The University of Bern has been told it cannot conduct a study on the effects of the regulated sale of cannabis in pharmacies on behalf of the city’s authorities. The Federal Office of Public Health says the legal framework does not exist to authorise such a scientific project.
In May 2017, researchers from the university’s Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine and the Clinical Trials Unit filed a request with the health office for an authorisation to carry out a scientific study on the effects of the regulated sale of cannabis for recreational purposes via pharmacies. It also planned to study the illegal cannabis market in the Swiss capital.
In a written replyexternal link published on Tuesday, the Federal Office of Public Health said the request could not be accepted as “current drugs legislation does not allow the use of cannabis for non-medical reasons”.
“For such a study to be permitted, the law would have to be supplemented by a special legal provision for scientific pilot projects,” it wrote.
The office did not reject the pilot project outright, saying from a health policy perspective “such projects explore new approaches by society to cannabis”.
“It would therefore in principle be desirable to be able to scientifically analyse new forms of regulation,” it added. The institute has 30 days to appeal the decision.
Growing, consuming and dealing cannabis are all forbidden in Switzerland. Exceptions are possible for scientific research or limited medical use. But like a simple traffic offence, anyone over 18 caught in possession of up to ten grams of cannabis can be fined CHF100 ($101) and not get a criminal record.
In 2008, almost two-thirds of Swiss voters rejected a citizens’ initiative calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis consumption. Despite this, in recent years there have been a number proposals for the regulated distribution of cannabis in Switzerland.
Big cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Basel have proposed pilot projects studying the effects of controlled consumption of cannabis within associations (known as “cannabis social clubs”). The city of Bern announced the launch of a project to study the effects of the regulated sale of cannabis in pharmacies. Together they propose regulating the cannabis market, in order to combat the black market effectively.
Meanwhile, legal cannabis has become a flourishing business in Switzerland in recent months. Switzerland changed its laws in 2011 to let adults buy and use cannabis with up to 1% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the active ingredient that gets smokers high. It is used alongside another active ingredient, cannabidiol (CBD), in a growing range of cannabis-related products, from cosmetics to drinks.
The small alpine nation has long played a pioneering role in drug policy. In 1986, it was the first to open shelters for addicts and in 1994 it medically prescribed heroin.
For the past 25 years, Switzerland has applied a four-pronged approach: prevention, therapy, damage limitation and repression. This pragmatic policy was born out of the Zurich drug problems of the 1980s and 1990s. Switzerland’s strategy was controversial when it was introduced in 1991. However, since then it has been partly reproduced in many other countries.