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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Attack on freedom of expression in the Czech cannabis campaign

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The Czech Republic, and especially its capital, Prague, has earned a place among the international cannabis. But now a local magazine dedicated to cannabis culture may have to be closed down by legal action – its editor being threatened with imprisonment.

Of all the post-communist countries in Europe, the Czech Republic is seen as the country with the best transition to an open society. And through it all, there was a strong whiff of alternative culture. The word Bohemia comes from one of two historical regions of the Czech Republic, Bohemia and Moravia.

liberation legacy

In 1968, I witnessed what was then Czechoslovakia.”Prague spring, “a period of formal liberation, where the search for”Socialism with a human faceacid rocks Soundtracks by bands like Plastic people in the universe. This was suddenly interrupted by a Soviet military invasion In that August, repressive orthodoxy returned.

But after 21 years, he came Velvet Revolution November 1989, with the overthrow of the communist regime through strikes and peaceful demonstrations. Vaclav Havel, dissident playwright and leader of the revolution, became Czechoslovakia The first president after communism. Havel was a fan of Frank Zappa, and even named the irreverent California rocker as the “Special Cultural Ambassador. Havel’s friend, poet Allen Ginsberg, who visited Prague in 1965 and left his mark on the semi-secret counterculture scene, also became icon post-communist era.

Then in 1993 came”Velvet DivorceAs Czechoslovakia was peacefully divided into the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia – an amicable parting, in happy contrast to the then disastrous split in Yugoslavia.

In the years since, Prague has emerged as a global hotspot for hipster tourism, with a thriving cannabis (if not above the baseboard) and a psychedelic scene.

Cannabis and freedom of the press

picture

The criminal case that would force the closure of the Czech Republic’s leading cannabis magazine – at least in the eyes of its target editor – stems alarmingly from the bad old days of authoritarian rule.

Robert Feverka, publisher and editor-in-chief of the magazine legal magazine, chairs an advocacy organization of the same name. He is a visible and already respected figure in many ways. In 2018, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Prague Municipal District 2, and serves as a consultant to the Committee on Drug Policy of the Prague City Council. Veverka also ran for the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament, with the Pirate Party on a legalization platform. In 2020, he ran for Senate, coming in third out of eight candidates. In the middle of the campaign, charges were brought against him.

On November 3, 2021, a district court found Veverca guilty of inciting “toxic mania”. The charge has a maximum sentence of five years, and the judge informally announced the one-year sentence. However, the penalty may not be imposed while the case is on appeal. Veverka says he will likely be subject to probation rather than imprisonment if he does not follow through on his appeal. But accepting the test means stopping posting legal.

The case hinges on the “instructions and tips on how to grow” cannabis that appeared on the pages legal, which was said to have “inspired at least one individual” to buy seeds through a magazine ad and to grow several plants – “thus producing the banned substance Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). “

seeds of change

Understanding this peculiar case requires a look at Robert Veverka’s career over the years of the relative liberalization of cannabis in the Czech Republic.

Veverca planted his first cannabis plant at the age of 16 in 1992, with seeds he salvaged from the grass that was available at the time.

In the same year, by the way, the pioneering Czech chemist Lomir Hanoch, working with the team of Raphael Meshulam at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, First described the structure of anandamide, which is a major endogenous neurotransmitter for cannabis. Although not widely known, during the 1950s and 1960s Czech scientists were at the forefront of medical cannabis research, which included pioneering studies on the structure of THC The plant’s antibacterial and antibiotic properties.

As a young man, Weverka visited Holland and, like many others, lost his mind due to the very forgiving atmosphere. “You can go and buy it like bread,” he recalls in a Skype interview with Project. Convention on Biological Diversity. “I thought it was very cool.”

After returning to his homeland in Prague, he helped organize the first pro-legalization demonstrations in 2007, which eventually evolved into the Czech unit in The global marijuana marchIt is held in May every year.

This pressure is starting to pay off, and 2010 saw a reform of the Czech criminal code, whereby 10 fines or up to five adult plants became an “administrative offence” rather than a criminal one. But Veverka felt that decriminalization was too limited.

“You can grow five plants, but if you pick from your own, you are guilty of the crime of drug production,” he explains. In any case, factories can still be confiscated. You gave a false sense of freedom, but you would still be too weak if you had plants in your garden.”

magazine launch

Annual Prague Canavest, an international conference for farmers, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts, first held in 2010. It was also the year that Veverka launched legal magazine. With ads from seed banks and shops, go fast.

The seeds were made legal in a 2010 reform—at least until they were planted—and sometimes the magazine offered the seeds as a promotion, in a plastic bag attached to the cover. There were explicit instructions about growing, processing, preparing food, etc. – and a general celebration of the cannabis lifestyle. It has been published every two months since then, and now has a circulation of 12,000 copies.

In 2013, Medical marijuana law passed, but Veverka sarcastically notes that it came into effect on April 1st: “We said it was, indeed, an April Fool’s joke.” Domestic cultivation was not permitted, which meant that all national supplies had to be imported, initially from the Dutch company Berokan. This meant higher prices, and health insurance wasn’t allowed to cover it. “It costs more than €10 a gram – twice the price on the black market,” says Feverka.

Later, it was one certified cultivation facility established In the town of Slusovice by the Czech company Elcoplast. And in 2020, insurance companies began covering medical cannabis.

However, with limited progress came a backlash. The year 2013 marked the beginning of a series of raids on shops. Even if they were selling legal products, the owners could be accused of promoting “poison mania” if there was any substance on the premises about cannabis – like Veverka magazine. Thus, about 50 people were charged over the following years. They were mostly probation rather than imprisoned, but the legal harassment was a blow to the thriving local scene in the Czech Republic.

Censorship by other means

A similar case against Veverka was actually brought in Brunntal, a Moravian regional town about three hours east of Prague. That’s because a farmer caught there with 38 plants. He was given probation in a plea bargain, but allegedly told police at the time of his arrest that he had learned how to farm from legal.

Weverka later decided that police investigators had bought legalArchive of previous issues in full through the online store of the magazine. “I made some money from the police,” he said again with a wry smile.

Weverka plans to appeal because he sees acceptance of the test as subject to de facto Censorship. “They don’t order the magazine shut down, but I would go to jail if I put out a number. Going to jail for writing an article — it’s like the old totalitarian regime.”

It is unlikely that the penalty will be imposed while the case is being heard on appeal to Moravia-Silesian garage (area) court. But if his conviction was upheld there, he would be punished even if he appealed to the Constitutional Court, the Czech Republic’s highest judicial authority in the case.

This comes, paradoxically, as a cultural liberator for Veverka pirate party You get your first taste of the executive branch in the Czech Republic. New coalition government elected in october, led by centre-right parties But also including pirates. In making deals, there are a certain number of Cabinet seats promised to the Pirate Party, despite the fact that it only holds four seats in the 200-member House of Representatives.

So it looks like a paradoxical political moment in the Czech Republic, which could make Weverka’s strong voice sound more threatening. “They want me to accept not publishing the magazine in exchange for not going to jail,” he says. “This case was brought because my voice was too loud, and I became too dangerous for the system.”

Veverka asserts that silencing the social agenda is really at stake. “We want to have social cannabis clubs, and we want to stop the war on drugs,” he urges. “Every adult should have the right to grow in their own garden. The greatest danger of cannabis is its illegality.”


Bill Weinberg is an award-winning, 30-year veteran journalist in the fields of human rights, the environment, and drug policy. Previously a news editor for High Times magazine, he now produces websites CounterVortex.org And Global Ganga Report.

Copyright, Project Convention on Biological Diversity. It may not be reprinted without So.

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