The Czech Republic is a young country, and adopted liberal cannabis laws upon first achieving statehood. Its liberal policies have been compromised repeatedly, but the most recent major legal change marked a major step forward—although its implementation may now be proving less progressive than was first hoped.
Legal aspects concerning consumption, possession and cultivation of cannabis
Cannabis possession & consumption
In 1993, the newly-formed Czech Republic implemented a progressive set of drug laws that legalized the possession and use of drugs while criminalizing production and sale. Then, in order to bring national law in line with the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a change to the law was implemented in 1999 that criminalized possession of “amounts larger than small”.
The amendment was widely criticised as it did not specify what these amounts constituted and did not distinguish between substances. This led to years of inconsistent sentencing, with cannabis offences often attracting equivalent or even more severe penalties than “harder” drugs.
Eventually, the Penal Code was overhauled in 2009-2010 and a crucial new amendment (467/2009 Coll) implemented, which distinguished between cannabis and other substances and established the limits for possession of small amounts at 15 grams or five plants of cannabis—a legislative change that was hailed as a landmark victory for drug policy liberalization the world over.
Following the amendment, possession of 15 grams or less has carried a maximum fine of CZK 15,000 (€547). For amounts over 15 grams, the possible maximum penalty is a custodial sentence of one year’s duration. In practice, however, custodial sentences are rarely applied for simple possession cases.
Five years later, and the laws are still in place—but the dream many shared of a new cannabis utopia to rival Amsterdam in its heyday was never realized, and there are worrying signs that the trend for liberalization is beginning to reverse. In August 2013, the Czech Constitutional Court found that the implementation of 467/2009 Coll was unconstitutional; the possession limits are thus invalid until new legislation can be drawn up, and the possibility of lowering the cannabis possession limit to 10 grams has been debated.
Sale of cannabis
The sale of cannabis in the Czech Republic has always been criminalized, and is punishable by between one and five years’ imprisonment, which can be extended to an absolute maximum of eighteen years’ imprisonment in the case of aggravating circumstances. In practice, such lengthy sentences are rarely issued for cannabis offences.
Sale of small amounts of cannabis may be ignored or tolerated to some extent, although this is not an official policy. In Prague and other major urban areas, there are various bars and shops that supply small quantities of cannabis under-the-counter to their customers, or which have regular “dealers” who are not officially affiliated with the businesses they frequent.
However, the coffeeshop-style establishments activists hoped to see as a result of the liberalization policies of 2010 have not come to be, and several of the unofficial outlets have been raided and shut down by police in recent years.
Cultivation of cannabis
Since the 2010 amendment, cultivation of cannabis has been decriminalized provided that plant count is five or below. Cultivation of larger numbers of plants is a criminal offence and is considered production, thus is liable for equivalent penalties to distribution offences.
Cultivation of cannabis is widespread in the Czech Republic, and in practice most small domestic grows are at very low risk of prosecution—even if the five-plant limit is exceeded—provided that no aggravating circumstances are present. However, the Czech authorities are experiencing increasing problems with controlling the rise in large-scale grow-rooms, often operated by Vietnamese gangs close to the German border. The large-scale intensive style of cannabis production is closely associated with poor-quality products that often contain high levels of mould or fertilizer residue.
In response to the rise in commercial, gang-related cannabis cultivation, the Czech authorities have clumsily attempted to clamp down on the sale of equipment used to grow cannabis. In 2012, the Czech Supreme Court ruled that outlets could no longer sell all items needed to complete a grow “from seed to joint” as it was deemed to be “inducing customers to commit a crime”.
This ambiguous wording immediately drew criticism, but shop owners generally complied, usually by just discontinuing the sale of one or two important grow-related items, such as seeds, grow books, or paraphernalia. Despite compliance with the law, the Supreme Court’s decision motivated prominent anti-drug lawmaker Jakub Frydrych, head of the Czech National Drug Agency (NPC) to commence a major crackdown on grow shops, closing approximately fifty in one operation in November 2013. At least nineteen arrests were made, and at the time of writing, it does not appear that the legal situation has improved.
Medicinal cannabis in the Czech Republic
Up until very recently, the Czech Republic had no medical cannabis laws on its books, although anecdotally it seems that medical usage was considered in mitigation in some cases of small-scale cultivation.
However, two crucial amendments to the Penal Code in 2013 marked a huge step forward for medical cannabis legislation in Europe. These amendments (50/2013 Coll. & 221/2013 Coll.) permitted the legal purchase and use of medical cannabis for patients in possession of a valid prescription, and set out guidelines on dosages, range of indications, and age restrictions. “Legal purchase” of cannabis was deemed to be that which is acquired from an officially-licensed domestic source, or is legally imported from abroad.
Currently, patients who have been legally prescribed medical cannabis in the Czech Republic do not have an officially-licensed domestic source to obtain their medicine from, and are restricted to importing through legal channels (although this occurs rarely, if at all), or simply purchasing their supplies illicitly. Although the laws governing licenses and administration fees came into force in March 2014, no licenses have thus far been issued—despite widespread interest.
Thus, despite the initial fanfare, the Czech Republic’s medical cannabis laws have fallen far short of their wide-ranging predicted effect.
Industrial hemp in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic has a small but significant industrial hemp industry, which began to flourish after a landmark ruling in 1999 that recognised the plant’s technological and bio-energy capabilities. Historically, hemp has been grown in the region that is now the Czech Republic for thousands of years, although the tradition was interrupted in the early 20th century with the spread of the U.S.-led disinformation campaign against hemp and cannabis.
When the law first changed, farmers enthusiastically took to their fields and a few years of bumper crops resulted. However, a decade later the industry showed signs of struggling; from a peak of 1,700 hectares under cultivation in 2006, the total crop declined to just 200 hectares in 2010.
Nonetheless, the Czech hemp industry shows no signs of disappearing. An active subculture ensures that annual hemp festivals are abundant and well-attended, and the type and range of available products increases year-on-year. At last year’s Festival Evolution, an important annual alternative-lifestyle event, vendors commented that hemp seeds, beer, and tea were among the most popular items on offer, and that hemp skincare and textiles were also becoming increasingly popular.
The Czech Republic’s political parties & cannabis
The CSSD is the Czech Republic’s largest political party, and leads the current coalition. According to an analysis for the Central European Journal of Public Policy, the CSSD typically approaches the issue of drug policy from a standpoint of protecting civil liberties, and as such is generally in favour of liberalization. However, the analyst noted that some party members typically expressed “symbolic disapproval” of drugs.
Founded by the second-wealthiest man in the Czech Republic, ANO 2011 styles itself as a political “movement” rather than a party, and attempts to avoid being labelled as left or right, preferring instead to focus on its chosen issues of wiping out corruption and ameliorating conditions across the board. While the party does not appear to have an official stance on drugs, members have been active in the effort to make medical cannabis available to patients.
The KDU-CSL are one of the most anti-drug parties in the Czech Republic, and is strongest in the conservative Catholic regions of South Moravia. The KDU-CSL are more likely to express “symbolic disapproval” of drugs than other parties, and are also more likely to espouse the utilization of punitive methods to combat drug use. Some members occasionally express support for harm-reduction strategies.
The ODS are also somewhat anti-drugs, and are likely to espouse punitive methods to control drug use, but are also more likely to support harm-reduction strategies than the KDU-CSL.