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Czech Cannabis Reform: Anticipation Builds as Dual Bills Await Government Review

The Czech Republic’s anti-drug coordinator, Jindřich Vobořil, the driving force behind the country’s pioneering cannabis reform project, is understood to have prepared two separate versions of the bill, one with a fully regulated commercial market and one without.

These are expected to be submitted to the government in the coming weeks, leaving it up to the Czech government to determine which model it will pursue.

With its next-door neighbour and close trading partner Germany passing its own cannabis reform bill through the Bundestag last month, choosing not to pursue a full commercial market, some have suggested this could have paved the way for the Czech Republic to follow in its footsteps.

However, a new campaign group, Rational Regulation (RARE), formed by a number of the country’s leading cannabis voices, is hoping to persuade both politicians and the public that a commercial market is essential to meeting the bill’s stated goals of harm reduction.

What’s happening?

In November last year, Mr Vobořil was officially commissioned by the Czech government to prepare a law for the regulation of cannabis, with this bill expected to have its first reading in the Chamber of Deputies by mid-2024.

With Germany rolling back its plans to launch a fully legalised adult-use commercial market, the Czech Republic currently represents Europe’s only country pursuing such a goal, the passage of which would represent a milestone in the Union’s cannabis liberalisation efforts.

In January of this year, Business of Cannabis reported that the Czech government had published a draft version of the bill, sparking outrage due to the apparent omission of plans for a full commercial market.

However, this omission was actually a calculated political strategy to put pressure on the bill’s opponents and attempt to prove the extent of public support for the regulated commercial market.

A second extended bill is now reportedly being prepared by Mr Vobořil and the government, which includes plans for such a market.

Chief editor and publisher of Konopí magazine and manager of CzecHemp Lukas Hurt explained to Business of Cannabis: “The people in government are actually working on both, and the aim is to put forward both. The government will discuss and make a decision on which they’ll pursue moving forward.”

Asked which he believes will be pursued, Dr Tomas Ryska, Managing Director of Astrasana Czech s.r.o, said: “I don’t think anyone can give you a sure answer on that. Even if you ask Mr Vobořil he will not know. This is still a very sensitive political issue that has not yet  been solved.”

He added that a regulated commercial market is ‘likely, but it’s not guaranteed’.

One thing that is guaranteed is that there will be opposition from the Christian Democrats, described by Mr Ryska as a ‘party that almost certainly won’t survive the next election, but is preventing the will of the people from being brought into law’.

Mr Hurt suggested that the Czech Christian Democrats are in touch with their German counterparts, also long-time opponents of Germany’s cannabis bill, and ‘we can count on the fact they’ll use [CanG’s passage through the Bundestag] against suggestions of the commercial market’.

However, he continued, this makes it difficult for them to oppose home-grow and cannabis associations. Crucially, he suggested that their votes may not be entirely necessary. ​​

“If you just count the votes that are needed, we actually do know that even in the opposition parties, there are MPs who support a regulated market. We have good contacts there… When there is a vote, they may not be needed.”

He went on to explain that the Czech Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, does not want the coalition to look divided on the issue, so the public opposition to the bill by the Christian Democrats is likely to mean he’ll be tempted to simply avoid the issue and avoid any potential cooperation with the opposition to push this through.

“So it’s our goal to persuade the public to send letters to their politicians and MPs to show them that it’s actually important for every citizen.”

Co-Founder of Chain Pharmaceuticals, Chairman of the Board of Directors at the KOPAC Cannabis Patient Association, and Director of P4P Medical Development Pavel Kubů suggested that even if the government does not choose to pursue a version of the bill with the regulated market, the alternative bill still provides for a research-based adult-use market in the Czech Republic, much like the current Swiss model.

“This will enable the potential start of the retail market as we see it in Switzerland, or as we expect to see in Germany in Pillar 2.”

What impact has Germany’s progress had?

According to the trio, all of which are behind the formation of RARE, Germany’s vote to pass its cannabis reform bill through parliament is a mixed bag, but ultimately shouldn’t impact the Czech project significantly.

Mr Hurt explained: “There were some opinions suggesting we just copy the Germans. It’s a natural thing in the Czech Republic that when Germany does something, we think it’s good and appropriate as well.

“I haven’t heard this from any politicians, only the media. That said, when this is being discussed in the government, Germany will be mentioned for sure.”

Mr Ryska says that while some believe the momentum created by Germany’s progress should help the Czech project, ‘it might well work in the opposite way’, showing politicians a path to quasi-legislation that carries minimal risk.

“So far, I don’t see any big impact on the Czech project. I don’t think that it has impacted the way Czech politicians look at the situation. I think it’s much more about their domestic interests.”

Mr Kubů, who is also a medical doctor, says that it has helped generate more public interest and conversation around the topic but has exposed the dangers of getting bogged down in detail.

He suggested that in Germany, while the bill’s supporters are divided over the details of how the cannabis market should look, the bill’s opponents are able to make ground, a phenomenon now visible in both Germany and the Netherlands.

Regardless of which route the government chooses to pursue, it’s clear that the Czech Republic remains committed to cannabis reform, as emphasised by the recent public support for a regulated market by the country’s President, Petr Pavel, and a public survey showing the majority of voters for the ODS, the strongest party in the current coalition, support legalisation.

The bills are expected to be submitted in the coming weeks, likely coinciding closely with Germany’s final vote on CanG later this month. Yet, with such a unique unified effort and commitment to reform, the Czech Republic remains perhaps the most exciting market in Europe for cannabis businesses and users alike.

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