Buying marijuana will be as easy as getting alcohol or cigarettes. It will only be necessary to go to a special store and register, believes the national anti-drug coordinator Jindřich Vobořil. He is preparing a government proposal for the introduction of a regulated cannabis market, which could go to the House of Representatives this year. “I believe it will pass. The whole world is working towards it,” he says in an interview for Aktuálně.cz.
Today, people normally go to the store for cigarettes or a bottle of vodka. If the proposal passes, will it be just as easy to buy marijuana?
It will be possible, but stricter than we know it with alcohol. Cannabis will be sold in specialized shops that not everyone will be able to operate and they will not be everywhere. So it’s going to be different, although I’d say a bottle of vodka is a bit riskier than cannabis.
So will it be shops where only cannabis will be sold?
Exactly. But we call them licensed dispensaries, not shops. Their operator will have to pay a license fee, adhere to strict standards and have criminal integrity. A person who wants to buy cannabis will of course have to be at least 18 years old and will also have to register in the store’s user register.
Why do users need to register?
The proposal assumes that everyone will be able to buy only a certain amount of cannabis per month. Therefore, we need to have a control system connected across stores.
How much cannabis will people be able to buy?
A realistic consideration is 100 to 150 grams per month (one marijuana cigarette contains about a third of a gram of marijuana, editor’s note).
Will the user have to smoke the cigarette in a certain place or will they be able to take it home?
It will depend on whether they buy it from a licensed dispensary or a cannabis club. There it is assumed that he will enjoy it on the spot. He will of course be able to take the cannabis he bought in the store home.
How will such cannabis clubs work?
Just as people today burn their own plums, so there are some people who will want to grow cannabis for their own use. The hemp club is an agreement of such people who know each other. They say to themselves, there are 40 of us, each of us goes to work and we don’t have time to grow. So one or two of them will devote themselves fully to it, the rest will pay the membership fee and check that everything is running as it should. At the same time, they will choose their ration of cannabis. Of course, the club will also have restrictions on the release of a certain amount of substance and also on the number of its members.
Although I am abstinent, I visited such a club in Barcelona to see how it works. Cannabis clubs operate very well there. Everyone is automatically given leaflets about the risks, plus there are staff who are trained on how to deal with people in certain situations.
So can we expect that in the coming years there will be coffee shops in the streets, as we know for example from Amsterdam, albeit for a closed society?
No, there shouldn’t be any outward signs that this is a cannabis club. In Barcelona, for example, they are not allowed to have advertising on their doors or websites. It is very strict, although some operators get around it.
What about dispensaries? For example, in the United States, cannabis stores often have colorful decorations and individual strains are sold under attractive names with distinctive packaging. Will the state somehow try to prevent marijuana from becoming too attractive to people, similar to the way cigarettes do, for example?
We want the packaging to be uniform, without pictures and with information about risks. A ban on advertising is also considered. But probably no one will restrict whether someone can decorate the dispensary in any way.
“Soon it will be everywhere. Anyone who says it doesn’t is wrong”
For what reason should the marijuana market be legalized in the Czech Republic?
We observe that the whole world across continents, whether we take Southeast Asia, North America or Europe, is moving towards a controlled market. There are several main reasons.
The criminalization model, where we put people in jail for many years for growing or selling a few kilograms of cannabis, has no effect and only increases costs. In a regulated market, the state will make money. And it’s not just about royalties. If today we collect hundreds of millions of crowns in taxes from gambling, then here it will be billions, maybe tens of billions. In addition, controlled Czech producers will start operating here, who can also make money and export from it.
At the same time, the risks of use are not as high as, for example, with alcohol, where 400 people die every year just from a simple overdose. There is no such thing with cannabis.
But won’t it all be at the cost of increasing the number of marijuana users?
The number of recreational users who buy it occasionally, but will not smoke cannabis regularly, will increase. In addition, it will not be about risky users, of whom we have about 30,000. In Colorado, where the market is really relaxed, some of the people who drank alcohol at risk switched to cannabis. And the number of violent crimes under the influence of alcohol also decreased.
So I am convinced that cannabis can be a substitute option for heavy alcoholics. Under the supervision of a doctor, cannabis can work for an alcoholic like a nicotine patch for a smoker. I understand that some of the traditionalists don’t like this. Neither is ideal, but daily drinking is significantly riskier.
Do you expect the number of users to increase even among minors? After all, the Czech Republic already belongs to the top when it comes to use by young people.
I don’t expect. In Canada or the Netherlands, with the advent of a regulated market, the number of 16-year-olds who use marijuana regularly has decreased. In the Netherlands, it is now a third of the Czech Republic.
The social atmosphere in the countries with the longest tradition, on the other hand, has changed so much that young people no longer go out to buy cannabis. The black market is very limited there, for example in Canada the legal market has replaced it by 70 percent, and I expect the same here. Adults will buy it elsewhere and the black market won’t work just for a couple of sixteen year olds. Moreover, it has ceased to be “sexy” for young people in these countries with permission.
In previous proposals, there was a rule that dispensaries should not be close to schools. Does it count?
I want the municipalities to determine this themselves. In some cities there is a school on every corner.
Does it include strengthening prevention?
The regulated market also works best from the point of view of prevention. We will still have a police force that can crack down on illegal sales while also controlling where and to whom cannabis is sold, as we do with tobacco and alcohol. At the same time, we will limit the amount of the active substance and prevent dealers from handing out both marijuana and heroin.
But I say, let’s throw part of the funds we collect into prevention and treatment. There is a lack of money. We pretend to be in the West, but in this matter we are far in the East. Our network to help people with alcohol problems has broken down here. Let’s put some money into it. There is a lack of awareness here, not only for cannabis. That’s the least of the problems.
Does the regulated cannabis market even have a chance today? For example, there are people in the government who have so far been dismissive of liberalization.
I believe that it has a chance, otherwise I wouldn’t have started it. I would like it to be dealt with in the House of Representatives next year or ideally in the second half of this year. But there may still be a lot of question marks on the way.
However, it should be emphasized that this is not some Vobořil initiative, it is being launched in several countries at once. Some are already starting pilot projects, Germany is preparing a pilot study in some cities, where they will allow commercial production and sale. Large groups are emerging that invest in the cannabis market.
Soon it will be everywhere. And whoever says it isn’t is wrong. Now we have the options to say that we will do it our way on time and in a way that corresponds to our ideas, or we will be the last and just adopt the models of other countries.
Turning the market into a legal framework, strictly controlled, and setting preventive rules is simply the most realistic model. Likewise, we do not prohibit gambling, even if a minimum of people have a positive attitude towards it. We already know that prohibition is not functional. We just got used to it with drugs like cannabis.
Video: We are the country with the highest rate of use among children. Anti-drug policy is stagnating, says Vobořil (21 April 2022)
“I agreed that I will not return to the official position, that I want to have a political nomination so that I can help,” says Jindřich Vobořil. | Video: Michael Rozsypal
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