For medicinal use only?
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 17:38

THE Czech Republic already has one of the world’s most liberal approach to recreational drug possession. And it will get more liberal still: beginning next year the government will allow marijuana to be distributed by pharmacies (a Czech pharmacy is pictured above) for patients with a prescription.

Lawmakers in parliament’s lower house overwhelmingly passed a bill clearing the way for legal, but regulated medical marijuana on December 7th. The law must still be approved by the Senate and signed by the president, which are largely formalities in a legislative process dominated by the lower house. Some 126 of the 154 MPs present approved the bill.

One of the bill’s authors was Pavel Bém, the former mayor of Prague, a doctor by trade, who said the goal of the changes is to “"make medical marijuana accessible to the patients who need it and most of whom use it already now, unfortunately at variance with the Czech law." He insisted that this will not pave the way for increased recreational use of marijuana.

In practice, cannabis use is widespread in the Czech Republic. It is not uncommon to see pub-goers smoke pot openly on the sidewalk outside their local tavern. A significant number of watering holes even sell marijuana under the counter. Individual possession of 15 grams of marijuana is already decriminalised – a volume three times greater than what is possible to purchase in an Amsterdam coffee shop. Czechs can possess up to 1.5 grams of heroin without facing criminal charges under guidelines codified in 2009. While a recent government report found that marijuana use has declined among young people, around 20 % of Czechs between the ages 15-34 use the drug each year. 

Medicinal marijuana is increasingly common in the United States – 20 states plus the District of Columbia allow it in some form and two of those states even allow recreational use – but it remains a rarity in Europe. The Netherlands is one of the few countries with a clear legal platform for the practice, although other places like Austria allow some cultivation of the plant for medicinal purposes under the auspices of the Ministry of Health.

Imported marijuana will make up the Czech pharmaceutical supply for the first year as regulators allocate maximum five-year licenses to domestic growers. A tender process overseen by the State Drug Control Institute will monitor the buying and selling of the cannabis. Medical insurance would not cover the cost of medicinal marijuana under the proposed legislation.

In a country where government contracts are choice territory for corruption it remains unclear whether these changes will make marijuana consumption a less hazy issue. Medical patients will not be able to grow their own marijuana under the legislation; they will need to obtain a doctor’s prescription and then get their treatment in a pharmacy. But the cultivation of up to five plants for personal use by even non-medicinal users is already decriminalised.  So much for clearing the air.

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