Five years ago, when the Czech Republic's liberal management of cannabis consumption and cannabis growing manifested itself in the form of one of the most liberal cannabis laws in the European Union, in many places it was believed that Prague was becoming the new Amsterdam of Europe. However, the police made it clear right from the start that growing cannabis for commercial objectives would be persecuted, and that the opening of coffee shops operating under a different guise would not be tolerated. While the possession of 15 grams of weed or five grams of pot and the growing of up to five hemp plants is no longer a prosecutable offence, but rather subject to a fine, Prague isn't becoming the new Amsterdam.
Turning away from liberalisation or purely profit-seeking?
Five years ago, when the Czech Republic’s liberal management of cannabis consumption and cannabis growing manifested itself in the form of one of the most liberal cannabis laws in the European Union, in many places it was believed that Prague was becoming the new Amsterdam of Europe.
However, the police made it clear right from the start that growing cannabis for commercial objectives would be persecuted, and that the opening of coffee shops operating under a different guise would not be tolerated. While the possession of 15 grams of weed or five grams of pot and the growing of up to five hemp plants is no longer a prosecutable offence, but rather subject to a fine, Prague isn’t becoming the new Amsterdam.
In everyday life, the Czech police simply turn a blind eye when they see people consuming cannabis or a few cannabis plants in a garden. On the basis of this law, a very relaxed grow culture has established between the giant Tatra mountains and the Bohemian forest, which has been able to develop in this way because it has not been necessary to invest half of the energy in disguising, deceiving and concealing. As a result, a wide network of grow shops has become established over the last decade, with the intention to fulfil the wishes of many fans for home-grown flowers.
There are of course some people who take advantage of, or use, the illegality of the plants for their own monetary gain. However, that is an ever smaller proportion of the total number of illegalised cannabis farmers, as is the case everywhere. Up-to-date figures from the German police confirm that in 2013, over 95 percent of growers caught in Germany were smallest-scale or small-scale farmers.
It was the adamant attitude adopted by the Germans that repeatedly called for a tougher approach in the Czech Republic. The German federal states that border the Czech Republic, Bavaria and Saxony particularly applied pressure in this regard. Accordingly, the Supreme Court in Brno recently reduced the quantities that apply as being for personal use (see the table below). The judge gave the reason for the reduction as the increasing number of “Cannabis plantations, crystal laboratories and addicts”.
As large indoor facilities had been discovered time and time again in the north and west of the Czech Republic in particular, in 2013, the police and the public prosecution service decided, rather than taking action against the elusive perpetrators, to simply take action nationwide against grow shops, which, up to this point, had been able to operate for over a decade without being challenged.
A week before “Cannafest“, the police therefore started the largest hemp trade fair this side of the Alps, a nationwide campaign against grow shops and their employees, which lasted for several weeks. From 4 November 2013, raids were carried out in accordance with §287 of the Czech Penal Code, with the main pursuit being incitement to toxicomania. This ambiguous clause has already been applied at Prague Global Marijuana March 2013 against the Czech hemp magazine and also served as a basis for the grow shop busts.
Following this campaign, the Czech police published a report on the results of the raids. During over 100 searches, the police found 16 growing rooms in private dwellings belonging to shop owners or employees and seized 11 kilograms or marijuana in total. The police searches resulted in 50 prosecutions against individuals, which is an average of 275 grams per person. The shops were prosecuted for: “Incitement to toxicomania, by selling and publicly advertising products that are propaganda for the growing and consumption of marijuana.”
“Each individual component in the shops is indeed legal, but the law regulates how they are handled – i.e. the growing of marijuana. Any contact with this drug, in whatever phase of production or expansion it may be, violates existing law,” was how the Czech Republic’s most senior drug squad officer Jakub Frydrych justified the campaign to Radio Prague. In February 2014, the constitutional court in the Czech Republic then declared the campaign and the closure of numerous shops as lawful.
Since then, the same has applied to the remaining grow shops in the Czech Republic as to French shops: they are now “hydro shops” or “indoor sales”, but no longer officially have anything to do with cannabis. Which is why numerous seed shops are opening, in which, in addition to hemp seeds, you can also pick up a few seeds for grandma’s garden that have nothing to do with hemp growing. Literature can now only be found via the book shop, at the kiosk or online. Meanwhile, Slovakia relegalised hemp seeds on 1 April 2014, which experts value as an initial small step by the neighbouring country towards liberalisation.
What’s behind this?
The political pressure from both Germany and Poland definitely played a part in the reduction of the tolerated quantity of recreational cannabis, but the situation is somewhat different when it comes to growing for medicinal purposes. The Editor-in-Chief of the hemp magazine Konoptikum, Petr Kozak, even believes that in the long term the Czech state intends to be the sole beneficiary of cannabis as a medicine and, at the same time, is making it as difficult as possible for cannabis patients to grow up to five plants, which is the maximum that is (still) tolerated, because each current patient is also a future customer.
Many people are currently growing their medicine themselves as cheaply as possible and are even being tolerated by the state. The attack against the grow shops is affecting end customers in particular, i.e. small self-supporters. Is this why the state is getting carried away with the virtual censorship of hemp magazines and books, which are read by politically motivated individuals, patients and/or small gardeners rather than owners of large plantations?
Especially because the information is available to everyone anyway on the internet? It almost seems as though they want to target the people who have formed the basis for the hemp culture that has recently bloomed in the Czech Republic. Because if you are a commercial grower, you will hardly be daunted by shopping in the construction or electrical market anyway.
Cannabis was actually legalised for medical purposes in April 2013, but at the moment, doctors aren’t allowed to prescribe more than 30 grams per month, which those involved criticise as insufficient in many cases. Also, it is not yet possible to obtain the prescribed cannabis: What’s more, two months ago, packaging manufacturer Elkoplast Slusovice, a stranger to the sector, was able to import the first three kilograms of Bedocran grass for medical purposes, but due to a formality during the registration process, this plant-based medicine cannot be sold yet.
To many people who are familiar with the scene it is incomprehensible why a packaging manufacturer was suddenly chosen as distributor, and potentially even a future manufacturer of medicinal hemp. In addition to Elkoplast, the state recently permitted five additional candidates to produce medicinal cannabis. Others will reportedly follow until the deadline and on 11 July a company will be awarded the contract to produce the country’s estimated total demand of 20 kilograms per year. However, the licensing criteria demand preconditions that can only be met by large firms; the pioneers of the hemp scene will fall by the wayside.
The barely transparent call for tenders, which allegedly already granted approval to Elkoplast — a company that is a complete stranger to the sector — to make the first cannabis imports in history and which could result in a higher price for medicinal hemp, forms the focus of Kozak’s review.
It already seems somewhat strange that, just a few months after the attack against the grow shop scene, the government is forcing what has been promised for years but was never implemented: a national programme for growing medicinal cannabis. But at least Czech patients now have a serious prospect of quick and long-term care. Seven months after the announcement of the winner of the call for tenders, i.e. the start of 2015, the first flowers will be sold via pharmacies. Until then, the gap will be filled with imported Bedrocan flowers, provided that the aforementioned barriers to the electronic registration process are overcome.
They are still flowering everywhere
In fact, the growth of up to five plants is still tolerated and even in 2014, hemp plants can be seen flowering in many gardens; however the liberal tendency of cannabis legislation was also recently amended “downwards”:
An overview of the details of the amended law
- Cannabis – 10 grams (maximum of 1 gram THC) or five plants (until now 15 grams or 5 plants)
- Hash – 5 grams (maximum of 1 gram THC)
- Psilocybin mushrooms – 40 or 0.05 grams (psilocin) or a corresponding quantity of psilocybin
- Peyote – 5 cacti
- LSD – 5 trips
- Ecstasy – 4 tablets Amphetamine – 2 grams
- Methamphetamine – 1.5 grams (until now 2 grams)
- Heroine – 1.5 grams
- Cocaine – 1 gram or five plants
These quantities only serve as a guide, because possession of these “low quantities” represents a minor offence in the Czech Republic, which can be punished with considerable fines. The objection that five hemp plants produce more than 10 grams of grass and produce one gram of THC (still) appears to be of no interest to anyone. As is the case in the Netherlands, ‘tolerated’ has not meant ‘legal’ in the Czech Republic for some time now.
Last but not least, THC limits now also apply to motorists in the Czech Republic. If you are caught with more than 0.2ng/ml THC in your blood, you will have to face traffic law and driving licence-related consequences. The Czech authorities are allegedly refraining from measuring the THC-COOH value, which suggests intensity of consumption or long-term consumption.