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Swiss defend drugs policy

Switzerland is known to have a more liberal attitude towards drugs Keystone

The Swiss interior minister, Pascal Couchepin, has defended the government's drugs policy at a meeting in the Irish capital, Dublin.

This content was published on October 17, 2003 - 19:10

But the country faced strong criticism from European countries and the United Nations who say Switzerland’s stance on drugs is too liberal.

Speaking at the meeting, which was aimed at coordinating drug programmes throughout the continent, Couchepin said Swiss drug policy was aimed at bringing the law into line with reality.

The two-day meeting, attended by more than 30 European ministers, comes just weeks after the House of Representatives rejected government proposals to decriminalise cannabis.

However, Switzerland is still considered to have a liberal drugs policy and has come in for criticism for its policy on cannabis, in particular.

Another point of contention is the country’s heroin programme for hard-drug addicts, which involves the provision of syringe exchanges and injection rooms. Addicts can also obtain heroin on prescription.

All legal

Chung-Yol Lee, the deputy director of the Federal Health Office, who attended the conference, insisted that Swiss drugs policy fell within international legal frameworks.

He told swissinfo that other countries were concerned about the decriminalisation of cannabis because they felt it would send the wrong message to young people – something Switzerland denies.

“It’s very important to send the message that we don’t promote the use of any kind of drugs,” said Lee.

“Our attitude is that our drug policy until now hasn’t been able to solve the problems, so we have to adapt to the new situation where more people - and young people - are using cannabis,” he added.

Muted reaction

There was a muted reaction to Couchepin’s speech at the conference defending Switzerland’s position, with some Nordic countries and the UN reiterating their position that the drugs problem could only be countered by a policy of repression.

Lee acknowledged that Switzerland was still considered too liberal by some countries, but said there had nonetheless been some interest in its policies.

“Some countries are in favour of cautiously trying innovative approaches, but others say that any kind of liberal drug policy is harmful,” Lee told swissinfo.

Even Couchepin admitted at the conference that Swiss drugs policy was a long way from far from gaining Europe-wide approval.

swissinfo, Karin Kamp and Isobel Johnson

In brief

The Swiss Interior Minister, Pascal Couchepin, has defended the government's drugs policy.

Switzerland faces strong criticism from European countries and the United Nations who say Switzerland’s attitude towards drugs is too liberal.

Couchepin said Swiss drug policy was aimed at bringing the law into line with reality, compared to other countries which operated a policy of repression.

He was speaking at a meeting of more than 30 European ministers in the Irish capital, Dublin, to coordinate drug programmes throughout the continent.

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