By Phillip Smith
The Czech Senate Wednesday approved a bill allowing for the medical use of marijuana by an overwhelming margin of 67-2. The measure had already passed the lower house of parliament.
The bill passed with support from all the political parties represented in the parliament. Newly-elected Czech President Milos Zeman is expected to sign it into law.
But while medical marijuana advocates are pleased that their government has moved to legalize the use of the herb for medicinal purposes, they are less happy with a provision that says only imported marijuana will be allowed to be sold for the first year "to ensure standards." That will make medical marijuana too expensive while enriching the black market and the few companies that will be selected as official traders of it.
"It's legal, pharmaceutical and economic corruption," said Dusan Dvorak, a medical-cannabis activist who leads the nonprofit organization Marijuana is Medicine. "The result of the law should be access to cannabis for research and medical uses. But the real result is that it won't be made available, it'll be more expensive, it'll bolster the black market and the mafia," he told the Wall Street Journal's Emerging Europe blog.
"For a long time I've supported enabling the medical use of cannabis... but I have to say that I'm very disappointed by what we've got on the table today," said Alena Gajduskova, the first-deputy Chairwoman of the Senate, who voted in favor of the bill despite reservations. "These medicines are proven; they're very efficient but shouldn't be a luxury good. That is completely unacceptable."
Gajduskova suggested that a solution would be to allow the country's "grandmother growers," who already have plants growing on their balconies and in their gardens to legally grow the plants, or at least remove the threat of criminal prosecution.
"A small amount of [marijuana] for personal use isn't criminalized, so if we're able to tolerate that, I don't see why we couldn't tolerate the senior 'grandmother growers' [for medical use]. And from the position of the Union of Patients of the Czech Republic, we'll work towards that goal," she said.
The Czech Republic is one of the most marijuana-friendly countries in Europe. Pot remains illegal, but in 2010, lawmakers removed all penalties for possession of up to a half ounce and cultivation of five or fewer plants. The following year, the government approved the use of medications using marijuana derivatives.
But it sounds like it still has some work to do on creating a viable medical marijuana distribution system.