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Czech Health Ministry signals steps to legalize medical marijuana

The Czech Health Ministry says it will take steps to change the law to allow medical marijuana on prescription for the first time

The Czech Ministry of Health has indicated that it will take marijuana off the list of banned substances and allow it to be prescribed by doctors for its medical effects.

“By the end of this year we will submit to parliament an amended law on addictive substances which will move marihuana from the list of banned substances to the list of those which can be prescribed,” Deputy Health Minister Martin Plíšek pledged, as cited Wednesday by the daily Hospodářské noviny.   

On prescription

The promise to allow marijuana on prescription follows increasing evidence of its beneficial effects for those suffering from cancer, Parkinsons’ disease and other illnesses. Signs are also increasing that more and more Czechs are growing the plant and resorting to home remedies in the face of the ban on legal prescription.

The number of grow shops offering kits and equipment for for home growing have multiplied across the country over the past two years with even small Czech towns boasting outlets offering sophisticated gear and advice.

Backers of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes include the speaker of the lower chamber of parliament Miroslava Němcová (Civic Democrat, ODS) as well at top members of the Public Affairs (VV) party such as chairman, Radek John.

Ministry experts still have to work out how a Czech regime for legalized sales of medicinal marijuana could be organized. Minister Plíšek said at a conference on the issue Tuesday that he would prefer to see drugs imported for Czech use rather than the created of a home-grown industry which might be abused. “We must take steps to ensure that there is no massive abuse without a doctor’s prescription,” he added.

Distribution models

The officials will examine what models for dispensing medical marijuana might provide leads for the Czech Republic.  The frequently cited example of Israel, where medical marijuana was allowed 12 years ago, involves the state licensing eight farms to grow the plant with distribution organized to the around 7,500 registered users.

The US state of Colorado legalized the medical use of marijuana in late 2000, and its public use by adults five years later. Over the first 10 years of the medical registry’s operation, more than 150,000 people have been accepted for the program of supplying pain-relieving marijuana. Other states, such as Michigan, have followed the example on medical marijuana.

Marijuana is the most popular drug in the Czech Republic with the state decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the drug for personal use and cultivation of a limited number of plants at the start of 2010. Possession still, however, remains a punishable offense with police given the ability to impose spot fines at the end of June this year.  

Tough backlash

What was interpreted, somewhat misleadingly, as a Czech move to go soft on drugs has caused problems for the country with neighbors, such as Germany, which continue to take a tough line on marijuana possession and cultivation. Stepped up border checks by German police on Czechs has been blamed in part on the perception that Prague has relaxed its stand on soft drugs. The move to allow medicinal marijuana could fuel such worries within neighboring countries.

By Chris Johnstone

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