Medicinal-marihuana conviction sheds light on ambiguous drug law

The Czech Republic is known for its liberal attitude towards marihuana, ranking top of the European ladder in the number of people who smoke pot. But a court in the town of Tábor, South Bohemia, recently bucked this trend when it handed a fifty-two year old woman a two month suspended sentence for growing and using marihuana as medicine.

Libuše Bryndová,  photo: CTK
Libuše Bryndová lives in a small village in South Bohemia. A translator from French and English, she moved there from Prague in the mid 1990s and she started growing cannabis to alleviate her health problems. In August last year, her home was raided by an anti-drug police squad and last week she was sentenced to two months of prison, suspended for a year, for illegal drug production. Over the phone from her south Bohemian home, Ms Bryndová says she has done nothing wrong.

“I was growing cannabis for my personal use as medicine. I was inhaling it for my asthma, and I made ointments for my arthritic pains as this is a very well indicated treatment. Some of the ointments I also distributed – for free – to my neighbours. The whole village would come to my place to get ointments when they had joint paints and sunburns and other problems like psoriasis and eczema and so on.”

Libuše Bryndová with her attorney Klára Veselá – Samková,  photo: CTK
Reviewing a similar case, the Czech Supreme Court ruled in February this year that production of cannabis for medicinal purposes was not illegal. But Ms Bryndová was sentenced because she admitted to having inhaled cannabis, albeit as medicine. Moreover, the police report said that the content of THC in her plants was far below levels that are found in marihuana used as a drug. Klára Veselá – Samková, Ms Bryndová’s attorney, says the judge was in a difficult position, too.

“I understand the judge because he tried to make up for bad legislation with his decision. According to the Supreme Court, growing of cannabis is not a criminal offence and preparation of ointments from cannabis is not a criminal offence, either. If the judge had also said that smoking, or inhaling, of cannabis, was not a criminal offence, it would have in fact eliminated the effect of the law.”

Libuše Bryndová explains that the sentence she received for growing and using cannabis as medicine paradoxically helped her in her own community.

“The first reaction was terrible. I couldn’t talk to anybody but my chickens and cats because nobody talked to me after the police raid. It took half a day, and I live in a small village of some 200 people, and I was immediately labelled a criminal. People forbade their children to talk to me. But after I was convicted six months later, and people read in the newspapers that I was really convicted only because of low-potent cannabis and making ointments, they realized that I wasn’t a criminal and they started talking to me again; some of them even apologized for having ignored me before.”

Ivan Douda, the founder and supervisor of Prague’s Drop In centre, believes the Czech anti-drug and especially anti-marihuana laws need to be clarified so that in similar cases, courts don’t pass contradictory verdicts.

“It’s debatable whether the existing marihuana law is the same law for all judges. It is possible to interpret the law in very different ways, and different judges pass different rulings, and that’s a problem. From a superficial point of view, a two months suspended sentence is not too much but the basic principle is that it was only used as medicine. The law is not good if it’s possible to interpret it like this.”

Ms Bryndová appealed the verdict on the spot and a court of the next level is expected to handle the case in the autumn. If the original verdict is upheld, Libuše Bryndová is determined to take her case to the Supreme Court, hoping it could also bring about a change to the ambiguous Czech drug laws.