EARLIER this week, Czechia’s national anti-drug coordinator Jindřich Vobořil, described as the ‘locomotive’ driving rapid cannabis reform in the country, announced that draft legislation on cannabis legalisation will be ready as soon as March.
Chairperson of the European Pirate Party Mikuláš Peksa, who will be speaking at Cannabis Europa London 2023 in May, believes Czechia could potentially succeed in launching an adult-use market as early as this year.
Regardless of when this happens, he believes Czechia will serve as a platform for other European countries to demand similar reform.
Can you begin by telling us a bit about your background and your role in European government?
My name is Mikuláš Peksa, and by original training I studied biophysics at Charles University in Prague. But later on, I moved into politics and was elected to the National Parliament and subsequently to the European Parliament on behalf of the Czech Pirate Party, and currently I’m serving as a chairperson of the European Pirate Party.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Pirate Party and its position on cannabis?
Pirate parties in general are very liberal and strive for individual freedom and human rights. That has probably brought me to this discussion regarding European cannabis regulation, because we aspire to share this overall plan to liberalise existing policies. We have a common European programme in this direction, and I am here to implement it.
The Pirate Party strives for a data-driven approach to all policies, so policies regarding cannabis are no exception. We strive for a scientific approach which is based on harm reduction and human-rights-oriented solutions, rather than repression and criminalisation as has been the case in the past.
Of course, when we talk about the European context, the situation is quite complicated due to fragmentation, as the law is different among member states. And, of course, it is complicated because the European Union’s framework could be hampering the efforts of member states in some particular areas.
For our readers, who might not be aware, are you able to give us a bit of an overview of the current regulations and attitudes towards cannabis in Czechia?
Czechia is one of the most progressive countries in Europe in terms of cannabis, which is already decriminalised. However, when the Pirate Party entered into government, we started working on bringing in full legalisation.
Despite the country’s politics looking, let’s say, kind of weird, the Czech population is overall liberal. The people in Czechia believe in individual freedom and individual responsibility. That’s why in general, culturally, we always approach these issues in a more relaxed way than is common in other more restrictive or more conservative countries.
Currently, there is a study prepared which will help create a draft proposal that will be approved by the government later this year. The general idea is to create a real and legal opportunity for both self-growth within the hemp associations and also the production and sale of cannabis through licensed trade.
We are not discussing the exact conditions because, of course, the UN convention on drugs applies in all EU countries, which makes the situation very complicated. We should be able to find a legal solution that is compliant and allows for legalised use of cannabis for recreational purposes.
Also, we would like to lead by example for the other countries in Europe. Besides Czechia, cannabis liberalisation is currently being discussed in Luxembourg, Germany and Malta, so we are moving forward in that direction.
Your party put forward the first draft of proposals for adult-use cannabis legalisation in September. Can you give me a brief overview of these?
Just to clarify the procedure, first we issued a study to analyse what the costs, benefits and outcomes of legalisation would be. Now, based on this study, we are preparing the legislative proposals that will go out.
Technically, the idea is that it will be legalised but still regulated and taxed, of course, because we expect the proposals will save some CZK600m (€25m) from expenditures from law enforcement and bring some CZK1.8bn (€75.4m) to the Czech budget in taxes.
The idea is that the sale of cannabis will still be subject to a licence because we are still upholding the International Convention on Drugs. Municipalities will still have the power to disallow such shops in their territory. Still wherever people do not wish it, it will not be enforced.
We expect to cap the amount that is supposed to be consumed or sold to a particular consumer to 100 grams, and there is also an idea to cap the size of the companies that will be participating and ensure cannabis is not available to minors.
We plan to operate with roughly CZK26 (€1.09), of course with a VAT rate and registration fees for growers and clubs that offer it.
One of the most interesting parts of the proposals that differentiates Czechia from Germany is a plan to put all users on a state register. Can you tell us a bit about the thinking behind this?
This is actually the result of debate in the Czech governmental coalition, because there is a coalition of Pirates and various liberal parties together with conservative parties that are, let’s say, counterparts of the German CDU, which makes debate really interesting.
Some would say this makes things more complicated because the visions are different. The full proposal is going to be a subject of compromise between both sides, and in that sense our conservative colleagues were not that happy about the idea of unrestricted sale.
So that’s why we have landed on this proposal of having a registration of users. As a member of the Pirate Party, I’m definitely not happy about such a compromise and we will try to discuss it further on to actually find a route without registration.
But this is currently the way we are able to proceed politically, and I believe it is better to legalise rather than to not use the opportunity.
How do you intend to work around international law?
Those questions are kind of interrelated. While following the debate in Germany, an argument appeared which is, from my point of view, very surprising.
This suggests that, somehow, legalisation or the free movement of cannabis would be contradicting the Schengen Agreement. I honestly do not believe so.
Especially concerning the current setup where Czechia and Germany are bordering each other and both plan to legalise, I believe it is important to keep the trade connections open to have a shared market.
We talk very much about the single market in Europe for many products, and I’m honestly surprised that someone is promoting protectionism on the national level just for cannabis – that makes no sense. But apparently, at least in Germany, those voices are present, which is surprising.
On that thread, how intertwined are the German and Czechian projects? Are you learning from each other?
They are very much so. In the European Parliament, we like to give ourselves the responsibility for coordinating internationally. So, we use this platform to exchange information about legalisation projects in particular countries and, of course, to inform each other about the legal obstacles in front of us.
As you mentioned, it’s very important, because should we lose the debate on the legal or compliance grounds with the European law, then it would not affect only one single European country, but all of them. So we really strive to have properly prepared legal arguments on the European level.
And, on that thread, should you succeed and bring adult use to fruition in 2024, what role do you see Czechia playing in Europe and what impact do you hope this will have on cannabis legislation across the rest of the continent?
I believe Czechia will be able to adopt the law in 2023 or 2024. Then we have one European country that has legalised and is trading products freely in a regulated market.
From that point of view, I consider it legitimate for consumers in other countries to demand similar access in their own countries, and for the European administration to ensure there is a proper standard for consumer protection.
I see the Czech legalisation project also as a step towards convincing the rest of Europe to create a legal framework for allowing the legal sale and consumption of cannabis.
What are the next steps in the legalisation process for Czechia?
We would like to see this submitted in the early months of this year. We expect some discussion, but, currently, as there is this agreement between liberals and conservatives to have the law adopted by the government, I believe we will be able to resolve it.
Of course, the debate in parliament that will happen later this year will be very interesting. I expect a lot of interesting opinions to be expressed there, but I hope we will be able to conclude in 2023 or early 2024.