A Swiss government advisory commission has called for cannabis to be decriminalised and for the market to be regulated in the Alpine country.
The Federal Commission for Addiction Issues said on Tuesdayexternal link that cannabis use in Switzerland had not changed significantly in the past ten years. Despite its popularity, the percentage of problematic users is low, it said.
The risks of cannabis are mainly linked to high amounts of THC [active ingredient], early use among teenagers, prolonged use, mixing cannabis and tobacco, and if it is used by people with existing mental problems.
The commission recommends Switzerland legalise and regulate the market while protecting the health of its population, especially young people.
It added that there should be certain controls over the market. This would also help scientific research and access to cannabinoids for medical purposes.
Growing, consuming and dealing cannabis are all forbidden in Switzerland. But anyone over 18 caught in possession of up to ten grams of cannabis will receive a CHF100 ($110) fine and not have it put on their criminal record.
Some 200,000 people in Switzerland use illegal cannabis, the government estimates, despite its criminalisation.
Consumption is much more prevalent among men, teenagers and young adults. Most are occasional users, with around 1% of the adult population admitting frequent use, over more than 20 days per month.
The government is meanwhile is proposing limited pilot projects allowing up to 5,000 people to smoke marijuana legally, which may lead to changes in laws banning cannabis that date back to 1951. The plan has been put out for public comment until mid-year.
The government also plans to make it easier for people to access medical marijuanexternal linka, but that would be part of a separate process.
Switzerland already allows cannabis products of less than 1% THC. It began last July to explore new ways of regulating more potent marijuana, after the University of Bern was blocked by existing law from undertaking a scientific study.
Several US states have relaxed restrictions on marijuana, seeing an opportunity to save money on law enforcement and profit from taxing the drug. In Europe, Portugal and the Czech Republic have decriminalised cannabis and Luxembourg is discussing legalisation.