“Liberal” new guidelines don’t go far enough, says head of Prague drug counselling service

Under guidelines introduced on January 1, the Czech Republic has some of the most liberal legislation in Europe when it comes to drug use. Whereas previously having “an amount no bigger than a small amount” was permitted, now drug users will not be charged with a crime for having, for instance, 15 grammes of marijuana, or 1.5 grammes of heroin. But what will be the impact of these guidelines? That's something I discussed with Jiří Richter, director of Sananim, a drug counselling service in Prague.

“It looks like another complication for all of us, when you see those quite complicated things which probably aren’t clear enough for judges, they are not clear enough for clients. It’s not a simple message for the population – this is my feeling.”

Jiří RichterJiří Richter But isn’t it useful that the new law outlines what amount of certain drugs can be possessed by somebody?

“Yes, definitely. This is one of the challenges, let’s say, this is one of the good things. Of course, what’s not good is the schizophrenia which is still around…we work with clients, and be sure it’s not so good for the market, for the young…you know, it’s still somewhere in between.”

Why do you say that? What’s the problem from the point of view of the drug consumer, so to speak?

“Basically it’s most difficult for people who use cannabis. It’s not clear how [the law] is going to be used. It’s not a clear message as to whether it’s sort of liberal, or if it’s very controlled, let’s say. Again I don’t have a feeling that it’s a step forward.”

But isn’t it clearer? If they say that you can have 15 grammes of marijuana, isn’t that clear?

“Yes, this is definitely clear. But we could go much further forward I think, and that’s a problem. We actually didn’t change much.”

But some people are saying that the new law makes the Czech Republic one of the most liberal countries in Europe when it comes to drugs.

“It’s definitely on the liberal side, but I don’t have a feeling that we are very liberal. The law is still very controversial towards people who use cannabis for medical purposes, or growing cannabis for medical purposes. So unfortunately it didn’t bring a solution in this field.”

Do you predict any impact on the pattern of drug consumption in the Czech Republic?

“Not at all actually, not at all. The law definitely doesn’t bring anything new in this area. Unfortunately it’s not bringing anything new on the prevention side, and this is most worrying.”