The Swiss Council of States has approved a plan to start trials of recreational cannabis, but only “experienced users” should submit to it
Parliament has supported a legal change allowing for pilot studies that will distribute cannabis to focus groups, to learn more about the effects of recreational use. The control studies will be limited in size and duration, and will only include current cannabis smokers over 18, the Senate heard on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Alain Berset, who supported the amendment, said the current situation was “unsatisfactory”. This is particularly the case in large cities like Bern, Geneva, Zurich and Basel, all of which have expressed an interest in the potential of such trials, he said.
A third of the Swiss population admitted to having smoked cannabis at some point, while some 200000 people smoke regularly. But cannabis remains an illegal substance, and there is no control over the quality or origin of what is consumed.
Opponents of this idea, from the political right and center-right, fear that the project will pave the way for further liberalization. The conditions set for the trials are not strict enough, they say, and the funds would be better invested in prevention campaigns.
Only one piece of the law remains unclear: While the Grand Chamber of Parliament wants all cannabis used to be Swiss and organically produced, the Senate believes this is not feasible given limited local availability.
The debate around testing dates back to 2017, when the University of Bern asked to start such a study, but was informed by the Federal Office of Public Health that the law only allowed cannabis consumption for certain reasons. medical.
In 2008, nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters rejected an initiative to decriminalize cannabis for personal consumption; it was the second national vote on this issue in ten years.
The study, which was approved by the Council of States on Wednesday, hopes to learn more about the effects of controlled legalization of drugs in Switzerland. As the Swiss daily Watson reported, the government wants “only adults who already use cannabis to participate in the study”. The proposal has already been approved by the Swiss lower house, the National Council, in June. The decision to start the trial was due to be made in March, but it has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The experiments must be carried out in the big cities of Switzerland. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in carrying out these tests.
The study aims to understand how the cannabis market works and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalization must also be studied.
“The models must be tested before starting the debate on whether or not to liberalize cannabis,” said Pierre-Yves Maillard (Socialists and Democrats), spokesperson for the competent committee. Only people who currently use cannabis and can prove it will be allowed to participate. The proof will be provided by a hair sample.
There remains a point of friction between the lower and upper houses of Switzerland. While the National Council demanded that organic cannabis grown in Switzerland be used in the trial, the Council of States said it did not want to make it a requirement. On the contrary, organic cannabis grown in Switzerland should be used as part of the trial “to the extent possible,” the Council of States noting that this type of cannabis is difficult to find.
Since 2011, the sale of cannabis products containing up to one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that gets consumers high, has been legal in Switzerland.
Regular cannabis and other related products such as hashish are also illegal, although small amounts (less than ten grams) are decriminalized and only punishable by a fine of 100 francs on the spot.
Un survey of the World Health Organization has shown that more adolescents smoke in Switzerland than in any other European country, with 27% of 15-year-olds having smoked at least once.
The use of cannabis for medical purposes is also severely restricted in Switzerland, with only one product - CBD oil, being legally available for sale.