Last year Swiss military authorities handed out 600 sentences to army recruits caught using cannabis.This content was published on May 18, 2002 - 12:04
Drugs have become a major issue in the Swiss army after six trainee officers were thrown out of the corps for using cocaine. The men admitted last week to having consumed up to 20 grammes of the drug.
The discovery that recruits were using hard drugs came as a surprise, but the fact that soldiers regularly consume soft drugs has been well documented in recent years.
Every year, 25,000 young Swiss spend time doing basic training at army recruiting schools. Recent surveys have shown that around 30 per cent of these recruits are regular cannabis users, up from just 6.6 per cent in 1978.
Switzerland not alone
"Our army is very much a reflection of Swiss society," said Gianpiero Lupi, the Swiss army's highest-ranked doctor.
Lupi adds that Switzerland is not the only country with a militia-based army suffering from this type of problem, citing Austria and Norway as further examples.
The Swiss army has responded to incidents of drug abuse within its ranks since the early 1990s with a series of educational programmes.
"We aren't a drug treatment service, but we can help convince people to stay away from drugs," Lupi told swissinfo.
But the prevention programmes have not stopped the average age of soft drug users from falling in recent years.
In a direct response to the most recent incidents of drug abuse, the head of the land forces, Jacques Dousse, has ordered closer surveillance and checks of the army's barracks.
Police officers with sniffer dogs are now being used to check the barracks when the soldiers are absent.
Though Switzerland has recently softened its stance regarding the consumption of soft drugs, the practice remains illegal.
"Military service is compulsory, but we can't use recruits who are getting high, because they represent a real safety risk," said Peter Bolliger, head of the army's educational psychology service.
"The active substance in cannabis, THC, is stored in body fat. It can be freed when the body is put under stress."
Bolliger says stressful situations are an inevitable part of day-to-day life as a military recruit.
"The unpredictability of a cannabis user's behaviour is a real safety problem," Bolliger told swissinfo.
He believes the best solution to the ongoing liberalization of soft drug consumption is to bring into force a different set of rules for people doing military service.
"For example, army drivers aren't allowed to have any alcohol in their blood, whereas civilian drivers can have a level of up to 0.8 per thousand."
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