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Czech Approval of Cannabis-Based Drug Shows Pragmatic Approach

Daily Dose 2011-04-20 0 comments

By Sean Carney |  Published in WSJ

The Czech Republic is one step closer to physician-prescribed cannabinoid therapeutics.

Czech authorities for the second time in as many years have shown a pragmatic approach to the use of cannabis.

On Friday the Czech Republic’s State Institute for Drug Control, or SUKL, approved the cannabis-derived medicine Sativex, produced by U.K. drug maker GW Pharmaceuticals PLC, as a treatment for symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

This follows the Jan. 1, 2010, Czech decriminalization of cultivation and possession of small amounts of the cannabis, or marijuana, plant by individuals.

The two steps are not groundbreaking themselves and the Czechs are only one of eight European Union member states to have approved Sativex and more are expected to do so.

But it’s the attitude of Czech policy makers to the cannabis conundrum that is interesting.

When looking through official statements, one notices a trend of pragmatism that contrasts the politically motivated, “hard on drugs” approach deeply engrained in the political culture of many countries.

“I’m glad that the Czech Republic, as one of eight European Union countries, has made it possible for Czech patients with serious health conditions to use extract from [cannabis],” said SUKL director Martin Benes.

“It’s the first step towards physician-prescribed use of cannabinoids in the Czech Republic,” Benes said.

The Czechs already allow production of hemp, which has myriad industrial uses and is a type of cannabis that doesn’t contain significant amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is marijuana’s psychoactive substance prized by medical and recreational users alike.

Speaking on the approval of Sativex, Eva Havrdova, the head of the Czech hospital and medical college in Prague, or VFN, which took part in studies on Sativex, told Czech daily newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes that approval of the drug is a step forward.

“The medicine isn’t effective for all patients [of multiple sclerosis] but you can distinguish those who can benefit from it from those who can’t, and it doesn’t threaten addiction or other damage to the nervous system,” Havrdova said.

In March, Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas wrote an email to a citizen on the topic of marijuana’s legal limbo, since published on the Czech Interior Ministry’s website, saying “I’m aware there continue to be more and louder opinions for the medical use of cannabis…and no-one doubts this characteristic of cannabis.”

Mr. Necas added that the key is not banning or allowing use of cannabis, but ensuring its safe and appropriate use and discouraging its abuse.

Mr. Necas, who holds a doctorate in natural sciences, said that so long as medications derived from cannabis meet all Czech and European legal norms, the government welcomes steps that can contribute to the health of the country’s citizens.

Despite these steps, recreational use of marijuana remains illegal in the Czech Republic, which has one of the highest rates of marijuana consumption in Europe. However the legislation that took effect on Jan. 1, 2010, made possession of five or fewer cannabis plants a misdemeanor and fines for possession are on par with penalties for parking violations.

Medical marijuana in the framework of some American states that allow cannabis sales at dispensaries is also not present in the Czech Republic.