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CANNABIS

UPDATE: What are Switzerland’s rules for cannabis consumption?

Switzerland has a complicated set of rules for both medical and recreational cannabis consumption. Here's what you need to know.

Cannabis use will be legal for medical purposes in Switzerland. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP)
Cannabis use will be legal for medical purposes in Switzerland. (Photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP)

Long prohibited and seen as a gateway drug with potentially dangerous impacts, countries across the globe have begun legalising cannabis in recent years. 

While the legalisation for medical use has been widespread, there have also been successful legalisation campaigns in several countries. 

The situation in Switzerland is also in flux and has been complicated by a range of recent changes.

Whether referred to as cannabis, marijuana or hemp, Switzerland’s Narcotics Act qualifies it as “a psychoactive substance”, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being its most intoxicating ingredient.

The law specifies that “only THC is controlled under the Narcotics Act. Other active substances like cannabidiol (CBD) are not subject to the Narcotics Act as they do not have comparable psychoactive effects”.

Here’s what you need to know. 

Switzerland has legalised medical marijuana 

As of August 1st, the use of cannabis for medical purposes will be allowed in Switzerland

Patients who are medically prescribed the drug will no longer need to seek exceptional permission from the health ministry, as was the case prior to August 1st. 

Demand for cannabis-based treatments has risen sharply, with the health ministry issuing 3,000 exceptional authorisations in 2019.

The government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients” and was therefore lifting the ban on its use for that purpose, it said in a statement.

The previous procedure involved “tedious administrative procedures”, said the ministry. “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy.”

As of August 1st, “the decision as to whether a cannabis medicinal product is to be used therapeutically will be made by the doctor together with the patient” the government wrote

The sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain prohibited.

READ MORE: Switzerland to lift ban on medical use cannabis

The new regulations could benefit thousands of people suffering from severe chronic pain, it added, including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

READ ALSO: Why Basel is about to become Switzerland’s marijuana capital

The law change will also mean that the cultivation, processing, manufacture and trade of cannabis for medical use will be subject to the Swissmedic regulatory authority, just as with other narcotics for medical use such as cocaine, methadone and morphine.

Legality of recreational cannabis is determined by the THC

THC of at least 1 percent is generally prohibited in Switzerland and use of products with this (or higher) content may be punishable by a 100-franc fine.

Of course, if someone is determined to smoke it, 100 francs may not be much a deterrent — but that’s a subject for another article.

“By contrast, possession of up to 10g of cannabis for personal use is not considered a criminal offence”, the law states, as long as it is not used by or sold to minors.

Italy's constitutional court has blocked the latest efforts to legalise cannabis.

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

And, as with nearly everything else in decentralised Switzerland, “there are still considerable differences between cantons regarding implementation of the fixed penalty procedure”.

However, “cannabis flowers intended for smoking with a high proportion of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than 1 percent THC can be sold and purchased legally”, according to the legislation. 

That’s because, unlike the THC, cannabidiol “does not have a psychoactive effect”.

In other words, low-content THC and CBD will not give the “high” that recreational users seek.

When will Switzerland legalise recreational cannabis?

Currently, small amounts of recreational cannabis are tolerated in Switzerland.

“The decisive factor for classification as a banned drug is how much THC is contained in a cannabis product. If the THC content exceeds one per cent, the product is prohibited. Hashish is prohibited regardless of its THC content.”

As noted by the Swiss government, “If you are caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis (no more than 10 grams) for your own consumption, you will not be fined. In addition, if you supply (but do not sell) up to 10 grams to an adult, e.g. when sharing joints, you will not be fined.”

“If you are caught using cannabis, you may be given a fixed penalty fine of 100 francs.”

In June 2020, the National Council approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use.

The experiments are to be carried out in Switzerland’s larger cities. Basel, Bern, Biel, Geneva and Zurich have all expressed interest in conducting the trials. 

The study seeks to find out how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation will also be examined. 

At this point, no decisions have been made. However, Swiss authorities have set certain conditions in case recreational use is approved.

The National Council said if cannabis were to be legalised, it must be locally grown in Switzerland – and it must be organic. 

Health Minister Alain Berset noted that legalisation should benefit Swiss farmers even though “very few producers have experience in this area”.

READ MORE: Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Can you grow your own cannabis?

In truth, a number of people cultivate marijuana plants on their balconies or in their (secluded) gardens for their own personal use.

As it turns out, the law allows it, as long as it is a variety of the plant that does not have a narcotic effect — that is, the THC content must be less than 1 percent. 

By the same token, cannabis-based products with THC content of below 1 percent can be brought into Switzerland from abroad.

However, the import rules differ depending on the type of product  it is — flowers, seeds, extracts, oils, or other goods.

How much cannabis is consumed in Switzerland each year?

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but according to an article in Le Temps, which based its information on a medical study, about 100 tonnes are consumed in the country annually.

Cannabis remains the largest market in terms of volume: it represents 85 percent of drugs consumed in Switzerland, netting between 340, 000 and 500,000 francs per year.

READ MORE: Drugs and alcohol: Just how much do the Swiss consume?

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For members

HEALTH

Why Switzerland wants babies to be vaccinated against chickenpox

In their updated guidelines for 2023, Swiss health officials are recommending immunising infants against this contagious childhood illness by their first birthday.

Why Switzerland wants babies to be vaccinated against chickenpox

The shots are recommended at nine and 12 months, to be administered at the same time as the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, according to new recommendations released on Monday by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Federal Vaccination Commission.

In issuing these guidelines, to go into effect on January 1st, 2023, Switzerland is joining 45 other countries that recommend chickenpox vaccine as part of their public health policies.

Why are Swiss health authorities recommending this vaccine?

There are two main reasons: health and economic.

On the health front, although chickenpox is generally considered to be a mild disease with no long-term side effects, it is not always harmless, according to FOPH.

“Out of 100,000 patients, one to two children die of complications; among those over 16, the number of deaths is around 20 per 100,000”, health officials say.

However, “routine vaccination from early childhood reduces the burden of disease in all age groups. In the medium term, it will also reduce the number of cases of shingles in children and young adults, as well as, in the long term, in older people”.

Shingles is a painful skin condition caused by the dormant chickenpox virus, but it is believed that vaccines protect against it; research shows that kids who were immunised against chickenpox had a 78-percent lower risk of developing shingles.

But there are economic benefits as well.

Specifically, the number of days that parents take off work to care for their children who catch chickenpox would drop.

While the costs generated by large-scale vaccination campaign would increase slightly, overall healthcare costs are likely fall, FOPH points out.

The reason is that “the number of cases would decrease by 88 to 90 percent, that of hospitalisations by 62 to 69 percent, and that of deaths by 75 to 77 percent”.

 Additionally, costs for chickenpox-related doctor visits would go down as well.

‘Recommendation’ does not mean ‘obligation’

Many parents may not want to immunise their young children against chickenpox, believing it is not necessary to do so.

It is important to keep in mind that the government is merely recommending the vaccine, not making it mandatory.

The topic of compulsory vaccinations reached a head during the Covid pandemic, with some strongly opposing what they considered to be an untested and potentially harmful injection.

However, the Swiss government repeatedly said that there would be no mandatory jab order — either for Covid or other infectious diseases.

That is because everyone in Switzerland has a constitutional right to “self-determination”, including in matters of health.

In fact, even though the government recommends a number of childhood vaccines (including measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, mumps, and rubella), it is up to parents to decide whether to follow these official recommendations.

And since immunisations are not mandatory, no public school can turn away a child because he or she had not had the recommended shots.

However, the key word here is “public”. Private schools can make their own rules.

In 2019, for the first time in Switzerland, a network of private nursery schools called Kita ruled that all children attending their facilities must be vaccinated against at least measles and whooping cough. If parents refuse to comply, the children will be denied attendance.

Generally speaking, any private institution can deny admission to unvaccinated children, as they are not held to the same standards as public schools; however, no official data shows any other private establishments following Kita’s example to date.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why vaccinations are not mandatory in Switzerland

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