The cannabis legalization movement is gathering pace around the globe and now Switzerland is considering legalizing the plant. A bill was unanimously approved by Switzerland’s lower chamber, the Swiss Council of States, which permits studies and pilot programs for cannabis. The Council is seeking to experiment with the Swiss Federation’s Narcotics Act, by introducing an article which would permit trialling Amsterdam-style “coffeeshops” for scientific research purposes. The move has popular support, with five cities in favor of trying such a program.
Until now, the Ministry of Health was solidly against making exceptions in the Narcotics Act, saying that there was no legal basis for doing so, reaffirming this stance as recently as November 2017. Now, the Ministry of Health says that any amendments to the Narcotics Act must come in the form of an “experiment paragraph.” The City of Bern would then be able to review applications for coffeeshops and make their own decisions.
Robert Zanetti, a Social Democrat MP, said that for effective cannabis regulation, it was essential for the country to work from science-based principles. Pilot programs have been requested by the City of Bern multiple times. The latest proposal would permit 1,000 cannabis users to purchase products legally from pharmacies. This project would then be scientifically evaluated and used to help form future Swiss cannabis policies.
The National Council, Switzerland’s larger parliamentary chamber, must now vote on the bill. The Council of States is akin to the U.S. House of Representatives, with 46 members elected to represent their respective Swiss cantons. With 200 members, the National Council is considerably bigger. Together, the chambers make up the Swiss Federal Assembly and convene in Bern, the Swiss capital.
The Swiss are fairly accepting of marijuana
Compared to many European countries, the Swiss are fairly relaxed about marijuana, with possession up to 10 grams decriminalized. The government estimates that 200,000 to 300,000 Swiss are regular cannabis consumers. Most cantons do not punish for cannabis possession. However, using cannabis in public can get you a fine of 100 Swiss francs (around $100).
Coffeeshops have already popped up around the country, with these stocking high-CBD, low-THC cannabis – all strains must conform to maximum THC levels of 1 percent. The Swiss have become curious about cannabis thanks to the sensible legislation surrounding CBD, and the plant is steadily making its way into Swiss culture.
In fact, CBD-dominant strains are now so popular, that Zurich police have had to introduce a device that can tell the difference between legal high-CBD strains and illegal high-THC cannabis.
By capping THC percentages at 1 percent, Switzerland takes a less strict position on the medicinal-yet-psychoactive cannabinoid than the United States and Canada. Swiss Federation law classifies strains with less than 1 percent THC as legal fiber hemp. Switzerland has the power to enact its own cannabis legislation since it isn’t a member of the European Union.
Switzerland legalized marijuana in the 1990s
Swiss cannabis advocates picked up on a loophole in the Narcotics Act almost 20 years ago. This legislative blunder, which failed to mention THC when distinguishing between marijuana and hemp effectively meant that people could cultivate cannabis for personal use and even sell it to others. All that vendors had to do was state that the cannabis was for “aromatherapy” usage.
Hemp shops, known as ‘Hanflädelis’, emerged all over the country – starting in Zurich – stocking affordable cannabis flower and hash products. They were, unsurprisingly, a sensation.
In fact, Switzerland could have been one of the most cannabis-progressive countries on the planet had it not bowed to United Nations pressure back in 2001. The Council of States passed a legalization bill and the National Council was likely to vote for it too. Unfortunately, the UN was still waging a drug war in the early 2000s and demanded that the Swiss keep in line with the 1961 Single Convention and keep cannabis illegal. The ultimately regressive international convention was spearheaded by Harry J. Anslinger, a notorious government official supportive of cannabis prohibition.
That France and Germany, Switzerland’s next door neighbors had voiced noisy concerns about the influx of marijuana into their countries didn’t help Switzerland’s pro-legalization argument.
Switzerland was under no obligation to concede to the United Nations demands since they weren’t members at the time. However, after years of neutrality, the Swiss folded to international pressure and joined in September 2002. The law that the Council of States passed had to be rejected, and the National Council never got a vote. The Swiss had to choose between joining the United Nations or legalizing marijuana. Sadly, for cannabis activists and users, they opted for the former.
Switzerland held a national referendum to legalize marijuana in 2008 which was unsuccessful. Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Basel have all pushed for pilot programs which would pave the way for legal cannabis in the past 10 years, as have smaller towns.
Sixteen years after they were first promised a say, the National Council of Switzerland is once again due to vote on legalizing marijuana. There is certainly some support for the bill in the Grand Chamber, although a close vote is anticipated.