Up until the end of last year, the law stated that possession of a small amount was a misdemeanor, whereas amounts ‘larger than a small amount’ were criminal offenses. The amounts were based on internal police directives and apparently there could be variations between regions. These new directives have merely brought consistency to an already existing law.
“Yes, yes,” I hear you say, but what are those all important amounts? As reported in other sources, it is a misdemeanor offense to possess the following drugs up to the following quantities: To clarify, if you have less than the amount listed, it´s still illegal, just not a criminal offense.
Marijuana: up to 15 grams
Heroin: up to 1.5 grams
Cocaine: up to 1 gram
Methamphetetamine: up to 2 grams
Amphetamine: up to 2 grams
Ecstasy: up to 4 tablets
Hashish: up to 5 grams
Hallucinogenic mushrooms: up to 40 pieces
LSD: up to five tabs
These limits have nothing to do with any of the substances being legalized. Dr. Blažejovský from the National Antidrug Center said, “From the perspective of right, [possession] isn’t legal. Possessing drugs up to a given amount (legally defined as small and set by a government provision for each drug separately is classified as an offense according to law 200/1990 Sb.) If it is a matter of drug possession to the amount greater than small, it is treated as crime.” As a misdemeanor offense, drug possession up to the amounts mentioned above can carry a fine of up to 15000 CZK. However, since it is a misdemeanor, someone charged with this type of possession will not have their name on a criminal record.
The government has also set limits for growing plants. Regarding cannabis, anything above five plants is a criminal offense. Possession of five or less is a misdemeanor. Note, this applies to plants with more than 0,3% THC (the active chemical in cannabis) in the total weight of the plants. For mushrooms, the limit is 40 plants.
The question of whether this is liberal will depend on the enforcement by police. Generally, the Czech Republic has quite a liberal reputation as far as marijuana use goes. Personal observation and anecdotal evidence suggest that the use of marijuana is more open compared to Anglo Saxon countries. Plus official results have shown young Czechs to be among the more regular uses in Europe. A 2009 report from the European Monitoring Center showed the Czech Republic coming in among the countries with the highest prevalence of use in a number of age categories.
Before getting into the debates over the effectiveness of the policy, it might be useful to compare the Czech Republic to that other nation of drug liberalism, the Netherlands. In some respects the countries are similar as the Netherlands also differentiates between misdemeanor and criminal amounts. One difference is that the decriminalized limit for marijuana is 5 grams and hard drugs 0.5. In other words the Czech limits are three times that of the Netherlands. There is also another important distinction: the police and courts in the Netherlands practice the policy of non-prosecution.
When I asked Dr. Blažejovský how the Czech Republic compares, he said it wasn’t a matter of the “Dutch model.” He defined the police’s official approach like this: “[Harm reduction] is an approach specifically for non-government non-profit organizations, which are engaged in above all secondary and tertiary prevention in drug problems. The approach of the police is a priori punitive as the law dictates. At the same time, we strongly support primary prevention; that is when people don’t start using drugs at all.”
As far as a person’s rights go, he said, “An individual has above all the obligation to obey the request of a police officer to handover drugs. If the police officer has reasonable suspicion that the suspect has drugs on his/her person, and doesn’t hand them over on demand or only part/some of them; the officer can confiscate them and for this purpose can conduct with the agreement of a state attorney a body search. The agreement of the state attorney isn’t immediately necessary, if there is a danger of delay, i.e. when for example there is reasonable fear that the suspect will flee, hide or throw way the drugs. The state attorney subsequently gives his consent. However, confiscated drugs are officially recorded and handed over for destruction. The suspect will be prosecuted for either an offense or a crime depending on the size of the quantity of drugs they had on his/her person.”
Criminal possession of drugs can include imprisonment. For cannabis, it can be up to one year. For psychotropics the punishment can be up to two years. For further information on Czech drugs laws a summary press release developed by the National Monitoring Center for Drug and Drug Addiction, Center for Addiction Studies and the National Antidrug Center can be found here (in Czech).
For many the flip side to more permissive drug laws is adequate secondary and tertiary prevention; that is prevention for people who already use. Dr. Ivan Douda from Drop In, Prague (www.dropin.cz) shared some information on what his center and others provide.
On the question of the variety of services available he said, “There exists a good network of these services, mostly non-government, outpatient consulting and treatment, residential, follow-up care, substitution programs, street work, though they certainly won’t expand as a result of this law. Language facilities in various institutions vary greatly, though most often there is English.”
“Drop in Prague has programs, counseling, needle exchange, foodstuffs, HIV and hepatitis tests, substitution programs, administering of methadone in the form of Subutex, street work, a center for follow up care, a center for families and a street work program. We provide educational and traineeship programs for professionals and students and workers participate in prevention activities mainly with youth through discussions and lectures.”