A Complex Relationship
The Czech Republic has had a complex relationship with cannabis. When the country was founded in 1993, the government implement a revolutionary set of progressive drug laws. Specifically, while the production and sale of drugs was illegal, possession and consumption were both fully legal. Ultimately, this legislation became too difficult to police until the law was changed in 1999. Suddenly possession of any ‘amounts larger than small became completely illegal.
More recently, smoking cannabis was decriminalised in 2010 leading to the country being considered a ‘new Amsterdam’ by many. However this perceived liberal approach the country has to cannabis isn’t as progressive as many have come to believe - especially when you consider that possession can still carry fines or even jail time.
Medical cannabis was legalised in August 2013. Although not without its restrictions - the permitted amount is limited to 30 grammes of dry matter per month. Furthermore, only special electronic prescriptions are allowed for patients diagnosed with one of the few explicitly mentioned illnesses with prescriptions only being issued by specific medical professionals (ie. general practitioner doctors cannot prescribe cannabis).
In addition, cannabis is not covered by Czech health insurance and very few doctors (currently only eight as well as 16 pharmacists) are willing to endure the long-winded, bureaucratic process that’s required to be able to prescribe it. This red tape makes it extremely difficult for patients to get the pain relief they sorely need. It’s even worse for young patients as it’s illegal for anyone under 18 to receive a prescription.
The Czech medical cannabis market has been characterised since its founding by supply shortages and a lack of competitive suppliers. However, we are set to see renewed attention later this year after the Czech parliamentary elections which are scheduled for 20th October. The Social Democrat Party which has controlled the health ministry and drugs regulator for the four years of cannabis market stagnation is trailing in polls. Interesting times.
Andrej Babis, the leader of ANO, the centrist party that is leading in the polls has said earlier this summer that patient access to medical cannabis must be significantly increased and insurers need to cover costs. If such a development doesn’t materialize, Mr. Babis said that the only other option is to legalise home cultivation for patients. Meanwhile, independent Senator Vaclav Laska is working with legalisation activists and the local Pirate Party on a senate bill to legalise adult use.
Further controversy surrounds the domestic cultivation of the country’s medical cannabis stock. A company called Elkoplast Slušovice previously won the bid to be the sole provider of the nation’s tender - cultivating a single strain with nearly 20% THC and very little CBD. However, the Czech State Institute for Drug Control (SUKL) then refused to buy two out of the three ordered batches (of 23 pounds of dried cannabis each) due to ‘insufficient certification’. A decision that is set to be legally contested by the company’s CEO, Ladislav Krajča.
Despite this previous pitfall, the SUKL has put out a new tender, which still aims for just one producer to supply only 90 pounds of medical cannabis in the next four years.
There is, however, one silver lining for the Czech cannabis industry... Hemp is regulated as an industrial commodity and therefore has more relaxed limits on cultivation and processing than the neighbouring countries. As a result, Czech Republic is currently a world-leader in cannabis-infused products such as cosmetics and dietary supplements. Numerous Czech products on sale in the UK, Spain, Germany and many other European markets. With the popularity of hemp based cosmetics on the rise, there could be a bright future ahead for the cannabis industry in the Czech Republic.