Hemp cheese? Bern fair shows versatility
The second international hemp fair, which took place in Bern last weekend, shows there's more to hemp than smoking.
Despite what most people might think, cannatrade 2002 was not just an opportunity to smoke cannabis - the substance was not even on sale at the fair.
During the event, which ended on Sunday, more than 100 exhibitors showed off a range of products from hemp body lotion, bread and cheese to hemp clothes, champagne or wine.
The fair started out as a friendly gathering for Swiss hemp producers on the first "Swiss Hemp Day" in 1999, when about 10 exhibitors came to Bern to offer their products.
That number more than doubled the following year and in 2001 when more than 60 exhibitors took part, cannatrade was born.
Marco Kuhn, one of the chief organisers, told swissinfo that the number of exhibitors wanting to take part is still growing.
"I have already booked the hall for next year," he said. "However, I reserved the bigger one. This hall has now reached its limits and the 4,600 square metres are no longer big enough."
At this year's event, product sellers rubbed shoulders with pressure groups, who are campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis.
In December last year the Senate approved a government proposal to allow cannabis consumption, however, in order to make it legal it still needs the approval of the House of Representatives.
Sven Schendekehl of "Legalize it", one of the biggest Swiss pressure groups, which has been fighting for the decriminalisation of cannabis since 1990, believes the legalisation of the substance could still take a while.
"To really legalise it, we still have a long way to go. However, the decriminalisation of some parts of smoking and selling cannabis might only take two or three more years," he told swissinfo.
The pressure group also publishes a quarterly magazine, which keeps cannabis users and other people up-to-date on the legalisation process in Switzerland.
Police visited the fair about three times per day because the organisers wanted to make sure visitors and exhibitors know that cannabis consumption is still illegal in Switzerland even though, Kuhn thinks, the police often turn a blind eye.
"It is impossible to control everybody at the fair but we put up a sign at the entrance, reminding people that cannabis consumption is still illegal in Switzerland. We just want them to take care," he said.
The legalisation debate aside, doctors and researchers continue to assess the medical properties of the drug, which has been used for over 4,000 years.
There has been medical evidence, that cannabis extract eases pain for people, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatism, arthritis, acute nerve pain, and many other conditions.
"Eagle Bill", an American shaman living in Holland, claims he has a lot of experience with cannabis as medicine and uses a vaporiser for treating patients receiving chemotherapy.
"The cannabis vapour prevents people who receive chemotherapy from feeling sick all day long and it eases their pains," he told swissinfo.
"When people use vapour they can take the smallest amount and never really experience a high. It just makes them feel more comfortable," he said.
However, there were also less intoxicating products on sale at the fair, such as foodstuffs sold by Ruth Zwalen, who owns a hemp museum in canton Aargau.
She says her products are tested and will not make you high as she only uses hemp for its good taste and healthy effect.
"All our products have been tested in a laboratory and they are not designed to make you high. We use hemp because it tastes nice and it is also a very healthy substance," she told swissinfo.
Whether it is food, body care, cosmetics, fabrics, paper or medicine, the growing demand for hemp products and the increasing number of exhibitors at cannatrade shows that hemp is not only for smoking.
by Billi Bierling
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