the courts. If the individual reoffends within two years, a suspended sentence is no longer an option. If the individual is addicted to drugs and has been treated for this addiction prior to arrest, the courts cannot prosecute (again, this applies to consumption and possession as well as sale).
On the other hand, if the individual is found to be selling quantities that exceed the definition of “small”, there is no option for a suspended or waived sentence even in the case of drug addiction.
Cultivation of Cannabis
Under Hungarian law, the production of cannabis is punishable by a custodial sentence of between one and five years, or two to eight years if the offence is committed in a commercial capacity. This sentence may be increased to a maximum of five to fifteen years if the amount in question is “substantial”.
Again, the sentence may be waived or suspended if it is a first-time offence involving a small quantity, or if the individual can prove that he or she has been in receipt of drug addiction treatment prior to the arrest.
Despite the relative severity of the cannabis cultivation laws in Hungary, there is an active and thriving subculture of cannabis cultivation within the country. Furthermore, in recent years cultivation has become increasingly large-scale and professional, with grows often operated by Vietnamese gangs that buy warehouses and entirely turn them over to producing cannabis, with high-quality equipment and high output. It is also reported that these organizations also now control much of the distribution network in some parts of Hungary.
Prior to this phenomenon, which was first reported in the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report in 2010, domestic cultivation in Hungary was relatively small-scale. By all accounts, this type of cultivation still continues unabated, and is generally conducted using seeds from commercial Dutch seed banks.
Medical Cannabis in Hungary
There is no provision for medical cannabis in Hungarian law, and little sign that this will change in the near future. However, there is some possibility that Sativex from GW Pharmaceuticals may soon be approved. In 2013, proposals for Sativex approval were sent to the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior from the UK Home Office, but it is not clear what the outcome of this will be, as it appears that the medicine is still not available. Several Hungarian research facilities were involved in clinical trials to test the efficacy of Sativex as a treatment for cancer pain, but the results of the trial were unpromising.
Aside from this, the only other cannabis-related substance available in Hungary is Marinol, which is not truly medical cannabis at all, but is a synthetic form of THC used to treat appetite loss in AIDS patients and nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. Reports vary as to the efficacy of Marinol, and it is often reported by patients to have detrimental side-effects.
The general state of cannabis research in Hungary is not reassuring, and appears to focus primarily on potential negative effects of cannabis, serving to strengthen the official hard-line position against cannabis and other drugs. In 2015, research was published suggesting that persistently-high levels of CB1-receptor activity prevented the normal function of neurotransmitters in the brain; this report on the research from a popular online magazine shows just how biased attitudes towards cannabis can be.
History of Cannabis in Hungary
It is thought that cannabis first arrived in the region now known as Hungary in the latter half of the first millennium BCE, based on pollen analysis of sediment cores taken from sphagnum peat bogs in the southeast of the country. This ties neatly in with theories of Scythian nomads bringing their cannabis customs with them, as they expanded into Europe from the plains of central Asia from around the 7th century BCE onwards.
Over the next two millennia, the cannabis pollen count steadily increased, indicating that the plant was becoming established. Hungary has a very long history of hemp cultivation, which is known to date back at least as far as the first century BCE, prior to the Roman invasion. In 2002, archaeobotanical excavations yielded plentiful seeds of both wild and cultivated appearance from Iron Age Celtic settlements near what is now Budapest. However, it is likely that cultivation had existed for long prior to this.
By around 1000 CE, cannabis cultivation appears to have become firmly established, by the high pollen count found in bogs from this period. It is thought that the bogs were actually used for the retting of hemp stalks to extract the fibre; indeed, hemp textiles were certainly present at this time, based on the recovery of a scrap of hemp cloth dated to around 1050 CE in western Hungary.
From the 12th century onwards, historical records of hemp cultivation become much more common. In 1198, 1302 and 1324, there are records from customs reports that make multiple mentions of hemp spinning, weaving and processing.
Although the varieties of cannabis that now flourish in the wild in Hungary are generally hemp-like or of a ruderalis background, cannabis has apparently also been known for its psychoactive properties for centuries, perhaps because some plants were selected for higher resin production but have now been lost. The Scythians were described as using cannabis for its intoxicating effects by the Greek historian Herodotus in around 450 BCE, and it is widely thought that they inhabited much of what is now Hungary during this period.
Industrial Hemp in Hungary
Traditionally, Hungarian peasant farming communities produced hemp that they processed, spun and wove into high-quality textiles of a fineness and texture equalling or even exceeding that of linen. Specialized looms and other equipment were developed for the specific purpose of producing hemp textiles, and the industry also had important social elements.
Unmarried women of the community would gather together to spin and converse, while the sowing and harvesting of the plant itself were important group activities for the men of the villages. In fact, the colourful traditional dress that is still worn on some occasions in Hungary is typically made from hemp and linen.
Hemp has long been a fundamental part of Hungary’s history, and despite suffering serious setbacks during the 20th century, the industry never fully disappeared. While much of Europe ceased production of hemp following the US’s decision to effectively ban it in 1937 with the Marihuana Tax Act, Hungary and much of central and eastern Europe was under an entirely different sphere of political influence (largely centred around the USSR, although Hungary would not come under Soviet control until the end of World War II).
Thus, the industry continued unabated – at least until the 1960s, when Soviet collectivization programs effectively ended traditional peasant cultivation of hemp. State production of hemp did continue, although it all but collapsed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, Hungary has struggled to rebuild its hemp industry. Through its extensive efforts in breeding and research, it has once again become a world leader in hemp.
Hungary has contributed numerous high-quality fibre strains to the list of commercially-available hemp cultivars, many of which were developed by Dr. Ivan Bûcsa, a renowned hemp breeder at the GATE Agricultural Research Institute Kompolt. As well as improving four state-registered hemp varieties, Bûcsa also created the world’s only commercial ornamental variety of hemp, known as Panorama, although he states in an interview with Hempfood.com that “it was not much sold”. However, Hungary now enjoys healthy exports in hemp products, including paper, textiles, oil, and plastics.