Saturday, May 5, 2012

The New Amsterdam of the East

In a culture suffused with marijuana, a new film looks at its medical benefits

By Yuliya Ni

All over Prague one can constantly see a tremendous amount of posters, advertisements and products related in one way or another to marijuana. Cannabis festivals and marches are held every year in the Czech Republic, and seem to be very popular. And now there is a Czech documentary film, Year of Mari©uana by Petr Slabý, currently showing at the Světozor and Aero cinemas. The title of the movie says it all.

Some people believe that marijuana offers medical benefits, such as helping to stimulate appetite and relieve nausea in AIDS and cancer patients, and in treating depression. Some states in the U.S., like California, have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes, which have proved to work exceptionally well. Marijuana is also known to relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Czech Ministry of Health has said it will take marijuana off the list of banned substances, and for the first time allow it to be prescribed as medicine by doctors.

This topic is deeply discussed in Year of Mari©uana, which follows a whole range of people dealing with cannabis, approaching its use from various perspectives and presenting the soulful stories of several patients who use cannabis to help relieve the effects of cancer and multiple sclerosis. Professor Lumir Ondřej Hanuš, a scientist who has dedicated his professional career to cannabis research, and Dušan Dvořák, an activist and founder of the “Cannabis is a Cure” foundation, are also featured in the movie.

There are a lot of funny moments in the movie when the situation is almost absurd, especially when people show their purest love for marijuana. Scenes of huge marijuana plantations are shown accompanied by relaxing junkie music. After watching Year of Mari©uana, it is easy to get the impression that marijuana can and should be used for medical treatment, especially for people who have serious diseases.

This is only one example of the popularity of marijuana in the Czech Republic, especially among the young generation. This green, smelly bud has created a subculture and even an image of our debauchery, a greedy-for-entertainment generation.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Czech youth are the leaders in smoking marijuana. So it is not surprising that the Czech Republic has some of the most liberal drug laws in Europe, and produces most of the continent’s methamphetamine (although the country’s AIDS rates are among the lowest in Europe).

It seems like Prague is going to be the New Amsterdam of the East. Currently, it is only a misdemeanor to have up to 5 plants of hemp or 15 grams of marijuana, 40 pieces of “magic” mushrooms, 5 grams of hashish, 5 LSD-laced papers or other materials with LSD, 1.5 grams of heroin, 1 gram of cocaine or 2 grams of methamphetamine. Possessing these items can still result in heavy fines, but as of January 1, 2010, they are not criminal offenses.

As a result of the new law, the prices of drugs in the Czech Republic reportedly decreased by 30-40%.  However a contradictory situation has emerged: On the one hand, people can carry and use small amounts of drugs with no serious penalties. On the other, there are no official places to sell them, so the trade remains illegal. Therefore, visitors may not find Prague as enticing as the Netherlands. You are not able to buy marijuana in a “coffee shop,” like in Amsterdam, but you will not spend time in jail just for partying in a club and having a joint with you.

According to statistics, 28% of Czechs younger than 24 smoke marijuana at least once a year, the highest rate in the European Union, although the use of hard drugs is on average lower than in the rest of the EU. The recent increase in youthful marijuana use has fueled speculation that a new epidemic of hard drug abuse may be imminent, and that the burden of drug abuse will be dramatically increasing in the near future.

In 2004, the United Nations estimated that approximately 4% of the adult world population (162 million people) used cannabis annually, and that approximately 0.6% (22.5 million  people) used cannabis daily.
Scene from the movie

Various surveys identified a rapid increase in marijuana use during the 1990s, especially among youths. This raises a variety of questions about the future of the nation’s drug problems. On one hand, the gateway theory posits that youthful use of alcohol and/or tobacco and marijuana tends to precede use of other illicit drugs like crack and heroin. On the other hand, the start of this new epidemic coincides with the decline of the crack epidemic. This suggests that youthful subcultures may have shifted from the destructive nature of crack to the use of less dangerous drugs.

Year of Mari©uana ends with a phrase: “The worst and strongest drug is the person himself.” This attitude lifts it above propaganda, and makes it worth seeing. The film reveals some unknown interesting facts that make the viewer think about marijuana issues from another perspective, mapping the problem in an objective rather than a biased way. Showing the possibilities and limits of the medical use of cannabis, the film raises important questions about  the right to health and personal freedom.

For more on Year of Mari©uana:  

Trailer for Year of Mari©uana:

1 comment:

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