Switzerland Moves Forward with Cannabis in All its Forms
A new pilot program will help the country decide future legalization.
While most of the eyes of global cannabis advocates are on the efforts of Germany to fully legalize cannabis, plenty of other countries are beginning to explore opening up their countries to the growing industry. Malta has already legalized personal use, while portions of Spain have hosted cannabis clubs, selling homegrown plants made by their members. Following in their footsteps is Switzerland, which in August not only legalized medical cannabis and its exports, but will also this fall start a pilot program in Basel-stadt, where up to 370 of its citizens will receive high-THC cannabis. Findings from this program will eventually inform whether or not Switzerland chooses to legalize high-THC products for its citizens, and how.
The program, called Weed Care, will offer up to four different types of flower and two types of hash concentrates to the participants. Prices for the products will range from €8-12, in keeping with prices on the street. In exchange, the participants will complete surveys on their usage. The program will last for two and a half years and is being conducted in part by Basel University.
The Basel-Stadt Government mentioned that the program, which will start on September 15th, will help inform the government’s future decisions by measuring public health metrics of a cross-section of the country’s estimated 200,000 cannabis users. "The scientific knowledge gained from this provides a basis for discussion for a future responsible cannabis policy," it said in a statement.
This move, approved in April by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) in April, comes at the heels of further liberalization of the country’s medical cannabis program. Prior to August, patients needed special permission by the FOPH to receive their medicine, which now can be filled as a regular prescription. The state also can export medical cannabis freely as well. However, by legal definition, medical cannabis products are high-CBD products, with less than 1% THC. This leaves many people who consume high-THC cannabis products, whether recreationally or for medicinal purposes, to procure it on the street.
Switzerland's Four-Pillar Model
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, a statewide heroin epidemic forced Switzerland to think more openly about its drug policy. Adopting a “four-pillar model” which embraced prevention, treatment, harm reduction and law enforcement, Switzerland managed to create a more liberalized, less punitive response to growing hard drugs numbers that was also localized within its cantons, or states. These initiatives showed positive results which cut overdose deaths in half and HIV infection rates by 65% between 1991 and 2010, and inspired leaders around the world, including the United States
Switzerland’s Weed Care program, as well as its move to take its foot off the brake in medical cannabis, follows in the footsteps of such innovations. Similar trials are being developed in Zurich, Bern and Geneva, which will gather data on how legal cannabis consumption patterns will change once it’s made legally available and if consumers prefer state cannabis to illegally procured products. However, a healthy legal market does wait in the wings, with estimates between $520 million to $1.03 billion dollars estimated for the wider Swiss market. However, for now, the administrators of the Basel-stadt program are circumspect in their goals for the project. As Basel medical director Lukas Engelberger said to Euronews, "It's not about full legalization - but regulation - where consumption is possible in a protected setting. That's what we want to test now."