Last week the Czech government published a draft version of its highly anticipated cannabis regulation bill, sparking outrage due to the apparent omission of plans for a full commercial market.
With much of the European cannabis industry still reeling from Germany’s decision to roll back on its plans for a commercial cannabis market, many assumed that promising plans for cannabis reform had once again been watered down beyond recognition in the face of international or domestic political pressure.
However, according to members of the working group behind the entire legalisation project, this is, in fact, a carefully orchestrated ploy to put pressure on the bill’s opponents.
Dr Tomas Ryska, Managing Director of Astrasana Czech s.r.o, explained to Business of Cannabis that the commercial market had been purposefully omitted in order to create just such a backlash, in the hopes that this would demonstrate the extent of public support for the measure to the KDU-ČSL (Christian Democrats).
“We are very happy with the draft. What is important to note is this is not the final version of the draft bill, and that the commercial market was purposefully omitted,” he said.
In September 2022, the country’s National Drug Coordinator and driving force behind the pioneering reform, Jindřich Vobořil, announced plans to deliver comprehensive cannabis reform by early 2024.
Discussions about the draft bill started after the Pirate Party, part of the Czech Republic’s current five-party, right-leaning coalition government, submitted an RIA study focused on harm reduction and the potential economic benefits of regulation and taxation.
Alongside plans for domestic and commercial cultivation of cannabis were plans for the establishment of dedicated clubs for recreational use, and crucially, the licensed sale of cannabis in shops to citizens over the age of 18.
Since the bill was given the green light in April 2023, it has taken on extra significance in Europe after Germany rolled back on its own plans to launch a commercial adult-use cannabis market, making the Czech Republic the last remaining and most likely candidate for passing such legislation.
On Wednesday, January 10, 2024, during a meeting of the expert working group in Prague, Mr Vobořil presented a new draft version of the upcoming law, laying out plans for home cultivation and the establishment of cannabis social clubs, but failing to mention anything about a commercial adult-use market.
Almost immediately, three of the country’s leading cannabis organisations, The Czech Hemp Cluster, the Legalizace.cz Association and the Safe Cannabis Association, issued press releases condemning the decision.
“I cannot explain the government’s reticence towards the regulation of the commercial market – especially in the light of the long negotiations we had on this topic in the first half of 2023 with representatives of ministries and the National Drug Coordinator. I don’t understand why the government finally decided to remove the largest and most easily enforceable part of the planned reform from the proposal,” Tomáš Vymazal, chairman of the Safe Cannabis Association, said.
A calculated move
While it may appear as if, as happened in Germany and Luxembourg, the Czech government decided at the last minute that the prospect of overcoming international laws was too risky to continue, in reality, it is reportedly a very different state of affairs.
Mr Ryska, who is part of the working group, explained that ‘what happened on Wednesday was part of the organised campaign’.
He explained that Mr Vobořil needed something to put pressure on the Christian Democrats, the only one of the five coalition parties to oppose the establishment of a commercial market.
“Politicians very much listen to what the people who voted for them say because they need their votes, and the elections are coming in 2025.
“Before Wednesday, we had a meeting in which we made a plan in which Vobořil would introduce the limited version of this draft, purposefully omitting plans for a commercial market.
“A press release was immediately published criticising the proposal for that. So we actually created this negative feeling in the media in order to get a reaction from the public to show the Christian Democrats and politicians that the citizens are unhappy with this kind of solution.”
He added that the government still fully intends to push ahead with establishment of a commercial market in a later draft, and remains undeterred by the potential of pushback from the European Commission.
That said, ‘it is true that the Christian Democrats are opposed to the commercial sale of cannabis’.
However, agreements have reportedly been found on self-cultivation, and good progress has been made across the political parties on the social clubs, though questions still need to be answered.
There are also a number of genuine developments in the draft bill, including the removal of a requirement for citizens who wish to consume cannabis or become a member of a social club to register themselves on a national list.
“The other good news is that the number of members a social club can have is 500. This makes it an interesting case from the commercial perspective; also, with 500 members the club can actually operate financially. With 50 members it would be very difficult to sustain this financially.”
A national campaign
Elsewhere, representatives of the Czech Hemp Cluster, Safe Cannabis Association and Legalizace.cz established an NGO called Racionální regulace (Rational Regulation), which is preparing a nationwide campaign to put pressure on the political representation and thus contribute significantly to the adoption of the regulation bill.
The campaign is currently seeking funding support from cannabis businesses and investors who recognise the potential of the Czech Republic to become Europe’s most exciting cannabis market.