In the Czech Republic, you can find cannabis, methamphetamine, cheap souvenirs, tobacco, and more in one convenient place. While this may sound like an anarchist’s dream, the availability of dangerous drugs alongside everyday merchandise has been having a negative impact on a small German region that borders the country.
While the number of methamphetamine users in Germany has been relatively low since 2010, the federal states of Saxony and Bavaria, which border the Czech Republic, show a drastically high concentration of meth consumption and fatalities compared to the rest of the country.
In Bavaria, an average of 16 people died from meth abuse annually from 2010-2015. Bavaria practices a zero tolerance strategy for all illicit substances. The southern state was repeatedly blamed by other federal states for contributing most to Germany’s highest drug-related death rate in 2016. In 2016, 24 of the 1,322 drug-related deaths in Germany were due to meth. Besides this local epidemic, heroin still continues to be the largest contributor to drug deaths in Germany.
Saxony and Bavaria have long shared a border with the Czech Republic, where possession of cannabis and other illicit substances for personal use has been decriminalized since 2009 when the Czech government issued a directive allowing “amounts smaller than great.” In 2013, the Czech Constitutional Court threw out the directive because it “asserted that only a law, not a government regulation, could define a criminal offense.” Since 2013, possession of varying quantities of most drugs is punishable by a fee, rather than prison according to Czech law.
Punishable by Fine in the Czech Republic:
- 1 gram of Cocaine
- 1.5 grams of Methamphetamine
- 1.5 grams of Heroin
- 5 grams of Hashish
- 10 grams of dry Cannabis
- 4 units of Ecstasy
- 40 Psilocybin Mushrooms, known as “magic mushrooms”
The Czech Republic’s ‘Asia Markets’
The Czech Republic is regarded as the main European producer of meth. The Czech law enforcement authorities believe the drug is produced in much larger quantities for the domestic and foreign drug markets than can be proved through drug seizure data. Czech authorities estimate the annual production volume of methamphetamine is between five and 10 metric tons.
While cannabis has nothing to do with the southern state’s meth problem, its prohibition feeds an uncontrollable black market on both sides of the border. Nearly every village in the border region has a so-called “Asia Market” offering cannabis, meth, and other illicit substances alongside cheap goods from the Far East. The unsuspecting tourist may only see the presentation of kitschy souvenirs, inexpensive tobacco products and liquor, but dangerous crystals and other drugs can be delivered on demand within a few minutes.
Since cannabis is hard to get and very expensive in Bavaria and Saxony, the cannabis trade flourishes on the so-called Asia Markets in the border region. The flowers mostly originate from Czech indoor facilities in the northwestern region, often operated by members of the Vietnamese community.
Following the introduction of the liberal law in 2009, many young Germans searching for a few grams of cannabis were offered ridiculously cheap methamphetamine in the same breath. Since then, the smuggling and consumption of methamphetamines in the border region have spread like a disease, while the rest of the republic has remained largely unaffected. This dramatic rise led to political pressure on the Czech Republic from Bavaria and Saxony, demanding a change of Czech drug laws.
Bavarian and Saxonian authorities have been convinced the high availability of drugs in the Czech Republic allows for easy purchase by German drug users. But addiction experts in the Czech Republic have refused to change their laws, as doing so would merely lead to the criminalization of addicts rather than a solution to the issue. In response, Czech authorities agreed to intensify the police cooperation and investigation, and entered into a bilateral treaty with Vietnam. The agreement combines police officers from Vietnam with Czech teams combating the Vietnamese mafia in the Czech Republic. It also sends convicted Vietnamese citizens from the Czech Republic to Vietnam to serve their sentences.
Despite these efforts, the black markets in the Czech Republic continue to cause problems on both sides of the border. On the German side, special drug forces conduct targeted searches, body-searching cross-border commuters and vehicles for illegal substances. This unpopular strategy has recently led to a slight decline in confiscations and prosecutions, but this success doesn’t mean the tactics are working.
The Czech Narcotic Police Chief, Jakub Frydrych, said the federal state’s strategy, in the long run, will only cause smugglers to shift away from the body-packaging smuggling to more classical drug trafficking methods that transport larger units at once, such as those employed by drug cartels in Central and North America.
Germany’s Long History with Meth
The situation in Bavaria and Saxony is not the first time meth, which was prescribed as “Pervitin” until 1988, has been a problem in Germany. German soldiers were quite familiar with meth as “Stuka,” “Göring-pills,” or “Panzerschokolade” (tank-chocolate) in World War II. Germany’s most famous meth addict was literary Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll, who repeatedly begged his family for Panzerschokolade in his letters from the Eastern Front.
After the introduction of the Act on Narcotic Drugs in 1971, this early, fatal approach to drug policy was one of many mistakes being made and that led to the current unbalanced situation in German drug policy.
The repressive drug policies of Bavaria and Saxony have been butting heads with the liberal model of the Czech Republic. Despite the Czech Republic showing statistical success in reducing drug addiction, Bavaria and Saxony have seen increasing numbers year over year.
In this border region without a genuine frontier, the liberal model of Czech drug policy is bouncing on the repressive drug policies of Bavaria and Saxony. While the Czech Republic is convinced of consumer’s decriminalization success and can prove that statistically, the number of consumers of hard drugs and drug-related deaths in Bavaria and Saxony has been steadily increasing for years.