Over the past year, the Czech Republic has emerged as Europe’s most exciting prospect for cannabis reform and potential commercial legalisation.
In the first of a series of articles taking a deep dive into the market, focusing on everything from its progressive laws surrounding hemp to its supply chains and investment potential, Business of Cannabis will explore the current political climate in the country.
Alongside majority support for the proposed regulatory changes amongst the public, the Czech Republic has one of the most promising political landscapes in Europe with regard to cannabis reform.
While obstacles undoubtedly remain on the road to legalisation, the Czech Republic is expected to have a smoother ride than other European counterparts such as Germany, which must overcome a lack of majority in the upper house as well as the inevitable pushback internationally.
The Czech market
In September 2022, the country’s National Drug Coordinator and former anti-communist campaigner Jindřich Vobořil announced plans to deliver comprehensive cannabis reform by early 2024.
The first draft of this bill was submitted by members of the Czech Republic’s current five-party right-leaning coalition government, the Pirate Party, and focused not only on harm reduction, but also on the potential economic benefits of regulation and taxation.
“Through taxation, we will get billions of crowns a year and at the same time prevent unnecessary expenses on repression. In addition, if we succeed in launching a regulated market together with the German one, it will mean huge opportunities for our economy in the field of exports,” a press release from the Pirate Party stated in October 2022.
Indeed, should the government manage to push through a full adult-use commercial cannabis market, projections suggest the size of the market on a per-capita basis could be larger than Germany’s, should it manage the same.
According to Prohibition Partners’ European Adult-Use Cannabis Report, the Czech Republic, which has around 10.5m citizens, could see its adult-use market be worth €158.65m by 2027.
Should the same adult-use market be launched in Germany, which has around eight times the population of the Czech Republic, its market is projected to be worth €259m over the same period.
The Czech National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction (NMC) last year found that about 800,000 people in the Czech Republic used cannabis, and that nearly a third of the country’s adult population had at least tried it before.
Dr Tomas Ryska, Managing Director of Astrasana Czech s.r.o., a leading Czech cannabis company, told Business of Cannabis that this figure is likely to be much higher, as the study only looked at those who use it explicitly for medical purposes.
Since the bill was given the green light in April, expert groups have been fleshing out the details of the bill.
proposes the authorisation of domestic and commercial cultivation of cannabis, the establishment of special clubs for recreational use
These proposals are centred around the authorisation of domestic and commercial cultivation of cannabis, the establishment of special clubs for recreational use, and licensed sale in shops for people over 18. Czech citizens would be able to purchase up to five grams of cannabis flower a day, but will be required to register as part of a ‘special user register’.
Mr Voboril explained earlier this year: “The customer would only be able to buy a limited amount per month to prevent them from trading themselves. Sellers would then have access to the register via a specific code and could check the amount already purchased.”
Various government departments are now providing feedback and offering their comments on the bill before it is presented and put to a vote.
Mr Vobořil is understood to have been in regular contact with the EC, his European counterparts, and with the various parties throughout his coalition.
While no definitive timeline has been given, Mr Ryska believes that following the summer break, ‘the most important part of the process will happen now during the fall, and a final decision should be made before the end of the year’.
Of the five political parties voted into a coalition in 2021, four are now understood to support the proposals put forward by Mr Vobořil.
The plans also have the backing of Prime Minister Petr Fiala, who leads a five-party coalition with 108 seats, and therefore a majority in the 200-seat parliament, and the country’s newly elected president, former NATO general Petr Pavel, who has publicly supported the proposals.
In July this year, Mr Vobořil met with the leaders of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), the only party in the coalition that opposes the proposals, in an effort to explain that regulating cannabis would represent the best possible method of protecting the country’s youth and society as a whole.
Just weeks ago, the party held a round-table discussion in the Chamber of Deputies with doctors, addictologists and other experts, in which a number of participants voiced their concerns around the potential of ‘adding another addictive substance to the current portfolio of legal drugs’.
However, according to Mr Ryska, this is simply part of the long-anticipated backlash from the opposing party, which he was warned of during a separate meeting at the government office weeks earlier.
“There was a meeting at the government office which I took part in, and one of the things that was mentioned was that we should expect a negative campaign against these planned changes. That is actually going on already. You can see regular articles against the planned regulation,” he said.
He explained that this round table was attended only by doctors and experts who had already voiced their opposition to the proposals, and was an orchestrated part of this negative campaign.
Despite this increasingly vocal opposition, it’s important to note that the KDU-ČSL are not entirely against the proposals.
It is understood that they generally support self-cultivation and decriminalisation to some extent, but are specifically opposed to the roll-out of a full commercial market.
More importantly, many believe that support from the KDU-ČSL will not even be necessary for the bill to be passed.
“Christian Democrats have such a small preference in that if the elections were in place today, they wouldn’t even get into the parliament,” Mr Ryska continued.
However, they still remain part of the coalition, so their opposition could potentially ‘disbalance the government if they go against it’.
Even without their support, other opposition parties are likely to be given a free vote on the legislation, meaning that the numbers could be found elsewhere.
While nothing is definitive, Mr Ryska suggests that ‘technically, it’s possible that the Christian Democrats’ vote is not necessary’.