How does the Czech approach to legalisation compare to the US?

by Oliver Callaghan

On the 10th of January, the Czech Government drafted a long awaited bill that sets forward the framework by which they intend to legalise cannabis. However, the bill noticeably avoided the integration of a regulated cannabis market, instead focusing on the use of cannabis social clubs, possession, and home cultivation. 

This approach has also been implemented in Malta and Luxembourg, and aims to bypass the legal frameworks enforced by the European Commission surrounding cannabis by removing the role of corporations in the production and distribution of cannabis. 

If this approach is delivered as intended it could create waves in the legalisation debate currently underway in Europe. Permitting cannabis clubs could act to increase the distribution of cannabis in an organic way, which could act to mitigate the potential increase in commercial power that the illicit market could have. By freeing up public resources, this could also mean that more time could be dedicated to the development of harm reduction programs, public health information campaigns, and addiction programs in the Czech Republic.

Crucially, this form of legislation also removes the need to tangle with the European Commission, meaning that outdated issues with the state of drug policy in Europe can be rectified in some form sooner rather than later.

While this community based approach certainly indicates progress for drug policy in a European context, there are limitations to this model which could potentially act against the efforts of legalisation advocates if it backfires. 

This bill initially intended to allow the use of a regulated cannabis market, yet interference by the Christian Democrats meant that this pillar was scrapped from this bill with dubious speculations that this aspect of the bill would increase harm by increasing cases of use among minors and driving while intoxicated.

This change to the bill means that similarly to the Netherlands, illicit markets will continue to control the cannabis market unless individuals are willing to grow their own cannabis. This means that tax revenue will not be gained from this model, and that the cannabis being consumed in the Czech Republic will remain less transparently produced as the cannabis grown in the US.

Furthermore, illicit markets controlling the supply of cannabis are likely to have influence over the distribution of cannabis in these social clubs, meaning that the commercial power of the illicit producers and dealers may be amplified.

This raises a wider question about the way in which drug policy should be implemented in Europe, as the economic and political climate in Europe is vastly different to other legalisation trendsetters like the US.

For instance, the progress made in the US was driven by a democratic upheaval which centralised around a localised push for change. Voters in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington used the power of the ballot box to push the needle on the cannabis issue on a state by state basis. By transforming public opinion in this way, the federal status of cannabis as a schedule 1 substance was effectively superseded in the public eye. 

Consequently, this form of drug policy followed the ideals of the consumer, and reflected these choices in a free market. This meant that tax revenue could be obtained from the cannabis sector, the illicit market could finally be competed against, the pipeline from producer to consumer was streamlined, and ultimately a safer product could be delivered to those who wanted it. 

Historically speaking, drug policy has been driven by a few trailblazers who took the initiative to change perspectives using political action, education and asking the people what they wanted.

While this is by no means a perfect solution, I believe this form of drug policy was more organic, and painted a portrait of what cannabis could look like as a normalised substance. So far, I believe that cannabis legalisation in the US has held up to scrutiny, and the list of states which continue to push for legalisation demonstrates that this form of regulation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So what does this mean for the Czech Republic and the future of European drug policy as a whole? 

I predict that this model could go one of two ways. On the one hand, this community based form of legalisation could prove to be tremendously successful, and could expose the inadequacies of the European Commission’s stance on cannabis legalisation. Cannabis clubs could prosper, organic forms of distribution could open up, and the need for a regulated market which can satisfy this demand could be viewed from a European lens- highlighting the fact that the train has already left the station and that comprehensive cannabis reform is needed now.

Or it could go the other way. The illicit markets could continue to prosper from the boost in demand, discourse around the mental health ramifications of cannabis could propagate, and cannabis could ultimately be stigmatised even more than it is now. Critics might exclaim about how cannabis legalisation will not work in Europe, despite the fact that its wings have been clipped by eliminating the use of a regulated market.

If this bill is indeed part of a wider plan to exert pressure on the Christian Democrats party, it is  a risk that could add more fuel to the fire for prohibitionist rhetoric. 

While it is possible that the controversy associated with stripping down this bill could generate enough backlash to provide consumers in the Czech Republic with a cohesive legalisation framework in the long term, I am sceptical about the impact these alterations could have in the meantime.

This piece was written by Oliver Callaghan, Intern at Volteface. X @Oliver1331556

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