Swiss cannabis studies get the green light

Around 200,000 people in Switzerand light up on a regular basis. Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Parliament has backed a legal change allowing for pilot studies that will distribute cannabis to control groups, in order to find out more about the effects of recreational use.

This content was published on September 9, 2020 - 13:20

The monitoring studies will be limited in size and duration, and will only include existing cannabis smokers over the age of 18, the Senate heard on Wednesday.

Interior Minister Alain Berset, who backed the amendment, said that the current situation was “unsatisfactory”. This is particularly the case in bigger cities like Bern, Geneva, Zurich and Basel, who have all expressed an interest in the potential of such trials, he said.

One third of the Swiss population has admitted to smoking cannabis at some point, while some 200,000 smoke regularly. But cannabis remains an illegal substance, and there is no oversight of the quality or origin of what’s consumed.

Opponents of the idea, from the political right and centre right, fear the project could pave the way towards more liberalisation. The conditions set for the trials are not strict enough, they say, and funding would be better invested in prevention campaigns.

Just one component of the law remains unclear: while the larger chamber of parliament wants all cannabis used to be Swiss and organically produced, the Senate reckons this isn’t feasible given the limited local availability.

The debate around the tests goes back to 2017, when the University of Bern applied to begin such a study but was told by the Federal Office of Public Health that legislation only allowed cannabis use for medical reasons.

In 2008, almost two-thirds of Swiss voters rejected an initiative to decriminalise cannabis for personal consumption; it was the second national vote on the issue in a decade.

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