Czech Drug Laws as an Arena of the Drug Policy Battle

Article excerpt

This paper begins with a brief overview Czech drug policy and drug-related issues. The second section concentrates on how that policy has evolved since the fall of communism, identifies the main players in these events, and provides some details about the legislative procedure that eventually led to the reintroduction of punishments for the possession of illegal drugs. The paper describes in broad terms a major scientific evaluation of the impacts of recent legislative changes and subsequent government reactions to that report. Recent developments in the Czech drug policy debate are addressed in the third section of the paper. This account focuses on the ongoing legislative debate over whether the possession of drugs for personal use should be a criminal offense (this issue has been contested for nearly 10 years). Finally, a controversial legislative proposal that was only recently issued by the Ministry of Justice will be described.

INTRODUCTION

The foundation and specification of an official Czech drug policy has been a relatively recent enterprise - as new as the Czech Republic itself. The Czech Republic, the western section of the former Czechoslovakia, was formed in 1993 in a peaceful split from its eastern neighbor, what is now Slovakia.

At the present time, published research on drug policies in the Czech Republic specifically, and in Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) generally, is very sparse. Two exceptions to this observation are represented by the recent analyses by Hartnoll (2003) and Ballota and Hughes (2003). A brief overview of drug use trends in the changing economic and social climate of the former Czechoslovakia has also been provided by Csemy, Kubicka, and Nociar (2002). on epidemiological and criminological issues, while largely neglecting policy matters. With these notable exceptions, this is actually the first paper about modern Czech drug policy to appear in an American peer-reviewed j ournal. As such, it necessarily has to be more descriptive than analytic, is quite limited in terms of the level of details provided, often refers to sources that are only available in the Czech language, and inevitably reflects the personal and professional perspective of the author.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Czech history of legal and illegal drug use and abuse is by no means totally distinct from that of other countries in continental Europe. The use of cannabis and poppy concoctions - for both medical and nonmedical uses - is well documented in the Czech oral tradition, in folklore songs and folk tales. In the years preceding World War II, morphine, cocaine, heroin, and hashish were all present in the Czech semi-legal (prescription "leakage" of legal pharmaceuticals) and black markets. Czechoslovakia had been a signatory country of all three international Opium Conventions [ 1912,1925 and 1931 ] and incorporated their provisions into its domestic legislation [in 1922, 1927 and 1931] (Gajdosikova, 2001). However, the (ab)use of drugs was almost exclusively limited to members of the middle class, and these practices never approached the levels that were routinely reported in the United States (Musto, 1987;Nozina, 1997).

After Czechoslovakia was defined as part of the Soviet sphere of influence at the 1945 Yalta Conference, the Iron Curtain disabled further free movement of persons and goods. As a result, illegal drugs soon became a rare phenomenon (as did many other previously available but less exotic commodities such as bananas, fresh meat, and clothes). This does not mean that the extra-legal use of psychotropic substances disappeared altogether, however, because the "Western drugs" were soon replaced by medical substances containing stimulants or depressants, the latter often being taken in combination with alcohol. The psychotropic effects of different fungi (especially those containing psilocybin) and of some psychedelic plants (above all marijuana) were also sought out by some users. …