New legislation proposes legalization of medical cannabis under strict rules

A government expert group is adding finishing touches to new draft legislation proposing the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. While still banning patients from growing medical cannabis on their own, the amended legislation allows importing as well as the cultivation of medical hemp by local private companies under strict state supervision. The committee, whose existence was prompted by a petition initiated earlier this year by doctors, researchers and patients and is supported by the chairwoman of the lower house of Parliament, is supposed to submit the final draft proposal to the Prime Minister in about a week’s time.

While Czechs rank among Europe’s top marijuana users, cultivation of hemp for medical purposes remains illegal and until May this year no cannabis-based medicines had been approved in the country.

Now a special committee including MPs and experts from the Health, Justice and Interior Ministries is preparing new legislation in order for patients to be able to purchase medical cannabis legally as of mid-next year. If all goes according to plan, people like Helena Stachová, an old-age pensioner who has been suffering from back pains for years, will no longer have to grow hemp plants on the sly.

“I grew pot plants – only five of them so I wouldn’t get arrested and go to jail. I harvested the flowers and leaves, I dried them and what I try to do is prepare ointment by preserving them in pure lard.”

Jindřich Vobořil,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
The amendments envisage two options: imports of dried hemp flowers, for example from the Netherlands, and production in local greenhouses by private companies that would supply the substance to pharmacies. Jindřich Vobořil is the Czech government’s coordinator for drug policy.

“We will issue licences to individual private companies, though under some restrictions, and they will grow the plants under the supervision of a government agency.”

The agency will also stipulate precise rules regulating the amount of active ingredients in the plant. A register of patients would protect the users from criminal prosecution. Tomáš Zima, the dean at the 1st Faculty of Medicine in Prague, is the head of the government’s expert committee.

“This will serve the authorities whose task it is to prosecute drug abuse so they could verify that a particular patient is allowed to possess such and such amount of the substance prescribed by a doctor.”

If the legislation is approved, in a year’s time Mrs Stachová will be able to collect her ointment from a pharmacy in exchange for a doctor’s prescription. Patients with chronic pain are among those eligible for prescription of medical cannabis. Other conditions include Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, anorexia, asthma, cancer or AIDS-related illnesses.