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Citizens of the Czech Republic allowed to grow five cannabis plants

The interim Czech government, led  by chief statistician-turned-Prime Minister Jan Fischer, Monday took another step towards making casual marijuana smoking a worry-free affair.

Fischer’s cabinet defined what constitutes “small amounts” of cannabis for personal use, clarifying the country’s new penal code that from next year decriminalizes cultivation and possession of the plant by individuals.

As of Jan. 1 ordinary Czechs can grow up to five marijuana plants or have several marijuana cigarettes in their pockets without fear of criminal prosecution. Previously what constituted a small amount was not specified and the police and courts loosely interpreted the penal code case by case, often resulting in incarceration of home growers.

The government’s approval of a table specifying what amounts of drugs are permissible is a vital part of the country’s new penal code that was last year approved by both houses of parliament and in January of this year was signed into law by President Vaclav Klaus. Without the just-approved table of amounts that will be used by Czech police, the January decriminalization of the drug would be difficult to judge by courts and investigators.

The plant still remains illegal, however, though from the new year possession of five or less plants is merely a misdemeanour, and fines for possession will be on par with penalties for parking violations.

The Czech decision is in sync with the country’s liberal, Dutch-like social attitudes and laissez-faire approach to civil liberties.

There is also an interesting lifestyle footnote: Czechs are Europe’s biggest drinkers of hops-infused beer and are also the continent’s leaders in smoking pot.

Czechs consume 320 pints of the golden brew per person annually. Also 22% of Czechs between the age of 16 and 34 smoke cannabis at least once a year,  according to a recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

There may be a botanical reason behind the Czech enthusiasm for the vices.

Hops, a thumb-sized, bulbous, leafy green flower which is used to give beer its bitter taste, and the similarly shaped, sized and colored cannabis flower are the two sole members of the Cannabaceae family of plants.

Czech decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis possession does not, however provide greater clarity to the country’s policy on medical marijuana, an issue which is gaining momentum both in Europe, in North America and elsewhere around the globe.

“Konopi Je Lek”, a Czech non-profit organization promoting medical marijuana recently co-founded the country’s first marijuana dispensary in Prague despite there being no medical marijuana laws on the country’s books.

The grand opening of the dispensary on Sept. 28 (The Day of Czech Statehood and the holiday of the country’s patron Saint Vaclav, or Wenceslas), was attended by Prague’s Mayor Dr. Pavel Bem, who is also a physician and proponent of sensible use of the herb.

However since the dispensary opened, Prague police have raided it, hauling away the cannabis meant for patients, and the dispensary is now looking for growers to help restock its supply.

Some Czech courts in some cases make exemptions to current law to allow for medical use and cultivation of cannabis, sparking legal battles.

The murky state of medical marijuana in the Czech Republic is akin to the legal limbo of the plant’s medicinal uses elsewhere in Europe.

By Sean Carney