Order a Cookie, Smoke a Gram

The Emerald City for Drug Users and Dealers

By Vanessa Karalis

Photo courtesy of Michael Moore/Flickr

Buying marijuana at certain bars in the Czech Republic is as easy as ordering a drink. Photo courtesy of Michael Moore/Flickr



“You ask for ‘cookie’” Lucka Dvorak, a 22-year-old university student and regular bar-goer, said.  Neatly etched on a chalkboard drink menu, underneath Corona and Cuba Libre, is the word “cookie.” Dvorak waves over the bartender, spattering off her order, a Gambrinus and three grams of cookie.  The exchange is quick and casual.

It is a Wednesday night, and while this may or may not be surprising, the majority of the crowd here is coming for more than the beer and good company.  Like many bars throughout Prague, SkyBar sells marijuana.

The bartender, Jim Anderson, is a 45-year-old California native and the owner of SkyBar.  “I’ve been in Prague for 15 years.  I met my wife here and we opened this place up a few years back,” he said.

When asked about how the marijuana business started he said, “It just kind of happened,” laughing and motioning to a California Republic banner on the wall.  “Prague is a great place to have a business like this and if you’re safe and quiet, it’s never a problem.”

Marijuana use is a misdemeanor in the Czech Republic, which was recently ranked as one the four countries in the world with the highest growth of marijuana use. The current law states that an individual carrying up to fifteen grams, the equivalent of five marijuana plants, may be subject to fines.  But it is hard to find anyone who has ever been fined in the country for smoking marijuana.

While the sale of marijuana is considered a felony, Czech police chose to focus their efforts on the higher levels of organized drug trades such as the growth and mass distriubution of large drug rings.

Photo courtesy of Allan Foster/Flickr

At some bars, buying weed is as easy as muttering a code name. In this case, “three grams of cookie” will do. Photo courtesy of Allan Foster/Flickr

In an interview with Global Post, Jakub Frydrych, the head of the National Drug Squad of the Czech Police and the Bureau of Investigation, said “They Czech police have mainly been enforcing the drug laws at a certain organizational level.”  A recent large-scale drug bust in Pardubice is an example of this.  The detainees were said to have been handling a whopping 13 kilograms of marijuana.  With all efforts toward massive operations such as this, it is no wonder the multitude of bartenders like Jim Anderson  along with small scale marijuana dealers have little to fear.

While spots like SkyBar offer consistently “good-quality” marijuana at a standardized price and gear themselves towards locals and regulars, marijuana can be easily stumbled upon by nearly anyone in Prague’s club scene.

Meanwhile, over at Club Taros in Vinohrady, An African man in a striped button down and jeans stands to the side of the bar, muttering “weed, coke, MDMA” in a way only comparable to that of some far grungier counterpart in Times Square.

“Weed,” 23-year-old Daniel Short bluntly orders.  The dealer nods and walks away.  Thirty seconds later another African man, in a collared shirt, sweater vest ensemble walks up.  He introduces himself as “West Coast,” making small talk about the clubs turnout all before asking,  “Indica or Sativa?”

“Five grams of Sativa.” With that, West Coast is gone.

“I don’t usually buy here,” Short admitted.  “It is very expensive because all the tourists come here looking for something to smoke on the dance floor.”   Expensive, for short is 400 kč (≈ 15 USD), a steal for many tourists from the US where prices in New York can reach up to 20 USD per gram.

“Prague is a great place to have a business like this and if you’re safe and quiet, it’s never a problem.”

When asked if it’s ever a problem he laughs, “Weed here, in Prague, is like cigarettes. I smoke on the streets.  Cop cars pass me all the time.  They don’t care.  Nothing happens.”

Before the conversation is over, West Coast reappears with a small bag.  “You like?” he asks, offering it to Short.  Short nods and with that he is directed to another man at the far end corner of the bar, where he picks up his product.

West Coast is 33 and has been living in Prague for seven years.  While he was unwilling to disclose his full time occupation, he stated proudly, “We have an operation here.  It is only us selling.  We know all the bartenders so it works.”  With that he winks at a bartender in the midst of preparing a round of tequila gold shots for a few intoxicated tourists.

While the professionalization of the marijuana trade in Prague is most outwardly apparent through the bar and club culture, independent dealers continue to thrive.

In Prague however, the triangle of competition between bar selling, club selling, and independent selling creates an intricate network of organized and professional trade.

Justin Emmanuel, 26, is a biochemical engineering student and also an independent marijuana dealer.  In khaki pants and a black pea coat, he strays far from New York’s drug dealer prototype.  In his pocket, Emmanuel carries a stack of white business cards embossed with his name, phone number and email, along with a small laminated chart of standardized prices for his product.

“I want to offer quality product.  My clients trust me so they keep coming back,” Emmanuel said. “Almost everyone who contacts me is Czech.  They have high standards for what they buy.”  Quality, for Emmanuel, costs about 250 kč (13 USD) per gram.  A cell phone rings.  Emmanuel picks it up asking, “Name and address?”  and with the firm handshake of a Wall Street executive, he is off.

Despite the professionalization of the marijuana industry or perhaps because of it, marijuana seems to exist in a realm completely separate from the law.  When asking ten Prague residents what the specific laws were regarding marijuana, only one answered correctly. The general consensus was that there are not really any laws for personal use.

“There’s no place like Prague,” Short said.

And for someone traveling from just about anywhere else, Prague truly is the Emerald City.

Vanessa Karalis is in the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study Class of 2016. Her hometown is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This article was adapted from an assignment for the travel writing class at New York University in Prague.


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Categories: Culture, Spring 2014 Issue Number 3, Travel

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.


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