New Czech Drug Law Fuels Cannabis Confusion

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Photo: Legalizace.cz
The Czech Republic no longer punishes the growing of five or fewer cannabis plants

​Surrounded by confusion regarding exactly what was taking place, the Czech Republic changed its laws on the possession and growing of drugs at the start of this year. The change was more of a far-reaching clarification than a fundamental overhaul, reports Chris Johnstone at Radio Praha.

The new law that came into effect January 1 was an attempt to clear up what had been a hazy legal situation. Under the old law, all types of drug possession and use were criminal offenses. The new law makes possession or cultivation of cannabis (and certain other drug plants) an “administrative offense,” subject to only a fine if small amounts are involved.
The “small amount” was also defined for the first time. For example, growing up to five cannabis plants still counts as a small amount, but more than five is over the limit and considered a criminal offense.

Many in the Czech Republic and elsewhere reacted as if this very partial decriminalization was equal to legalization, but that could not have been farther from the truth, as pointed out by Robert Veverka, vice president of the Czech campaign to legalize cannabis, Legalizace.cz.

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European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD)
Protesters in Prague, Czech Republic demand the legalization of marijuana at the Global Marijuana March, May 2009

​”There was no legalization, no decriminalization, nothing like that which was usually presented by the media and widely spread,” Veverka said. “It was said that there was a certain legalization of marijuana in the Czech Republic and it is now ‘Amsterdam in Prague’ and things like that. We could see things like that in the newspapers and see on the television and hear on the radio at the beginning of the year.”
Confusion over the new Czech drug law even reportedly led to an increase in German border checks on Czech drivers crossing the frontier. German officials, particularly those in Bavaria, feared the more relaxed Czech rules would result in a flood of drugs crossing their border.
Czechs have already been designated the biggest marijuana users in Europe, with a 2007 survey indicating 45 percent of the population, highest total in Europe, had used the herb.
Veverka, however, believes the new law has made it easier for the Czech police to clamp down on “soft drugs” than before.
“I think personally that the environment is more hostile than it used to be as it is easier for the police to go after recreational users or minor marijuana growers,” Veverka said. “While before if they caught you with a bit of weed in your hand they would just let you go, I think because it would be too difficult, too complicated, too expensive to start a whole criminal procedure.
“Well, now, they just fine you and that is just really easy,” Veverka said. “I believe it is going to motivate the police to do more work like that because it will just be way easier for them.”
“Now the criminal code makes it easier for the police to understand what is a small amount and what is a big amount. It is really easy for them to punish people who just have a small amount of illegal substances.”
Cannabis legalization advocates fear a heavy police clampdown when they stage a pro-pot march in Prague on May 8. Veverka said there is “little doubt” that small amounts of marijuana will be in evidence.
On the ground in the Czech Republic, word seems to have gotten out that the punishments for cannabis possession and growing have been relaxed. One effect has been a proliferation of grow shops marketing to people seeking to grow marijuana for medical reasons.
Across the country, grow shops seem to be popping up everywhere, Johnstone reports. Lubomir Hanzl, assistant at one chain of shops in the center of the country, estimates there are from 30 to 50 grow shops now, with a steady rise in customers. Almost every fairly large town in the Czech Republic reportedly has at least one grow shop.
“Because of prohibition it is really hard to cultivate marijuana openly, let’s say, in the back yard, on the balcony or on the rooftop,” Veverka said. “It is really easy and the most secure thing to grow indoors — to make a closet in one room in your apartment and change it into a small plantation.”
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