Central European Legalization Efforts Gaining Political SupportLukas HurtNovember 24, 2016
Two opposition Czech political parties joined together with advocacy group Legalizace.cz this month, crafting a public petition that demands an end to prohibition in the country. The Czechs aren’t alone. In neighboring Germany, a new governing coalition in Berlin has made cannabis legalization an official piece of its agenda.
In both places, the efforts seek to move beyond systems that currently allow only extremely limited legal access to cannabis for medical use. But unlike in the United States, where citizen-led ballot initiatives can make for change at lightning speed, the path forward is much slower. The only way to reform cannabis laws in most European countries is to persuade politicians themselves to act—which can be difficult if officials feel that supporting cannabis would put their political careers on the line.
To take pressure off local politicians while providing them with tangible proof that citizens support legalization, Czech activitists are following the public petition with a bill they’re drafting with the help of like-minded politicians, lawyers, and political consultants. The goal is to provide lawmakers in Prague with a readymade solution.
The petition was officially introduced on Nov. 11, during the opening day of Prague’s Cannafest, one of Europe’s biggest cannabis trade fairs. It marks the first time in modern Czech history when two political parties—the Pirate Party and the Green Party, which are relatively minor but well established—are throwing their support behind such a measure.
“Our main goal now is to collect at least 10,000 signatures, which would allow us to present the petition to the Chamber of Deputies,” the lower chamber of Czech Parliament, said Michal Řehák, deputy chairman of Legalizace.cz. “We believe we can make it, as we have already managed to collect more than 1,500 just during the Cannafest weekend.”
Decriminalization no longer enough
Polls have long shown support among the Czech public for legalization, but politicians have successfully managed to avoid the issue by noting that the country has already legalized medical cannabis and decriminalized all drugs. But critics complain that the medical cannabis program doesn’t function well, and they emphasize that decriminalization still fails to provide legal protections to growers, processors, or distributors—nor does it encourage testing or quality control measures.
“Cannabis is less harmful than legal alcohol, and we don’t see any reason why an adult person should be punished in any way for personal use, possession and growing of this plant,” said Michal Ketner, the Pirate Party’s expert on psychoactive drugs. “At the same time, we agreed not to include the creation of commercial market into our petition in order to make the new law as little complicated as possible. Once it is legalized for personal use, we can start working on a regulated market.”
According to Bronislav Tomek, the head of Expert Section for Human Rights of the Green Party, “the Party agreed in 2014 that the only viable solution in terms of cannabis policies is legalization, and the dismantling of prohibition has been included into our new political program that will be ratified in January.”
While neither the Green Party nor the Pirate Party have a single seat in Czech Parliament, supporters feel the chances of this petition succeeding are better than ever, thanks to the support from the general public, the Pirate and Green parties, and a lobbying group eager to push for change.
Ja oder nein?
In Germany, where tolerance for home cultivation is even less prevalent than in Czechia (and where decriminalization isn’t a nationwide policy), some consumers are getting fed up with what feels like an all-talk approach as legalization moves forward out in other countries.
The grassroots-driven Green Party and the Left Party, which have been in a governing coalition with the once-staid Social Democratic Party (SPD) for about two months, have secured an agreement with the SPD to have drug policy revisions and cannabis legalization included in the future coalition agreement.
The Berlin effort follows a similar move last year in which a single Berlin neighborhood, Kreuzberg, sought to regulate cannabis sales to prevent street dealing. The local bid was rejected by officials, and now the hope is that a German state—which sets its own drug policy—can make progress.