'Alarming' rate of use among young Czechs puts country at top of EU study's list
The police are preparing a nationwide crackdown on cannabis in the new year in the wake of a European Union report that puts the Czech Republic at the top of the league for cannabis use among 15- to 24-year-olds.
The police have already sent out 30,000 letters to residents of the Karlovy Vary region in west Bohemia, where many cannabis farms are located, asking people to report suspicious activity.
The government is preparing tougher anti-drug legislation to be introduced in the new year, but the specific amounts a person may have on them deemed for personal use will be decided in the coming weeks.
The report by the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimates cannabis has been used at least once by around 74 million Europeans - more than one in five of all 15- to 64-year-olds.
Almost 44 percent of Czechs in the 15-24 age bracket have used cannabis at least once, the highest prevalence in the EU, the report states. France, Denmark and Germany are the next highest.
More than 29 percent of this demographic admit to using cannabis in the past year, again placing the country at No. 1, ahead of Spain, Italy and France.
While Education Ministry spokesman Tomáš Bouška described the report's findings as "alarming," he said the drug problem is an issue for society in general and not just the education authorities.
"Combating drug abuse among students is a top priority of the ministry, but this cannot be done in isolation. We need the help of families to tackle this menace," he said.
Combating cannabis use requires manpower the police admit they do not have.
"We are trying to locate and close the cannabis farms that have been spreading around the Czech Republic," said Michal Hammer, spokesman for the National Drug Squad. "The people who run them are mostly Asians, and the quantities are huge. For example, one farm we closed produced 1,500-2,000 plants annually. We sent 30,000 letters to people in the Karlovy Vary region telling them what is going on and how they can help prevent it. In total, there are 450 police officers in the National Drug Squad, which is obviously not enough, but we still closed 79 farms last year and 50 so far this year."
Police are gearing up to enforce a tougher line against drug users in 2010 when legislation, yet to be introduced, comes into force. But, while the police are on the frontline in the battle, the root cause is society's tolerance of drugs, according to squad head Jakub Frydrych.
"Unfortunately, the Czech Republic is undergoing a period when drug availability and usage is tolerated not only by a large part of society, but also by the media. The drug-taking situation is not only a matter for the police department."
By Tom Clifford
December 9, 2009