One in four Swiss under the age of 20 take cannabis regularly according to a new study. The findings suggest that some 87,000 people take the drug daily, and that most Swiss believe it should be decriminalised.
The results of the study, presented in Bern on Thursday, reveal that a majority of Swiss voters support government moves to decriminalise cannabis. The survey, commissioned by the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Addiction, canvassed the opinions of 1,600 people between the ages of 15 and 74.
It found that a quarter of Swiss under the age of 20 take cannabis regularly, and that more than one in three have tried the drug at least once. Those numbers are said to be constantly on the increase.
"There has been a steep increase in the number of 15-16 year olds that smoke cannabis in Switzerland, as in the rest of Europe and North America," the head of the Institute, Richard Müller, told swissinfo.
"This, along with the growing tendency to binge drink, is due to a large change in youngsters' basic values and a tendency towards a kind of hedonism."
Müller said youngsters nowadays smoke joints or get drunk because of a deep sense of uncertainty about their future - at a professional and personal level.
"Lots of teenagers are pessimistic about their future. They see that a majority of people close to the age of 30 are no longer in the professions they trained for during their apprenticeships," he explained.
"Things are changing rapidly, and the fear of not being able to adapt quickly enough leads youngsters to seek forms of escape like cannabis or alcohol."
The Institute's aim is not to stop the younger generation from trying cannabis - Müller says it's only natural for people to want to experiment - but to stem the increasing numbers of teenagers who no longer use the drug simply for recreational purposes.
The study also revealed that 70 per cent of Swiss believe current legalisation - under which cannabis remains illegal - is not working. Some 54 per cent said laws prohibiting the consumption, production and trade in the drug should be relaxed.
The results show that although cannabis laws are strictest in the French-speaking cantons, consumption there tends to be highest. Nearly 40 per cent of French-speaking Swiss say they have taken cannabis at least once, compared to 32 per cent in German-speaking parts, and 28 in Italian-speaking canton Ticino.
The Swiss institute for alcohol and drug problems said it endorsed the government's plans to decriminalise the drug, but said the trade should continue to be illegal.
It said consumption in public places should be restricted in the same way as cigarette smoking, and called for a prevention campaign to discourage the use of cannabis.
swissinfo with agencies