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Czech Parliament advances bill to liberalise medical cannabis

Czech Parliament advances bill to liberalise medical cannabis
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The major stipulations of the amended bill are as follows:

  • Medical cannabis may be cultivated by multiple licensed private groups who may also manufacture medical cannabis products.
  • Export of medical cannabis will now be explicitly legal
  • The marketing of extracts such as isolates and tinctures will be permissible
  • The system of electronic prescriptions for cannabis will be updated to ease the process for doctors and patients
  • Hemp products with less than 1% THC will not be considered addictive substances, clearing the way for cultivation and production of products with these concentrations

The bill has now cleared the tallest hurdle on the way to becoming law. The Senate and President must now consider the bill before the bill is formally accepted, but local advocates have high hopes that the approval on Wednesday means that the odds are good and that this will be achieved.

We spoke to Pavel Kubu, CEO of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute on the recent events and what these mean for patients in the Czech Republic: “Parliamentary approval of the bill is a major milestone for patients and advocates of medical cannabis in the Czech Republic. We do have to remain realistic in the amount of work that needs to be done. This bill could do much to advance medical cannabis and hemp in the country, but a lot of this rests with the implementation of the laws, and groups like the ICCI will be working hard with the government over the coming months to see that the interests of patients and the industry are honored.”

We also spoke with Hana Gabrielová, the CEO of Hemp Point and president of Hemp Cluster, non-profit collective advocating for hemp in the Czech Republic. She explained that “This is a big win for advocates of medical cannabis and hemp in the country, especially considering the unanimous support from all political parties for the bill. The new regulations on THC concentrations in hemp are most welcome, but again, there is much work to be done. Our general elections are coming up in the Autumn, we will have to work hard and alongside the government to see that the new regulations will be implemented in an optimal manner, much of these details are yet to be hammered out.”

Czechia carving its own path 

The Czech Republic is a pioneering country in the regulation of substances such as cannabis, particularly in terms of harm reduction and patient access. Laws in force since 2010 mean that it is not a criminal offence to possess, or to use personal amounts of drugs, of any kind. Medical cannabis has been legally accessible in Czechia since 2013. However, access to legally prescribed products did not gain traction until 2018 and has grown exponentially since then. This has been helped by recent legislation in force since 2020, meaning 90% of the cost of medical cannabis must be covered by insurance agencies for amounts up to 30g per month.

The growth seen over recent years has continued up to the present day and will likely continue for some years. In the first four months of 2021, over 2,419 patients have been prescribed 31.6 kilograms of medical cannabis, more than twice the amount for the same period in 2020.

Patient access remains restricted

Despite the considerable progress in medical cannabis access over recent years, the amount of patients accessing legally prescribed products remains extremely low. Czechia is home to about 10.65 million people, around 3,500 or 0.04% of whom obtained medical cannabis legally during 2020. For comparison, Michigan in the US, which has a slightly smaller population than Czechia, has 250,000 active patients, or 2.5% of the population. In Germany, we estimate that around 0.1% of adults access medical cannabis each year, in effect twice the frequency of Czechia.

One major issue that holds back the growth of patient access in Czechia is that regulations have prevented the cultivation of medical cannabis and the marketing of products outside of a strictly controlled tendering process and a limited system of imports.

To date, the only domestic medical cannabis provided to Czech patients has come from the only state-tendered producer Elkoplast Slušovice s.r.o. via the only state-tendered distributor Alliance Healthcare s.r.o.. Under the new legislation, licences to grow and to manufacture medical cannabis products will be available to private groups, which should increase the availability and diversity of products and decrease the end price to patients.

Pavel Kubu explained that the number of new licenses issued will largely depend on how the new law will be implemented and who the leadership is who are overseeing this implementation, as determined by the upcoming elections.

In addition, the updating of the system of medical cannabis prescriptions will mean that doctors should be more willing to begin prescriptions, as the bureaucratic burden associated with these prescriptions has been improved.

As medical cannabis becomes liberalised in the Czech Republic, opportunities to produce cannabis within the market and export to the European market are appearing. We expect to see the growth in patient access continue for several years before the market reaches full maturity.

Prohibition Partners dives deeper into these issues and the wider supply chain of Europe in its 6th Edition of the European Cannabis Report.

For bespoke research and consulting as well as sponsorship opportunities, contact: info@prohibitionpartners.com.

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