The government on Wednesday unveiled a draft bill legalising the farming and use of medical cannabis in Greece, during a press conference given by Health Minister Andreas Xanthos, Rural Development and Foods Minister Vangelis Apostolou and Economy and Development Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou at the Athens journalists' union on Wednesday.

Xanthos noted that the introduction of such legislation has been outstanding in Greece for some time, following the adoption of measures for legal medical uses of cannabis in several countries. He noted that the draft legislation was based on the recommendations of a working team formed at the health ministry in 2017, led by the head of Greece's National Organisation for Medicines Prof. Katerina Antoniou.

The committee had stressed the need to give patients in Greece direct access to medical marijuana products, with the draft bill envisioning a state monopoly regulated by the health ministry and narcotics commission for its production and supply.

The minister said the draft bill, which will be tabled in parliament, will meet a longstanding demand by patients that need to use such products, while studies have provided strong evidence regarding their benefits. They will be distributed via pharmacies, initially with a doctor's prescription and will later be included in the electronic prescription system.

Apostolou, on his part, pointed to Greece's comparative advantages for cultivating cannabis, such as an ideal climate and strong sunshine. The law will allow businesses that meet certain criteria to import certified seeds from other member-states and third countries and plant them in licensed farms with an area of at least 4,000 square metres. The land used must surrounded by fencing and include all processing and support facilities so that the product does not have to be transported to another location for processing.

He warned that such operations will be subject to frequent and strict inspections and will lose their special licence if they violate the rules, which will be outlined in a joint ministerial decision to be issued soon.

According to the farm minister, enterprises currently active in the medical cannabis sector have already expressed keen interest in establishing operations in Greece, which the government estimates will translate into about one billion euros in investments.

Papadimitriou also highlighted the potential benefits for the economy, including job creation, and the "great political courage" needed to propose the legislation. Just one business plan presented to him by a Canadian firm hoping to invest in Greece envisioned 2,000 jobs and an investment of 750 million euros, he added.

Xanthos: Novartis case 'a real scandal'

During the press conference, Xanthos answered questions about the Novartis investigation, describing the case as "a real scandal" that parliament must now evaluate. While the investigation had started in the United States, he pointed out, Greece had displayed good "political reflexes" and the justice minister had asked the prosecutor to investigate any and all possible involvement of executives or state officials in Greece.

Referring to a "party that had raged in the health and pharmaceuticals sector for the last 15-20 years," Xanthos noted that for there first time there was a strong political will for action to cleanse the sector.

"In my opinion, when there is a scandal there is self-evident political responsibility," he stressed, adding that the aim was for the investigation to proceed in a way that would attribute responsibility where this exists "and send a message that we are wrapping up the loose ends of the past in an institutional way."