THE Health Minister of the Czech Republic, Vlastimil Válek, has cast doubt on the country’s ambitious plans to have a legal commercial adult-use cannabis market approved and ready to be rolled out by 2024.
Expressing his position to local media outlet ZdraveZpravy.cz last week, Mr Válek said he was waiting ‘for colleagues from Germany’ to not only show his government their draft law, but also see how the European Commission (EC) responds to their proposals.
This more cautious approach is at odds with the country’s Anti-Drug Coordinator Jindřich Vobořil, the ‘locomotive driving reform’ in the Czech Republic, who remains determined to push ahead with the establishment of a commercial market despite Germany pairing down its ambitions in the face of EC pushback.
Speaking at Cannabis Europa London 2023 in May, and weeks later at the Cannabis Summit in Prague, Mr Vobořil reiterated his commitment to ‘launch a fully regulated market’.
In early April, the Czech Republic said it had approved a new drugs strategy to run until the end of 2025 that includes the introduction of a strictly regulated market in cannabis, seeing an ‘expert group’ assigned to hammer out the finer details of regulation.
Mr Vobořil, who is currently working on this strategy, said that he would like the Chamber of Deputies to approve the bill by the end of the year, providing the opportunity for the market to be established in 2024.
Spolu s náměstky @antonin_stanisl a Radomír Daňhel, národním protidrogovým koordinátorem @J_Voboril, zástupci neziskového sektoru, @ZdravkoOnline, ministerstva pro legislativu jsme řešili otázku drogové problematiky včetně návrhu na legalizaci konopí… pic.twitter.com/of795XlmEo
— Pavel Blažek (@blazek_p) May 15, 2023
It is understood that, under the proposed regulations, stakeholders will be able to enter the commercial cannabis market via a conditional paid licence, which will cost vendors CZK 50,000 (£1,826) annually. The same fee would apply for a 200 sq. metre cultivation plot.
Pharmacies would be able to sell cannabis without paying a fee, while citizens would be able to cultivate an area of up to 3 sq. metres for personal use.
A user registration is also being considered which would limit the amount a person can purchase per month, though it is understood that the number of licences issued would not be limited.
‘Willing to take the risk’
After Germany rolled back its efforts to create a commercial market, the Czech Republic is now ‘lonely in its quest’ to become the first country in Europe to do so.
The likely pushback from the EC, which caused Germany to strategise, is also reportedly leading to caution within the Czech government.
Speaking to local media, Mr Válek said: “I’m waiting for colleagues from Germany who are trying something similar. And they are not yet at the stage, and they promised us that they will show us the draft of the law, which, of course, the EC must give a positive opinion on, because it will be a certain breakthrough in what is in Europe.”
According to the Managing Director of Astrasana Czech, Tomas Ryska, Mr Vobořil is not so deterred by the threat of EC pushback.
“What Jingrich said in London, and what he has told me in our private conversations, is that at this moment the government is willing to take the risk, because it’s not even guaranteed that the EU would actually create some issues of this kind of legal challenge.
“They faced a similar situation last year when they prepared the update for the legislation regarding the limit of THC, which was increased from 0.3% to 1%.
“There were rumours that the EU was going to intervene and there would be problems. It never happened. No one ever contacted the Czech Republic because of the increase.
“So, they think that it might be similar, but they are, at this point, willing to take the risk.”
In an effort to clarify why the EC pushed back on Germany’s proposals and what guidance was provided, Business of Cannabis reached out to the union, and their full response is published below.
Aside from external threats from the EC, there are potential issues internally. Mr Válek cautioned that there was currently no consensus among the five-party coalition regarding cannabis reform.
Currently, the main objections to Mr Vobořil’s plan have been raised by the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL).
Mr Ryska continued: “Most of the government, they are very much pro these initiatives. They support them. However, there is a small group of members of the Christian Party who oppose.
“Their position doesn’t reflect the entire party; it only reflects a small but very influential group, two members who are expected to become the heads of the party.”
Business of Cannabis also understands that this opposition is likely being driven by the interests of a small number of prominent pharmaceutical companies.
This influence is also thought to have been the key driver in the recent controversial efforts to limit the sale of CBD products in the country, which was later backtracked on by the government.
The European Commission’s full response to Business of Cannabis
Could you enlighten me as to what guidance Director-General Monique Pariat gave to Thomas Steffen on 14 November 2022 and 18 January 2023?
Director-General Monique Pariat met on 14 November 2022 and 18 January 2023 with Thomas Steffen, State Secretary of the German Federal Ministry of Health, and on 16 November 2022 with Klaus Holetschek, the Bavarian Minister of Health and Care to discuss the German initiative concerning cannabis legalisation, based on the first key points paper adopted in October 2022. Since we have not received yet the formal German request for consultation, we cannot make further comments at this stage.
What is the EC’s current position with countries that want to legalise recreational cannabis use?
We cannot comment on the specific national discussions. However, we are aware and we are following closely these developments in Member States, notably to understand the impact of changes in cannabis policies. This includes the impact on health, crime, environment or social aspects.
For your background, it is important to consider the EU legislative framework on drugs. EU law (Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA) obliges Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure that crimes linked to trafficking in drugs, including cannabis, are punishable.
This act lays down minimum criminal sanctions for illicit drug trafficking. Personal consumption of drugs is not covered and this is left for the Member States to decide how to address the personal use of drugs, including for cannabis.
Under EU law, the cultivation of the cannabis plant is also prohibited, with a few notable exceptions. Cannabis can be cultivated either in case there is a specific right/authorisation, for example for the production of medicines derived from cannabis plants, or in the case of the exclusion of the scope for ‘own personal consumption’, as this is left for the Member States.
In addition, the cultivation of hemp (low-THC varieties of cannabis) plants is permitted under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (varieties selected for their TetraHydroCannabinol (THC) content of up to 0.3%).