It will be four years in April since the Czech Republic legalized medical cannabis. The law was designed to provide sick people with certain conditions with the option to legally obtain and use pharmaceutical-grade cannabis. However, the incompetence, reluctance and lack of interested in people’s wellbeing on the side of State Institute for Drug Control led to a complete failure of the whole program. Why?
According to political proponents and experts involved in writing the draft bill, which was passed in April 2013, Czechia should have served as a shining example of progressive country in terms of medical cannabis legislation. As Pavel Kubů, the CEO of Prague based International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, said in an interview for Internet newspaper HlídacíPes (WatchDog): “In 2013, we were the second country in the world to establish a program allowing doctors to prescribe medical cannabis through standardized pharmacy-based distribution system. Now we are only one of eight EU countries (and one of twenty in the world) with such a scheme”. The fact is that other countries are actually getting ahead of Czechs now, because of bureaucratic obstacles and total incompetence of Czech state authorities responsible for licensing growers and distributing medical cannabis.
Learn from Czech mistakes
Let’s mention the main issues so that other countries can learn from Czech mistakes. First of all, Czech doctors have to go through an incredibly complicated and lengthy process before they can start prescribing cannabis legally – this obviously discourages many (there are currently only about two dozens of doctors in the whole country of ten million people). Second, the authorities refused to cover (even partially) medical cannabis from public health insurance – this means that the vast majority of potential patients can’t afford this form of therapy even if they desperately need it. The price of one gram of dried buds in pharmacies varies from around €4 (domestic production) to more than €10 (imported stuff from Holland), which is a lot for country where a typical medical cannabis patient relies on about €250–350 disability benefits per month.
And the best comes at the end: the State Agency for Medical Cannabis (created by State Institute for Drug Control) is supposed to ensure constant supply of standardized medical cannabis for Czech patients; however its employees lack basic knowledge of cannabis and cannabinoids and are totally indifferent to the fact that cannabis helps some people much more efficiently and effectively than pharmaceuticals. This lethal combination of ignorance and amateurism led to the current situation where there is no medical cannabis whatsoever available in pharmacies since February.
The reason is pretty simple – the Agency refused to buy out two of three batches (each eleven kilograms) of medical cannabis produced by the winner of first tender, because the grower allegedly did not fulfill all the requirements. But the truth is that the Agency required certifications (well above typical requirements in any other EU country), which the produced simply could not obtain. And since the new tender for a new supplier has been filled with similarly unfeasible requirements and harsh penalties for any possible deviations, it comes as no surprise that no business entity is interested in growing medical cannabis in the Czech Republic. Patients are therefore thrown back on homegrowing and breaking the law.
This sad development is in stark contrast with rapid changes in other countries, where medical cannabis programs are emerging or are already flourishing with increasing number of patients. Unfortunately for Czechs, authorities and state’s excessive bureaucracy in this Central European country hardly ever work for the “good of the people”.