A scene from last year’s festival, which has grown like the proverbial weed
Hundreds of Czechs flocked to the first day of a three-day celebration of the cannabis or marijuana plant in the center of Prague on Friday, with dozens of foreign exhibitors seeking to cash in on what they see as a growing local market.
Organizers of the second Cannafest are quietly confident they will easily beat the 17,000 visitors when the event was staged for the first time last year thanks to increased local interest in growing and enjoying the plant and better promotion. “We expect a lot more people,” exhibition spokeswoman Markéta Matějková, who was not keen to put a figure on the aspirations, told Czech Position. She hastened to add that nothing illegal is on sale, just the equipment.
Many of the 120 exhibitors — showing off everything from special pots, lights, fertilizers, hydroponic equipment, seeds, medications, cannabis beer, creams, medications and biscuits — are from abroad. In total, exhibitors have been attracted from 18 countries, Matějková said.
Yet the idea that the Czech Republic is an expanding market for the grow your own cannabis or marihuana technology has clearly taken seed. “Our perception is that the Czech market is a growing one,” commented the sale manager for the equipment wholesaler, Sarah Profit, from Barnsley in northern Britain. “The show here is bigger this year. There is a lot more interest and we are looking to expand in Central and Eastern Europe.”
‘Our perception is that the Czech market is a growing one.’
Profit’s company, Direct Garden Supplies (DGS) believes catering to the unlikely looking young gardeners on display in Prague on Friday afternoon is a promising prospect. DGS is also seeking to expand in Spain, Germany, Italy and Scandinavia.
“The legitimate [grow-your-own] and the non-legitimate markets are both growing,” she said, adding that a well as young cannabis cultivators the company supplies more orthodox, if fairly idiosyncratic, growers. “I have a really posh man in England who has a stately home and uses this equipment for growing flowers for his stately home and also has a business selling them to other stately homes,” she said.
But the Czech customers poring over the goods on Friday seemed to hail from the cannabis rather than upper crust section of the market. “There is some interesting technology here on show, and I just came to see,” said 24-year-old Lucie Šmálková, who came to the exhibition for the day from Brno, the Czech Republic’s second city. “I grow tomatoes, but other things as well,” she grinned.
Two youths not far away also confessed to being cannabis growers, but while impressed by the cultivation equipment on the stands they said they did not care for the prices being asked. “I prefer the more natural methods to the high-technology growing at the moment. The prices for this hi-tech stuff is too much,” said the older of the two, a 19-year-old from the outskirts of Prague, who asked to remain anonymous.
‘I grow tomatoes, but other things as well.’
The couple said they had started growing before a change in the Czech law in 2010 which decriminalized the growing and possession of a small amount of cannabis but still allows police to impose quite stiff fines for those found with the drug since possession it is still a punishable offense.
The change in the Czech law was widely interpreted abroad as a move to make Prague a new Amsterdam, although the Netherlands is now heading in the opposite direction with a clampdown on cannabis sales. That could well have fueled the impression that the Czech market is more of a growth market than it really is on the ground, especially among foreign firms.
“I have not seen much change since the new law came into force,” commented Richard Klečka, manager and owner of Klečka Shop, which he describes as Ostrava’s oldest grow shop having been established five years ago. “All I have seen is an increase in seed sales. Otherwise growth on the market is average,” he added.
Czech cannabis fans are still pressing for a real legalization of the substance rather than the confused current half way house situation. Meanwhile, away from recreational use, the Czech government looks like it will draw up changes allowing the commercial growth and use of medical marihuana or cannabis from next year. The new rules will, however, seek to make sure that plants cultivated for the medical use do not find their way onto the recreational drug market.
Czech cannabis fans are still pressing for a real legalization of the substance rather than the confused current half way house situation.
Whatever, the confusion at home or abroad over the laws about Czech cannabis growing and consumption, the market still looks inviting to the many Dutch companies that have flocked to Cannafest this year.
While the Dutch have a reputation for relaxed soft drug rules — and have a long history of having green thumbs — the government is now clamping down on the floods of foreigners that used to come to Amsterdam for their drugs purchases, consumption and equipment. “In the Netherlands they do not now want foreigners to come in and use the coffee shops. While large parts of Europe, the US and Canada are going in one direction, the Netherlands is now going back the other way,” said the director of Maastricht-based Vision Seeds.
“I see the Czech market as a developing one. There are a lot of people here and that is what I like,” he added, indicating Prague’s busy Exhibition Grounds hall, and handing out leaflets advertising Bid Bud, Amnesia, Northern Lights, Super Skunk and around another dozen strains of cannabis seeds. “I can sell you a million seeds if you want,” he added helpfully.
As well as the obvious draw for recreation cannabis cultivators, the three-day event ending February 27 includes conferences about other aspects of the plant, including its use as a textile, in the building industry, flour-replacement, and its medicinal and therapeutic qualities.