ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
THE STRUGGLE FOR MEDICINAL CANNABIS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
On August 15, 2011, a petition was started asking for immediate legislative changes that would permit access to medicinal cannabis and related research in the Czech Republic. The aim of the petition is to gain the attention of legislators and government officials and force the Ministry of Health to take measures in order to ensure access to medicinal cannabis for patients in the Czech Republic.
There are already many patients who use cannabis by self-medication, but by doing so they are breaking the law. The law requires zero tolerance for growing or possessing cannabis. Growing five plants or possessing 15 grams is the limit for the quantity that is punishable by fine. More is classified as a criminal act. This situation means there is no reasonable allowance for the medicinal use or research of cannabis.
Medical cannabis use for patients in the Czech Republic was first seriously discussed in a scientific seminar in the parliament in Prague on April 8th, 2010, under the patronage of M.P. Ivan Langer and Charles University Dean, Tomas Zima. Also attending were representatives of the National Anti-Drug Headquarters of the Czech Police, the National Institute for the Control of Pharmaceuticals and the Inspectorate for Narcotic Substances Control of the Ministry of Health. These representatives, together with specialists, patients and members of the public agreed that there is a need to ease or cancel restrictions for the scientific and medicinal use of cannabis.
Use of cannabis for medicinal and scientific reasons is in accordance with UN treaties, that define the conditions of prohibition of some psychotropic substances, cannabis included. The seminar produced concrete steps that should be taken by the competent authorities in order to create a legal framework for the use of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.
To access medicinal cannabis in the Czech Republic it is necessary to adjust Act nr.167/1998 of addictive substances, which prohibits the growing of cannabis with a THC content of more than 0.3%. A process to amend this act started in the spring of this year, as part of the Government’s Legislative plan for 2011. During this process it seemed like the Ministry of Health had completely forgotten the output of last year’s seminar, which suggested a scenario for allowing access to medical cannabis.
This inaction of responsible officials and policy makers is highly alarming. The petition is just a natural reaction of the people who need cannabis as a medicine, the doctors and the scientists who are aware about its potential, and the concerned civil society. The Czech Republic does not recognise the instrument of referendum and the petition is not an enforceable document, but it still gives people the possibility to make the problem visible and increases the pressure on politicians to solve it.
The public is invited to sign the on-line petiton at www.lecebnekonopi.cz. After five weeks, the petition has received more than 7200 signatures. NGOs as Konopa and Legalizace.cz are working very close on the dissemination and promotion of the petition.
The petition has been signed by the President of the Chamber of Deputies Ms. Miroslava Nemcova, and the Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas expressed his support to the goals of the petition in a letter. One month after the start of the petition the Government Council for Drug Policy Coordination established the Working Group for access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes and research.
The Working Group includes experts from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, National Institute for Drug Control, and other institutions. It has been given the mandate to propose the necessary legislative changes in respect of Act No. 167/1998 or other laws, in other words, to resolve how, to whom and under what conditions will cannabis treatment and research be possible in the Czech Republic.
One possibility is to establish controlled cultivation in the country, the other to import from abroad, either of raw materials or of finished pharmaceuticals. The group will appeal to all medical professionals with a request for identification of diagnoses where cannabis treatment can help. Legislators in the government and the House of Commons Committee in turn have to help finding all laws that will be covered by the disclosure of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“I for myself, like when work goes fast, so I expect that the proposals will soon be presented, so we will discuss them, and before Christmas we will finish. The quality of the result will depend how quickly the government, the House and Senate will pass it.” said Dr. Tomáš Zima, President of the Working Group, who also co-organised the parliamentary seminar in 2010.
By Hana Gabrielová, with the help of Peter Webster