Current Affairs Government moves to define “more than a small amount” of drugs – including cacti

08-12-2009 17:28 | Rob Cameron

What exactly is “more than a small amount of drugs”? It’s a question that has plagued Czech drug users, policemen and judges alike for several years. The answer can mean the difference between a prison term and a slap on the wrist, but there are no black and white rules for everybody to follow, so confusion reigns. But not for long.

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The government has at last begun the process of clearing the muddy legal waters surrounding drug possession in the Czech Republic. At present possession of “more than a small amount” of any given drug constitutes a criminal offence, but the law doesn’t define what “a small amount” is.

Magic mushrooms, photo: CTKMagic mushrooms, photo: CTK That uncertainty should be removed by a new penal code which comes into effect on January 1st. The government has already approved a Justice Ministry proposal defining which so-called “natural” drugs – such as marihuana and magic mushrooms – should be regulated and how many constitute a criminal offence rather than a misdemeanour (the answer is five cannabis plants or 40 magic mushrooms).

That’s “natural” drugs. As for “synthetic” drugs, the cabinet will meet in two weeks’ time to decide exactly how many grams of cocaine, tablets of ecstasy and so on should land you in prison. The very fact that the government has moved to clarify the amounts has been welcomed by some as the de facto legalising of drug possession for personal use. This, says Viktor Moravčík of the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, is not the case.

“I would like clearly to state my strong objection to this kind of interpretation. Substantially, the status of narcotic and psychotropic substances within the Czech penal code hasn’t changed. Narcotic and psychotropic substances – drugs – are still illicit in the Czech Republic. Drugs are prosecuted, drugs are illegal, but according to the amount, they are prosecuted either by administrative law [i.e. as a misdemeanour] or by the penal code [i.e. as a criminal offence]”

So if the government approves the new rules, from January 1st someone found in possession of more than 15 grammes of cannabis for example, or more than two grammes of cocaine or heroin, can be arrested and in theory sent to prison. Someone found with less than that amount can only be fined or reprimanded. This should, say the authorities, end the confusion.

But not everyone is happy. The government seems to have raised the ire of cactus growers. Among the controlled plants are those cacti that contain the hallucinogenic substance mescaline. One outraged member of the Czech and Slovak Association of Cactus Growers told reporters that most of his 3,000 colleagues would have more than five such cacti in their collection, and they now face the prospect of going to prison.

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