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Cannabis debate fails to fire up young Swiss

Swiss teenagers say they are not interested in what politicians have to say about cannabis Keystone

The debate over decriminalising cannabis – slated for discussion in parliament on Monday – has stirred up much passion among adults.

This content was published on June 13, 2004 - 23:18

But young people appear unmoved by all the fuss and say they will keep on smoking their joints whatever parliamentarians decide.

Although some say cannabis is a relaxing and harmless pastime, others warn that it can lead to depression and schizophrenia.

But whatever the arguments, smoking dope is a part of many young people’s lives in Switzerland, despite the fact that it is illegal.

It is estimated that a quarter of those aged 15-25 consume cannabis daily or several times a week.

They include 17-year-old Severin from Bern, who smoked his first joint at 14.

His schoolmate, Anna, admits to being an “occasional cannabis smoker” and insists she can control her consumption.

Alex, however, has never tried cannabis. He says there are other ways of having fun and prefers to opt for the occasional beer.

“I don’t need it, I don’t want it and I don’t do it,” he told swissinfo.

Drugs and alcohol

While their opinions differ on the pros and cons of cannabis, all three of them agree on one thing: they say alcohol is also a drug.

“Alcohol changes your mind, so it is a drug,” states Anna. “In my opinion, they [alcohol and tobacco] are legal because they make a lot of money.”

Severin, who likes to juggle a beer and a joint at the same time, insists there should be no distinction between the two.

“Legalise cannabis or also ban alcohol,” he says.

But Alex is less keen to link the two, arguing that alcohol is established in society whereas marijuana is not.

Yet even he suggests they should both be classed in the same vein and carry a legal age limit of 16.

Facing reality

Faced with the reality of cannabis consumption in Switzerland, the cabinet has argued that the law must change.

The government hopes that by decriminalising the drug, it can better control the cannabis trade and increase measures to protect young people.

Both Anna and Severin toe the government line.

“We already treat it as if it is legal,” says Severin. “We smoke dope when and where we want.”

Anna finds it ridiculous that under the present system young people are registered as criminals if they are found using marijuana.

But thanks to his mother’s grudging indulgence, Severin is able to keep his cannabis habit out of reach of the long arm of the law.

“She doesn’t support it at all,” he says. “But she prefers it if I smoke it at home on the balcony rather than out on the streets where the cops can catch me.”

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein

Key facts

1990: 19.9% of male youths aged 15-16 and 4.1% of their female counterparts say they have tried cannabis more than once.
1994: the number has doubled.
2004: it is estimated that one in four young people between the ages of 15 and 25 smoke cannabis several times a week.

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In brief

Parliament is due to resume debate on a government proposal put forward in 2001 to allow the consumption and production of cannabis.

Police commanders in Switzerland have called for the decriminalisation of cannabis.

The Teachers’ Association has voiced reservations about the proposal, saying prevention efforts should be stepped up if cannabis becomes legal.

Swiss voters threw out a proposal in 1998 to legalise drugs and allow the sale and purchase of narcotics from state-run outlets and pharmacies.

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