Evolving cannabis laws in the Czech Republic

Cover image: Cannafest Prague 2022, from magazin-konopi.cz.

In the eyes of the international community, the Czech Republic has always been portrayed as a very liberal country when it comes to cannabis or hemp laws. The recent changes – allowing export of medical cannabis and raising limits of THC to one percent – cement this status. Still, nothing is usually as it seems and there are many issues to be solved in order to establish a successful, fair and smart cannabis market with regulations beneficial for individuals as well as the whole society.

Why are Czechs perceived as one of the most liberal nations in Europe and worldwide in terms of their relationship with cannabis? What significant changes happened in this small country of 10 million and what more can the rest of Europe expect from Czechs in coming months and years?

A little bit of history of Cannabis in the Czech Republic

In 2010, small amounts of cannabis for personal use were decriminalized in Czechia, meaning people carrying up to 10 grams of dried flower or growing less than 5 plants at home were only to receive fines and minor offences – no trials, no jail time. However, the police and judges decided to “slightly” bend the will of lawmakers and they started to prosecute everyone who grew any cannabis, provided these growers cut the plant and started the process of drying.

The argument of the law enforcement has been that when you harvest cannabis (even if it is a tiny branch weighing 2 grams), you are actually not growing cannabis anymore, but producing drug marihuana! And that is not an offense anymore, but a criminal act. But still this approach could be called one of the most liberal ones when compared to others around the world twelve years ago.

Medical cannabis system and its flaws

Another pivotal moment came in 2013 when Czechia legalized as one of the first EU countries medical use of cannabis. It is said that Czechs were actually the first one in the world to codify this in their book of law through legislative process. Unfortunately, the will of lawmakers has been – again – crippled, this time not by law enforcement, but by red tape and overregulation coming from state authorities.

Thus, the system had not been working properly for many years. Lack of strains, lack of doctors, many administrative issues, lack of education, high prices – all these contributed to the fact that it took around six years before the number of registered cannabis patients and grams started to grow significantly. It was mainly thanks to the introduction of a reimbursement scheme in 2020, under which 90 percent of monthly average amount 30 prescribed grams is covered by health insurance.

This past January the law was amended again, this time in a way which allows for an unlimited number of domestic growers (for eight years, only one Czech company was allowed to grow medical cannabis in the Czech Republic, because the law did not allow more – the rest of the medical cannabis was imported from Canada) and also for export of medical cannabis abroad (which was also prohibited until this January). Now, there are already companies owned by rich investors building state-of-art facilities with the aim to grow premium medical cannabis and supply the rest of Europe with it.

Preparation of medical cannabis capsules. Credits: https://magazin-konopi.cz/
Preparation of medical cannabis capsules. Credits: https://magazin-konopi.cz/

From 0.3 to 1 percent of THC

In regard to hemp and CBD rich strains, Czechs were ahead of time in this area as well, because the allowed limit of THC had been in this country for decades 0.3 % (in contrast to the EU which raised the limit from 0.2 to 0.3 only this year). And from this January, the Czech Republic has become the first EU country (and second to Switzerland in the whole Europe) to increase the THC level in all cannabis to 1 %.

This change is already attracting investors – growers, extractors, wholesalers – who see the edge of growing strains with up to 1 % THC compared to strains with only 0.3 %. It means your plants can have more CBD and richer terpene profile and at the same time you don’t have to be scared you will end up in court only because your plants had 0.6 % THC. The same applies for extractions where companies don’t need certificates allowing them to handle narcotic substances anymore – provided they don’t reach over 1 % THC.

CBD situation in the Czech Republic

What is still in a kind of grey zone is the CBD sector, because officially most brands sell their oils, etc. only as products for further processing, not for consumption – in order to avoid potential questions from food and health authorities regarding the novel food registration or toxicity and heavy metals tests. The market with CBD flowers and oils is pretty large, yet the lack of regulation and clarity means that among good and reliable businesses there are also many shady entrepreneurs who just sell CBD isolates of unknown origin with imprecise content information, confusing and untrue health claims and likely residues of harmful substances.

What is even worse is the fact that the Czech market has been recently flooded with the so called HHC, which has mild psychoactive effects similar to THC. But unlike THC, HHC is not regulated in any way in Czechia at the moment, although nobody really knows what the long-term effects could be and again – there are no safeguards when it comes to the content and residuals in this semi-synthetic stuff imported in huge quantities from the USA. 

Lukas Hurt, author of the article, in a cannabis field with less than 1% THC.
Lukas Hurt, author of the article, in a CBD cannabis field. Credits: magazin-konopi.cz.

What comes next: future of cannabis in the Czech Republic

Last but not least, we have to mention the situation regarding recreational cannabis. The national drug coordinator Jindrich Voboril is leading an effort to craft a new legislation which would effectively end cannabis prohibition in Czechia. There are many issues to be discussed, but if all goes according to the plan (which probably won’t), there should be a regulated market in 2024 with homegrowing allowed as well, plus the existence of cannabis social clubs.

The coordinator has support of the government and prime minister himself, but it will still be a long and up-hill battle because law enforcement, pharma and alcohol lobby see this effort as a serious threat to their well-being and they will use any means at their disposal to avert this change, which could have – especially combined with German efforts – colossal impact on crumbling cannabis prohibition across the whole Old Continent and worldwide.

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Lukas Hurt
Cannabis activist : Journalist focusing on cannabis-related issues in Central Europe

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