About fifteen hundred mostly young people took part in the annual Million Marihuana March in Prague on Saturday afternoon to support the cause of marihuana legalization in the Czech Republic. After crossing the Vltava River and arriving at Letna Plain, the crowd grew in numbers and enjoyed an afternoon of live music, dancing, beer, and, naturally, some illicit substances.
Prague's Letna Plain was enveloped in a haze of marihuana smoke on Saturday afternoon. The venue, best known in the past for hosting communist May Day rallies and, more recently, the largest anti-regime demonstration of November 1989, was taken over by supporters of marihuana legalization. After the Million Marihuana March arrived here from Old Town Square, the demonstration broke into a big party.
It has been ten years since the first legalization gathering and David Cermak, the organizer of the event, explains what progress he has seen since the first marches in Prague.
"We are seeing a really big difference, because there were big problems in the first years. The authorities thought that we were some kind of criminals. But this time, we don't have problems with them. In the Czech Republic, marihuana is almost legal, but not according to the laws."
As far as marihuana use is concerned, the Czech Republic is already a very tolerant country. According to a 2006 poll carried out by the Institute of Health Information and Statistics of the Czech Republic, every fourth Czech has some experience with cannabis. Possession of the drug for personal use is legal and the activists are now calling for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes as well as growing marihuana plants for personal use. Will campaigns similar to the Million Marihuana March influence the legal situation? Jiri X. Dolezal, journalist and a pioneer of cannabis advocacy, does not quite agree.
But Dolezal believes that over the last decade there has been a change in the perception of marihuana on the part of the public as well as the authorities involved, including the police.
"The last ten, eleven years have been full of changes and our situation today is incomparable to the situation in 1996 when the repressive powers started their fight. They changed the law and they wanted to start a war on drugs. They were not successful, and today the situation about marihuana is so peaceful that legalization is not a political question, because it is not interesting for anybody. The society reached a consensus about marihuana."
A new Czech Criminal Code, which was before Parliament last March but was rejected for a variety of reasons, envisaged growing marihuana for personal use. This year, however, the MPs will vote again on a new set of criminal laws. When does Jiri X. Dolezal see change finally happening?
"I hope this autumn. It will not be legal in the Dutch sense, we will not have coffee shops, but growing for personal use will be legal, and that's enough for Czechs."
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