Why we do it?
When we look at the current developments across the ocean and at home in Europe, it is clear that states have been changing their approach to the issue of psychoactive cannabis. Scientific evidence also shows that restrictions should be abandoned. As such, it is no wonder that more and more countries have been updating their policies on this substance. A balanced policy based on strictly regulating availability on the one hand and a comprehensive prevention and risk reduction system on the other would limit the negative consequences of problematic cannabis use while adding a much-needed revenue stream to public budgets. The Netherlands, Uruguay, America, Canada, Malta, and Spain – all these have in common a progressive approach to the issue of cannabis. Some of these states focus on all types of personal cannabis use, from cultivation for personal use to the cannabis market. In contrast, others only regulate some parts, such as cannabis clubs. However, all of them offer a great deal of inspiration and lessons learned.
The reasons for regulated legalisation are naturally much more comprehensive than the need to “follow a global trend”. It has been scientifically proven that the use of psychoactive cannabis is less dangerous for health or society than alcohol consumption. However, the rules on alcohol are much laxer, regardless of its higher risk factor. Making cannabis illegal was meant to protect people’s health and society’s security, according to the prohibition’s proponent, but it did the exact opposite. Prohibition did not stop people from using cannabis; it just made them rely on the black market. The black market can get them into contact with other less safe psychoactive substances and harm their health with pesticides, heavy metals or moulds. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the state and non-profit sectors cannot efficiently mitigate risks on the black market and help people avoid problematic consumption. Limiting the black market will also indirectly restrict the availability of cannabis for children and minors. Dealers don’t ask for your ID, but licensed traders will be responsible for checking their customers’ age.
Another, no less important factor supporting the concept of regulating psychoactive cannabis nowadays is money. By simply cutting the expenses of cannabis-related law enforcement, the state would save over 24.5 million EUR. In terms of tax revenue, regulated legalisation of only the cannabis buds market could bring up to 73.4 million EUR into the public budget. If we also allowed trade in cannabis products and Czech companies could export cannabis to the potentially emerging German market, the revenue might more than double. A related topic is the emergence of new economic opportunities, which can give a welcome boost to regional economies, especially in the context of the impending crisis.
While simple solutions seem extremely attractive, we know that such a significant change cannot be done without good data. In 2020, we assembled a team of experts (on addictology, economics, law, etc) led by expert Vendula Běláčková and put together an impact assessment of the regulation of psychoactive cannabis in the Czech Republic. The assessment contains a multi-criteria analysis, an impact assessment of various regulation options, and a cost/benefit analysis. It introduces multiple versions and evaluates their impact while focusing on various regulation aspects, from the regulatory infrastructure to distribution networks, product regulation, and tax rate setting. The impact assessment compared different regulatory frameworks (using typical examples: Washington + Colorado, Canada, Uruguay, the Netherlands, and Spain). For each framework, it evaluated the impact on various fields (usage by adults/minors, healthcare costs, participation in the legal market, traffic accidents, prices, etc.). Based on this, we tried to mix and match a regulatory framework using elements from various systems to achieve our goals as efficiently as possible. These goals include maximum risk reduction and problematic usage prevention, restricting access for children and minors, reducing organised crime, increasing state budget revenue, and creating space for small enterprises.