The Swiss National Council has rejected a bill allowing the use of cannabis in academic studies that investigate the drug and its effects. Opponents fear that the bill can be a back-door route towards marijuana legalization.
We have reported in March that the Swiss Council of States, which is Switzerland’s smaller chamber of parliament with 46 members, has unanimously approved a bill allowing cannabis studies in the country, as well as pilot projects.
The Council is pushing for an experiment article in the Swiss Federation’s Narcotics Act that would pave the way for scientific programs, which include trials of cannabis distribution using the coffee shop model — just like the one used in the Netherlands.
The bill then advanced to the National Council, which is the larger chamber of parliament with 200 members.
In an update, the National Council rejected the proposed legislation.
What is the bill about?
First off, cannabis is illegal in the country. However, in 2012, the possession of small amounts of the drug has been decriminalized.
In 2016, four cities — Bern, Zurich, Geneva, and Basel — stated that they were establishing pilot cannabis coffee shops and clubs. These pilot projects would have studied the drug and gauged its uses and its effects.
The Federal Office of Public Health, however, shut down these pilot projects in November 2017. The healthy ministry had asserted that there is no legal basis for these exceptions to the Narcotics Act and that the experiment paragraph should be added to make amendments to the Narcotics Act.
Supporters of the project want to make marijuana available for academic studies on the effects of the drug, claiming that it would also allow for a better understanding of the social and health problems related to cannabis consumption.
Why oppose the bill?
The bill was rejected by the National Council by a slim margin, with 96 voting against it, 93 voting in favor, and two abstaining.
The centrist Christian Democrats and the conservative-right Swiss People’s Party voted en masse to reject the bill. They saw the proposal as an implicit route towards legalizing the use of cannabis.
Switzerland widely tolerates cannabis
According to government estimates, around 200,000 to 300,000 Swiss regularly use cannabis.
In 2012, possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana has been decriminalized. Those caught in possession of small quantities of the drug are subject to penalties that vary among cantons. In most of them, however, offenders no longer get punished.
Meanwhile, those caught using cannabis in public spaces will be required to pay a minor fine, which is usually 100 Swiss francs.
Moreover, a number of coffee shops already legally sell high-CBD (or high-cannabidiol) cannabis flowers, which contain less than 1% of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is the psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis and is responsible for creating the high and the mind-altering effect of the drug. CBD, on the other hand, is the non-psychoactive ingredient of cannabis. This is why CBD-dominant products are generally used for medical purposes.
In fact, the use of CBD is so widespread in the country that the Zurich police started to use a rapid testing device to enable them to determine whether a cannabis flower has low or high THC levels and whether it is within legal limits.
Under Swiss law, any cannabis product that contains up to 1% of THC is considered as legal fiber hemp. With this 1% allowable THC content, Switzerland has a higher threshold compared to other European countries, as well as the United States and Canada – whose maximum legal limit for hemp products is only 0.3% of THC.
And because Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it is free to set its very own cannabis policies.