The Czech government’s newly presented, much-awaited proposal on cannabis regulation falls short of industry expectations, although activists believe there is still room for improving the initial draft.

The document, which has been shown to relevant stakeholders but not made public, fails to introduce the comprehensive reform anticipated after being announced last year by national anti-drug coordinator Jindřich Vobořil, who said the Czech Republic might legalise and regulate the recreational cannabis market within the first part of 2024.

Based on the initial government plan, the Czech Republic would have introduced a system of production fees allowing for the development of a regulated and taxed commercial market. Instead, the current proposal, presented on 11th January, only focuses on regulating home growing and social clubs for consumers.

 

Not addressing the main issue

 

The proposed legalisation of self-cultivation and cannabis social clubs was welcomed as an advance by the Czech cannabis industry, but the main organisations representing the country’s sector called for the government to keep working to deliver a broader regulation of the cannabis market.

“We ask our political representatives to keep working on the preparation of legislation for a regulated cannabis market based on experts’ recommendations,” cannabis organisations Czech Hemp Cluster (CzecHemp), Legalizace.cz and Safe Cannabis Association commented in a joint note.

“Allowing self-cultivation and cannabis clubs are two very important steps in the right direction, but they don’t address one of the main issues resulting from the current repressive approach: the enormous and growing market of illegal producers and sellers who represent the highest threat to the youth and society as a whole.”

 

Core part removed

 

The three organisations are part of the working group that has helped the government draft a proposal, which has now been deprived of what many experts saw as its core part.

“I can’t explain why the government gave up on the regulation of the commercial market,” said Safe Cannabis Association’s president Tomáš Vymazal.

“Especially after the long negotiations we carried out on this topic in the first half of 2023, along with government department representatives and the national anti-drug coordinator,” he continued, “I don’t understand why the government ultimately decided to take the reform’s biggest and easiest to implement part out of the proposal.”

According to CzecHemp’s general manager Lukas Hurt, bringing the commercial cannabis sector under state regulation would not only prevent a further spread of the black market, but also generate income for the government.

“We have to persuade Czech politicians in the coming months that it is actually good for the country to create a regulated market,” Hurt told CannIntelligence, “because otherwise we won’t be able to curb the black market and, if the reform passes only with the home growing and social clubs, there would be almost zero income for the government.”

 

A ‘smear campaign’ by conservatives

 

Commenting on the draft, anti-drug coordinator Vobořil said the country’s Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU-ČSL) – part of the government’s five-party coalition – was the most critical of the initial version of the proposal, which included the market regulation.

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    “Besides the KDU-CSL, among whom concerns prevailed, I perceived more support from all other parties in the government coalition,” the national anti-drug coordinator told local media.

    According to Hurt, who is also the publisher and editor-in-chief of cannabis magazine Konopí, Christian Democrats waged a “smear campaign” against cannabis in the past months.

    “There is this one minor party in the ruling coalition which is ultra-conservative and is pushing the government towards directions that are more conservative than liberal,” he said.

    “The Christian Democrats are the biggest obstacle to any meaningful cannabis reform,” he added, “that’s why the national drug coordinator and his expert working group omitted the regulation in their preparatory document.”

    “Both home growing and social clubs are great steps forward, but – as the national anti-drug coordinator and we, as well, keep saying – they are not enough.”

     

    The German factor

     

    Last year, Germany’s decision to scale back on its initial intention to legalise and regulate a recreational cannabis commercial market also frustrated local industry expectations, which, however, did not seem to discourage Prague from following up on its own plan.

    Now, the two countries’ approaches to cannabis regulation seem to be taking similar paths.

    According to Hurt, the final outcome of the ongoing debate over the Czech cannabis regulation draft will be influenced by decisions taken in the German cannabis legislation process.

    “The Czech Republic is a small neighbour of Germany and, usually, we like to follow what they are doing in their industry and economy,” he said, “so if there was a regulated market in Germany, it would be much easier to create it here as well.”

     

    Acting now

     

    While the proposal is still open to inputs, if the Czech government is determined to deliver at least on the reforms concerning self-cultivation and social clubs, a draft bill needs to land in Parliament as soon as possible.

    With the next parliamentary elections coming up at the end of next year, the possibility of a far-right win may prevent even the current draft reforms on cannabis regulation from being adopted if the process is delayed.

    “If the government says that they want to do it, they have to start working on it as soon as possible,” Hurt said, “because we have elections in autumn next year.”

    “We all know that this reform should go to Parliament for the first reading sometime within the next six months: if we have the first vote in the Chamber of Deputies this autumn, I still think we can make it.”

    – Tiziana Cauli CannIntelligence staff

    Photo:

    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.