One of the Czech Republic’s best-known earliest promoters of legalising marijuana and promoting its medicinal use has been sentenced to three years in prison. It is something of a cause célèbre among civil liberties groups and those battling big pharma’s monopoly on the dispensing of medical marijuana.
Dušan Dvořák, a 57-year-old psychotherapist, is no stranger to Czech courtrooms. For decades, the medical-cannabis activist, who leads the non-profit Konopí je lék, or Marijuana is Medicine, has been openly been flaunting the nation’s laws on cultivating and distributing marijuana while lobbying to change them.
Since 2009, when police seized some 800 plants from his garden, Dvořák – an addictologist – has been accused a dozen times and convicted on several occasions of “spreading drug addiction and harming society” or cultivating plants for distribution as medical marijuana with higher levels than allowed of THC, the psychoactive component which produces a “high”.
State prosecutor Jaroslav Miklenda summarised the charges against Dvořák – and his defiant attitude – in an interview from Czech Radio outside the courtroom:
“The magistrate accused the defendant of committing a crime according to Section 283 of the Criminal Code by keeping psychotropic substances without permission.
“He knows that in the Czech Republic this method of cannabis cultivation is prohibited. Yet, after being convicted repeatedly, he continues to commit this crime.
“His entire conduct in criminal proceedings has been in this spirit, both before the court and in written submissions to the State Prosecutor’s office.”
Dozens of Dvořák’s supporters rallied in front of the courthouse while others convened in the corridors, unable to get seats at the trial. His lawyer, Zuzana Kožnárková, said among them were many people treating ailments with plants he had grown.
“One group of supporters consisted of patients whom my client has in the past provided some help through medicinal cannabis. The second group were experts with whom he has cooperated in conducting research. This was particularly important in relation to the court’s assessment of the alleged social harmfulness of his actions.”
The Prostějov District Court dismissed hearing that expert testimony on the grounds that a written copy of their findings would suffice. Much of it focused on how CBD, the essential component of medical marijuana derived from the hemp plant, can alleviate chronic pain, reduce anxiety and control seizures, among other things.
Although open displays of the public’s sympathies are strictly forbidden in the courtroom, dozens of Dvořák’s supporters in attendance applauded the activist’s closing remarks, in which he said he cultivated cannabis solely for medical purposes:
“These proceedings are unjust. I did not commit any crime – I am innocent.”
Dvořák immediately filed an appeal against his 3-year prison sentence, arguing that the charge itself was nonsensical, insisting that cannabis “is not a harmful substance” and no-one he has given it to has ever complained.
Last year, according to the indictment, Dvořák cultivated 133 marijuana plants in his garden, while police found another 111 others already dried, enough to produce over seven kilogrammes of dry matter in total.
Upon his arrest, Dvořák said he hoped to file for political asylum in the United States, and in court he acknowledged plans to travel to Canada. That was likely a factor in why the court rejected his request to be released from custody until his next trial.
All told, according to Dvořák, authorities have destroyed more than 3,000 of cannabis plants over the years. Thus far, he has filed 20 complaints to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court claiming his rights are being restricted. According to him, for police to measure the level of THC is a violation of European legislation.