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The Czech government has banned semi-synthetic cannabinoids HHC, HHC acetate (HHC-O) and tetrahydrocannabiforol (THCP).

Coming shortly after the government drafted its first proposal on cannabis regulation, the ban has the declared aim of protecting under-age consumers from health dangers related to the use of these psychoactive substances.

The measure was enforced earlier this month through a temporary prohibition, pending the approval of a bill on psycho-modulatory substances, which is expected to pass parliamentary scrutiny before the end of this year.

The ban was announced by the government and notified to the European Commission after a wave of alleged HHC gummy intoxication cases resulted in the hospitalisation of several children and adolescents.

According to a note issued by the Ministry of Health: “The inclusion of the substances in question within the list of addictive substances was established for a transitional period until 1st January 2025, with the provision that the riskiness of the substances in question will be assessed and further steps will be considered in order to protect public health.”

 

More bans on the horizon?

 

Czech authorities also said that it was possible more synthetic psychotropics could be added to the list of addictive substances.

“With regard to the situation and the offer of other similar substances on the market in the Czech Republic or abroad, the Ministry of Health cannot rule out the rapid inclusion of other substances that would pose a potential health risk when consumed,” the government said.

Based on the government’s regulation that includes the ban, possession for personal use of products containing these substances can be punished with a fine of up to CZK15,000 (€600). Ownership of larger quantities and transfer to other people may constitute a criminal offence.

“In order to prevent illegal actions, the Ministry of Health asks the public to dispose of the substances in question as hazardous waste in an ecological manner before this regulation takes effect,” the government announced before the new regulation entered into force on 6th March.

 

Other synthetics are still out there

 

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    While some welcomed the new measure – even from within the Czech cannabis sector – others doubt it will serve its declared purpose, as different substances currently in use are potentially more of a danger to health than HHC and other semi-synthetic cannabinoids. And these have so far escaped the government’s radar, remaining widely available to both adults and minors.

    Lukas Hurt, general manager of the Czech Hemp Cluster (CzecHemp), told CannIntelligence: “Kids will now be able to buy other synthetics which are probably even more harmful than HHC because they are totally unknown and they have nothing to do with cannabis, while with HHC we can say that there is a relation with cannabis as it is found in hemp, although in minimum amounts.”

    According to Hurt, who is also the publisher of cannabis magazine Konopí, because of the new bans, some companies that previously sold HHC have now gone back to non-synthetic cannabis products such as CBD, while others, which never dealt with synthetics, even experienced an increase in sales.

    “Businesses who stayed faithful to the cannabis plant and kept selling their CBD oils, never getting into semi-synthetics, are actually saying that their market position is improving now, as even before the ban people realised that these [new] substances are not good for them and they went back to the natural plant which is available in the form of cannabis products with less than 1% THC in the Czech Republic,” he said.

    At the same time, though, the newly banned substances remain available on the black market, which make their prohibition less effective.

    Hurt said: “We know that even though cannabis and other drugs are prohibited, they are still available, especially nowadays when there is this dark net, where anyone can order anything online. Prohibition never solved anything – smart regulation is always better.”

     

    Division over bans vs best regulation possible

     

    The ban of synthetic cannabinoids has fuelled a heated debate within the Czech cannabis sector at a time when a more impactful issue – the long-awaited first government proposal for cannabis regulation in the country, presented in January – fell short of expectations, failing to broadly legalise the recreational market as previously anticipated.

    Hurt said that the HHC ban “does not do any good to the debate about cannabis regulation, which has been, until recently, a far more important issue”.

    Analysts attribute the Czech government’s step back from the prospect of full legalisation of the adult market, which mirrored that taken by Germany, to an anti-cannabis campaign waged by the conservative Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL), part of the five-party governing coalition.

    In this controversial context, a ban on some synthetic cannabinoids may not help the sector unite for the common purpose of lobbying for the drafting of the best cannabis regulation possible.

    Hurt said the issue of a ban on synthetics is “very divisive”. He added: “There are people who hate anything synthetic and called for the ban, and others who are saying that prohibition never works and it’s better to regulate even these substances.”

    – Tiziana Cauli CannIntelligence staff

    Photo: Alice

    Tiziana Cauli

    Senior reporter
    Tiziana is an Italian journalist from Sardinia. She has worked for both international and local media in Italy, South Africa, France, Spain, the UK, Lebanon and Belgium. She also worked as a communications manager for several international NGOs in the humanitarian sector.