By Emily Ledger
The Swiss government is planning the launch of its eagerly awaited pilot scheme, designed to assess the implications of recreational cannabis legalisation. The scheme was approved by the Swiss parliament in September 2020, allowing the launch of the pilot from 15th May 2021.
While recreational cannabis remains illegal in Switzerland, the country has one of the most liberal approaches to the drug in Europe. For hemp cultivation, cannabis plants with a concentration of 1% THC are permitted. Furthermore, the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use was decriminalised in 2012.
The launch of pilot schemes in Switzerland could see the country continue this liberalisation of the plant in the coming years as well as collect much-needed data and real-world evidence to support further reforms in other areas of the world.
According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the aim of the regulation allowing these pilot schemes “is to increase knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of controlled access to cannabis, and to provide a sound scientific basis for possible decisions on the way the approach to cannabis is regulated.”
An amendment of Article 8a of the Federal Act on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (NarcA) will allow municipalities in the country to introduce a legal supply of recreational cannabis, following authorisation.
While an increasing number of European countries are beginning to consider cannabis reforms, the drug remains illegal across the continent. However, Luxembourg is expected to become the first European country to legalise the drug’s recreational use within the next couple of years.
How will the pilot schemes work?
Under the scheme, public and private entities will be permitted to launch a pilot access project in one municipality. A maximum of 5,000 registered citizens in each pilot would be able to access cannabis products for recreational use.
Volunteers will have to register with the federal government and will be presented with a certificate of approval that will be required for the purchase and possession of recreational cannabis products.
All points of sale will require approval by the federal health regulator and the organisers of each pilot will be expected to appoint qualified physicians to monitor the health of participating citizens. Volunteers for the schemes will also have to prove that they already consume cannabis prior to entering the pilot scheme.
Initially, pilot schemes will be permitted for up to five years – with the possibility of extending a further two years.
What products will be allowed?
Cannabis products used in these pilot schemes must be grown at approved production facilities within the country according to Swiss laws. Products will also meet Good Agricultural Practices set out by the European Medicines Agency.
Participants in the schemes will be able to access dried flower, extracts and edibles, however, THC content will be capped at 20% with edible products not containing more than 10mg of THC per unit.
Other schemes and reforms across Europe
Through this scheme, Switzerland will be the first European country to offer a legal supply of recreational cannabis, however, more exciting reforms and proposals are being put forward across the continent.
While tourists and foreigners often consider that recreational cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, this isn’t actually the case. In fact, cannabis has only been decriminalised in the country, through a legal amendment made in 1976. However, in contrast to other decriminalisation schemes around the world, the retail of cannabis at licensed retailers is also tolerated.
In spite of this, the cultivation of cannabis remains illegal in the country, meaning that coffeeshop owners are forced to rely on an illicit supply from the black market.
To address this contradiction, the Dutch government recently announced plans to introduce a pilot scheme that would assess the implications of creating a legal supply of cannabis. The program is expected to launch by the end of 2021, with approved growers supplying almost 80 outlets across 10 municipalities with legal cannabis products.
Back in 2018, Luxembourg’s government announced plans to reform the country’s cannabis policy. This came to a head a year later when plans to legalise recreational cannabis were announced.
The new legal cannabis market was originally cited to begin towards the end of 2021. However, the disruption caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic meant that the plan had to be filed away for more than a year.
The move would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalise adult-use recreational cannabis.