After law change, Greek medicinal users hope to enter cannabis business

XYLOKASTRO, Greece, June 18 (Reuters) - Konstantinos Syros turned to cannabis 26 years ago after a motorcycle accident left him with deformed arm and debilitating pain that conventional treatments could not assuage. For years he had to buy it illegally. Now, he plans to grow it himself.

Greece legalized cannabis for medical use last year, and in March this year it lifted a ban on growing and producing it, in the hope of drawing foreign investment into the sector.

The law permitting Greeks to grow cannabis has come as a relief to patients, who say that lifting the ban on using it was only half the battle, as long as it remained hard to get.

The number seeking medicinal cannabis has grown "by thousands," said Syros, who heads the Organisation for Patients Supporting Medicinal Use of Cannabis and lives off a disability pension. "They call me desperately asking for the medicine and the medicine does not exist."

Imports of medicinal cannabis products were given the green light last year, but complicated regulations made it difficult to arrange.

Syros said he has been arrested three times for growing cannabis in his home. Now, he has begun growing hemp in a field near his home in Xylokastro, outside Athens, as part of a collective which makes products including creams and oils. He is planning soon to produce medicinal cannabis himself.

Georgis Economopoulos, a neurologist and head of the Greek Association for Therapeutic Cannabis, said thousands of patients in Greece use cannabis for a range of serious conditions.

"It has thrilled patients and their families, who were tortured with having to go abroad to find cannabis," he said of the law.

Jaqueline Poitras, a member of the Mothers for Cannabis Foundation whose 18-year-old daughter is epileptic, said she had to try 17 different medications with dangerous side effects before using cannabis oil in 2014 to manage seizures.

"If you open the pamphlets in some of these boxes, some of the side effects are things like coma, death," she said. "This should have been the first drug of choice and not the last drug of choice."

(Editing by Karolina Tagaris and Peter Graff)