On January 30, 2013, the Senate of the Czech Republic approved a bill by a vote of 67-2 to allow medical marijuana throughout the country. Although support for the bill was high, the law does little to support patients who need medical marijuana. That is the frustration of Zdenek Majzlik, a 67-year-old man who grows marijuana to treat his 46-year-old daughter’s multiple sclerosis. Majzlik was a strong supporter of the bill and fought for lawmakers to allow medical marijuana; but he is still fighting for safe access.
The bill established strict consumer regulations; no patient under 18 can use medical marijuana, heath insurance companies are banned from covering the cost of medical marijuana, and patients are limited to a little over one ounce per month. Furthermore, the bill currently prohibits growing marijuana in the Czech Republic and only allows four specific strains to be imported from the Netherlands. The result is an extremely limited market and high prices. The Czech National Drug Coordinator said that the situation is unacceptable, and the restrictions on obtaining medical marijuana are “unnecessarily limiting and discriminating.”
Now the government is taking another step against medical marijuana patients. While small independent growers like Majzlik used to be off the police radar, recently the police have raided about 100 stores suspected of selling supplies for growing marijuana. The sweep is in conjunction with investigating about 45 people suspected of illegal marijuana growing or distributing.
The frustrations faced by Mr. Majzlik are similar to the dilemma of many medical marijuana patients throughout the United States.
That I face five years in jail for trying to provide something the current medicine can’t do is insane. I don’t want to be a hero. I am breaking the law, and that’s a problem for me. I don’t think I’m a criminal.
On Tuesday, in pharmacies across the Czech Republic, medical marijuana was made available to patients suffering from cancer, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, or psoriasis. Marijuana is available by prescription only, and must be imported from the Netherlands or Israel since a cultivation program is not yet included in the law.
The Czech Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of a medical marijuana bill earlier this year, and President Vaclav Klaus signed the bill into law on February 15.
The law does not mandate that medical marijuana be covered by health insurance nor does it allow for home cultivation by patients. Regardless, the country has some of the most lenient marijuana laws in Europe. Possession of five or less plants is merely a misdemeanor, and fines for possession of 15 grams or less are on par with parking citations.
Velký – that’s ‘great’ in Czech.
On January 30, by a 67-2 vote, the Czech Senate approved a bill allowing for the medical use of marijuana. The measure affirms the decision reached by the country’s lower house of parliament. On Friday, the bill was signed into law by President Vaclav Klaus. The Czech Republic now joins a number of other European countries that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
The new law received strong support from all parliament-represented political parties and represents an improvement on the country’s already relaxed stance on marijuana prohibition. The Czech Republic decriminalized cultivation (five plants or less) and possession (half an ounce or less) of marijuana by individuals in 2010. The only EU countries with more lenient marijuana laws are the Netherlands and Portugal.
While this is definitely a move in the right direction, some lawmakers were concerned that some parts of the law are too restrictive. Importation of medical marijuana is permitted for distribution in pharmacies, but cultivation by licensed organizations is not currently permitted. Home cultivation by patients is also not permitted, and treatment will not be covered by health insurance.
Parliament may revisit the provisions of the law following a year of implementation and expand it to include registered, domestic production that is strictly monitored.