Slovenia has only two million inhabitants, and nestles neatly at the foothills of the Alps, just east of Italy and south of Austria. Due to its location, Slovenia has traditionally been at the mercy of historical great powers including Italy and Austro-Hungary. It was also an integral part of the Yugoslav Republic, and has enjoyed real independence for just thirty years.
Slovenia is a great place to visit in and of itself. It has stunning scenery that is remarkably varied given its small size – in the northwest, high Alpine peaks and stunning glacial lakes. Further east, myriad rivers and marshlands, interspersed among rolling foothills, valleys and plateaus.
Slovenia is a popular destination for hiking, skiing, mountaineering, caving, cycling – and enjoying the numerous thermal spas around the country. The country also has a small but respectable winemaking industry, with three major wine-producing regions. The Slovenians themselves are friendly, hearty and welcoming, with a real love of local wine and mountain sports!
Alongside this, Slovenia also has a small but thriving subculture of cannabis and hemp use. Traditionally, hemp was of crucial importance to the rural farming economy, and now efforts are being made to revive history. In fact, in the small Slovenian village of Trimlini, the annual hemp harvest incorporates traditional rituals practiced since ancient times.
Slovenia also has a significant Cannabis Social Club movement, and attitudes towards cannabis use (recreational included) are generally relaxed. Laws are relatively lax, particularly compared to its Balkan neighbors to the east. There are signs that the whole region is moving towards liberalization, and Slovenia may be instrumental to that process.
Some years back, Slovenian activists brought Rick Simpson to speak at a conference and spread the word about his oil. In Slovenia, small as it is, ideas can take off rapidly – and it wasn’t long before the visit sparked nationwide dialog. Soon after, and following intense debate, the Slovenian government finally opted to allow medicinal use of cannabis.
Now, the ripples of this gradual movement are being felt throughout the Balkans. Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Romania have enacted medicinal cannabis laws – although many complain that laws are not yet comprehensive enough.
I’ve come on a short visit to Slovenia to check out the local scene – although it’s quickly clear that I came at the worst time of year, as the wind and rain is relentless. However, the capital city of Ljubljana is beautiful whatever the season, and a great place for a weekend break.
While I’m here, I hope to check out the local scene, but I’m hit by my first disappointment early on. The Country Estate Trnulja, a gorgeous hotel featuring bio-apartments made from hemp, is closed for the season. I’ll have to schedule another visit in the summer, as this was a destination I truly wanted to see. The hotel is surrounded by hemp fields, and the restaurant serves homemade delicacies such as hemp gnocchi.
However, it’s not the only hemp house I have lined up. My friend Miha Lamovec, owner of the new company Hemp & Wood Construction, has promised to show me around his project. So on Saturday afternoon we make our way to Slovenske Konjice, a small town around an hour from Ljubljana.
Lamovec’s hemp house project is absolutely stunning, and is undoubtedly the most impressive I have seen so far. Around 1775 square feet over two floors, the house will comprise three ensuite bedrooms, two reception rooms and an open-plan kitchen. Constructed using a proprietary technique developed by French company AKTA, this house had the hempcrete literally sprayed onto its timber frame! Using this technology, the process takes half as long as conventional methods.
Later, driving back to the local train station so I can return to Ljubljana, Lamovec points out a vast area of hemp fields just minutes from his construction project. Although it’s winter, piles of retting hemp stalks lie in the fields. In summer, he tells me, the entire hillside is carpeted with lush, green hemp! Just one more reason to return here soon.
On my last day in Ljubljana, I drop in to see the leader of the Slovenski Konopljin Socialni Klub, Jaka Bitenc. I haven’t scheduled a meeting, and I interrupt a patient discussion group that is deep in heated debate.
Bitenc is an activist from the old school. He has been involved with the Slovenian Cannabis Social Club movement from the very beginning, and it was he that so famously brought Rick Simpson to the country to spread the word about RSO.
It’s quickly clear that Bitenc is too busy, and too much in-demand, to leave his group to talk to me. I say my goodbyes, make arrangements to talk later, and leave him to his discussions. Clearly, his patients’ needs take top priority – always a refreshing sight in this industry.
Slovenia is a country that embraces transition (albeit sometimes slowly) and boasts strong public engagement. In a small country where ideas spread quickly, and politicians may actually respond, the possibilities for meaningful change are compelling. With both hemp and medicinal cannabis, an idea seems to have taken hold – and the next few years may see the birth of a whole new way of life.