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Published on 7 November 2013  by encod


The Dawn of Cannabis Counterculture in the Heart of Europe: Lights Out?

By Lukas Hurysek

7 November 2013

All the versions of this article: [English]

The Czech Republic has been seen in the past twenty years as a very liberal country in terms of the attitude of most people towards cannabis plant and the laws associated with it. Unfortunately, this is no longer a true picture, as the reality hit us all hard with an unprecedented crack down on the whole cannabis industry starting Monday, November 4.

The American version of High Times has recently published an article about the “cannabis heaven on Earth” in the Czech Republic. It was full of typical clichés such as “everybody can freely light up a joint anywhere”, “the police do not prosecute marijuana growers”, or “possession up to 15 grams is only a minor offence”, and “medical cannabis is legal and available since this spring”. The world has been seeing us for years as a laid-back, hippie-style country where nobody cares about smoking weed, because the society is very lenient and the police “clever enough” to focus on hard drugs. Well, none of it is really true anymore.

It all seemed to be groovy until recently

A couple of years ago, one of the main cannabis journalists in the country, Jiří X. Doležal, proclaimed that “cannabis is now effectively legal here”—everyone could buy all the equipment to grow and use the herb, the police seemed to be focusing on hard drugs, and in 2010, we were all given a present—the decriminalization government act, which differentiated small amounts of drugs that were regarded as an offence, not felony—growing up to 5 plants and possessing up to 15 grams of cannabis was no longer a crime. Notice the past tense.

In 2011, a wide range of experts and politicians came out in support of introducing medical cannabis program into Czech healthcare system and the public was also hugely in favor of this measure. We seemed to be on the right track and heading towards the bright cannabis future. And when we looked at our neighbors Slovakia or Poland, with their incredibly repressive criminal systems, we were proud to live in such a progressive country.

The only real problem seemed to be a growing number of large-scale growing operations run almost exclusively by Vietnamese criminal gangs.
These growers have been trying to produce huge amounts of cannabis in huge indoor halls and abandoned warehouses in order to sell it mainly in neighboring Germany and other countries in Western Europe. All the growing equipment and the electricity bills are worth hundreds of thousands Euro in each one of these grow-ops, which have been being discovered all over the country, especially close to German borders.

Apart from producing large amounts of waste and not disposing it properly, the cannabis grown in these grow-ops was usually full of fertilizers, herbicides and other potentially dangerous stuff, because these “commercial” growers never cared for the health of users, seeking only quick results (meaning profit) for the least possible effort. These people also never hesitate to get into the methamphetamine business as well—which is the real drug problem in the country—and then create a wrong picture for the public, because the media usually inform about their arrests in a way that associates cannabis growers with methamphetamine production. And this is, of course, not true for a vast majority of cannabis growers (and users) and only helps the many-times-disproved “gateway drug theory” to survive and thrive.

The storm is coming

A prominent Czech magazine dedicated to cannabis and other prohibited substances called Legalizace interviewed the head of NPC (National Drug Agency—our version of the DEA and similar anti-drug police forces) Jakub Frydrych in autumn 2010, when he seemed open to discussion about liberal attitudes towards cannabis and even supported the legalization of medical cannabis—provided it is strictly regulated.

The tide started turning in the spring 2011 with an incident that no one in the cannabis movement or industry could foresee: two owners of one of the biggest growshops Hydroponic were arrested and charged with participation on producing and selling marihuana on a large scale, which lead to suggested sentence by the prosecutor up to 18 years in prison (equal to the rate for premeditated murder).

Apart from the ridiculous level of punishment, there were several important inconsistencies in the prosecution, and the worst aspect was that the owners were accused—you might not even believe it—of selling the equipment which was later used by someone else to grow and sell marihuana—and that was supposed to be their worst criminal intention. The few media covering this incredible trial were comparing it to arresting gun manufacturers with the charge of murder every time someone kills with weapons sold in their shops.

(Dis)allowing cannabis treatment

Another huge disappointment was the medical cannabis law that was passed in the spring 2013. Although the political support was huge and shared by almost all the major parties, the Ministry of Health and the State Institute for Drug Control (SÚKL) were blocking the implementation of the law in as many ways as possible. The former minister of health Leoš Heger kept repeating that medical value of cannabis is probably “just a gossip and hoax” and there is “no scientific background behind it” (while he has a medical degree), so it was eventually ruled that insurance companies will not cover the expenses of medical cannabis treatment at all. This combined with a quite unwise idea of importing very expensive cannabis from the Netherlands (although acquiring cheaper cannabis from Israel was possible) means that almost no typical patient in need of larger amounts of any cannabis product will be able to pay for it—at least not until the Czechs start producing their own, which may take one more year at least.

Many medical experts and legalization advocates have been protesting against these obstructions, but nothing has helped: in front of our unbelieving eyes, the politicians and their officials have been destroying something which was originally designed to help ordinary sick folk in need.

Nightmares coming true

The fight for medical cannabis looks like a simple exercise with respect to what has happened since this spring. First of all, the drug police accused one magazine and its two journalists for “spreading drug abuse” because they had papers and filters in one issue and there was a distorted picture inside with a caption: “If you want to see this properly, smoke a joint.” This obvious joke was followed with an attempt to make them a target for prosecution and trial with punishment up to 5 years in prison. However, the justice official who was overlooking the case nullified it so the trial never even started. This seemed to be good news in the bad times—not for a long time, though.

The owners of the Hydroponic growshop heard the judicial decision last month: they were sentenced to 7 and 6 years in prison, after two and half years spent in custody (again—these businessmen and ordinary citizens were treated as murderous criminals and had to endure the terrible and humiliating conditions of custody prison). They appealed immediately and the whole cannabis community is hoping that common sense will prevail and all charges will be dropped.

There was also a ruling of Czech Constitutional Court at the end of the summer 2013 that revoked the government decriminalization act, which means that “15 grams and 5 plants is just an offense” rule is not valid anymore, as was the state of things before 2010. However, the Constitutional Court is not exactly to blame, because the judges were not considering the actual content of this act—they just pointed out that no government can issue such acts on its own—it has to be through a proper legislative process, passed through both Houses of Parliament.

Prior to this, in winter 2012, the Czech Supreme Court ruled that a single growshop cannot sell everything from “seed to joint” under one roof, because it is “inducing customers to commit a crime”. Although this ruling hardly makes any sense and seems to be meant as an abuse of all growshop owners, almost all of the growshops complied and stopped selling at least one key category in this “chain” (the key categories being: literature about growing / seeds, fertilizers, lights and other growing tools and materials / rolling papers, grinders and other smoking devices).

Still, this Supreme Court’s decision was enough ammunition for the “drug czar” Frydrych who started an unprecedented crackdown on about 50 growshops on November 4, 2013. So far 19 people have been arrested and charges were pressed against 9 of them. The goods confiscated in the shops in the eastern part of the country during two days filled up three large army trucks.

The official police statement makes it clear that the police officers in NPC like to interpret the laws and court rulings in a way that suits them and gives them more power, but most importantly does not respect basic democratic principles as well as the gap between the current scientific and social knowledge about cannabis in the civilized world, between the functional liberal approaches and the total failure of War on Drugs, and between the level of available scientific knowledge today and the qualification of Czech police “drug experts”.

The fight for the end of cannabis prohibition (and its every social, medical and criminal aspect) in the Czech Republic has also become a fight for the direction in which the country will be heading—towards modern liberal democracy with emphasis on human rights, approaching the drug issues as a health problem, not a criminal one—or towards a police-controlled state, where growing a plant at your home is a horrible crime and selling soil, fertilizers and pots is equal to “spreading drug abuse”.

As this country had to suffer the oppression of the Communist regime for long forty years, we will not let our freedom be lost again!

The Legalizace.cz calls for A DEMONSTRATION AGAINST THE LIQUIDATION OF GROWSHOPS which will take place on Saturday, 9 November 2013 from 8pm at the Old Town Square in Prague.

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The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, is a pan-European network of currently 160 NGO’s and individual experts involved in the drug issue on a daily base. We are the European section of an International Coalition, which consists of more than 400 NGOs from around the world that have adhered to a Manifesto for Just and Effective Drug Policies (established in 1998). Among our members are organisations of cannabis and other drug users, of health workers, researchers, grassroot activists as well as companies.

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