MPs complete legislation aimed at legalizing cannabis for medical purposes

A group of Czech MPs from all of the parties in the Chamber of Deputies has completed legislation which could legalise the use of cannabis in the Czech Republic for medical purposes. Currently, thousands of sufferers from debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s, Lyme borreliosis and multiple sclerosis, have been forced to break the law to obtain marijuana to help ease their pain, a situation which could soon change if the bill passes in the lower house. According to reports, the medical use of cannabis in the Czech Republic could be legal within the year.

A little earlier I spoke about the bill with Dr. Tomáš Zábranský, a leading drugs expert who was involved in the process.

“It does represent relief. This was a proposal which was originally pushed forward and driven by pressure from patients’ organisations, people suffering with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses, so I am very happy that legislators in Parliament took this up and have promised to push it through the Chamber of Deputies. Basically the quick answer is relief, help.”

The bill seems unusual in the sense that representatives of all five Parliamentary parties were able to agree on it – is this the exception?

“To a degree it is the exception but it isn’t the only one. Last year, in 2011, there was other legislation – as it happens also on drugs – representatives of all the parties were able to agree on a bill banning harmful new substances. So it seems this topic is apolitical.

Pavel Bém,  Miroslava Němcová,  Tomáš Zábranský,  photo: CTK
“The other part of the story is that from the start we had strong support from the Czech Medical Association and the initiative was also supported by the head of the lower house Miroslava Němcová. She is really seen as a very decent, unaggressive and unifying person. I’m not sure that all the parties per sae support the availability of medical cannabis to patients, but there are certainly people within the parties who are probably against. That said, 80 percent of the public support patients being able to get medical marijuana, so it might be difficult for some politicians to say out loud ‘We don’t care’.”

Because it is an illegal substance I suppose there is a stigma still attached, but for many experts there’s no doubt that medical cannabis is beneficial, correct?

“There’s none. And, I mean, the first step which the expert group of the Czech government took was to ask 70 different expert communities of Czech medical doctors whether they believed this was evidence-based treatment that they wanted to see in use and the answer from 10 of the societies, including oncologists and neurologists, people who deal with the treatment of pain, said ‘Yes, this is an evidence-based approach and we want to support it’.

“Another thing: you said it is a prohibited substance or plant, but remember there are other precedents in the medical profession. Opium is a forbidden extract from the poppy. At the same time it’s an approved medicine. I mean, heroin probably not but morphine is used on a normal basis. Yet on the street it is an illegal drug. So, there are substances which are prohibited for recreational use but do have a very good application in medicine.”