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Switzerland to Lift Ban on Medical Cannabis

According to an amendment to Swiss Narcotics Act approved by parliament in March 2021, the Swiss government declared that they will lift the prohibition on medical marijuana on June 22. According to Agence France Presse, the government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients.”

“The decision to use a cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic purposes will rest with the doctor, in consultation with the patient,” the government said of the amendment. Since August 1, patients won’t need permission from Federal Office of Public Health. It will be illegal to sell or consume adult-use cannabis.

In Switzerland, medical cannabis is only allowed for patients with a doctor’s approval, or previously required approval from the FOPH. Medical cannabis can still be used if it contains less than 0.1% THC and has been licensed. Only Sativex can be prescribed to patients at this time.

The country’s federal public law institution, Swissmedic, which is responsible for both “authorization and supervision of therapeutic products” including cocaine, methadone, and morphine could eventually be directed to manage the cannabis industry going forward.

In 2019, approximately 3,000 cannabis patients with a variety of medical conditions were authorized by FOPH. However, the FOPH described this process as “tedious administrative procedures.” “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy,” it stated.

In September 2021, the Switzerland government approved a recreational cannabis trial called “Zuri Can,” which is expected to begin this summer. There was one caveat, requiring that only “experienced users” should apply to participate, and this is verified by testing hair samples instead of urine or blood tests. Basel in Switzerland will hold the trial. The program will examine results from approximately 400 applicants who are approved to purchase recreational cannabis at specific pharmacies.

In June 2022, EBP and University of Geneva conducted a study on the legalization of cannabis. According to researcher’s findings, approximately 56 tons of cannabis is consumed every year in Switzerland. This data shows that adult-use marijuana sales revenue could reach $582 million Swiss Francs (CHF) annually. The industry could generate 0.06% of the country’s economy, which is roughly the same contribution as Appenzell Innerrhoden, the country’s smallest canton by population and area. Legal cannabis could also provide up to 4,400 full time jobs, in comparison to the country’s Swiss accident insurance, which has about 4,200 employees.

Establishing a legal framework to allow cannabis legalization is beneficial, as we have seen in many other countries. Study author and Research Associate at the Institute of Sociological Research of the University of Geneva Dr. Oliver Hoff explains that it’s time that Swiss cannabis laws received an update. “The simulation shows, that the current form of regulation produces [an] economically inefficient result,” Hoff said in a statement. “While artificially high profit margins enable illegal actors to generate generous profits, consumers suffer from inadequate transparency regarding products and quality. The healthcare system and preventative measures have a hard time accessing consumers with problematic consumption patterns and the state lacks access regarding regulatory, fiscal and public-health oriented initiatives.”

Adrian Gschwend from FOPH, Head of Policy and Implementation provided an explanation about why this study was conducted. “The study comes precisely at the right time as the commission for social and healthcare issues of the national assembly has recently started a legislative proposal regarding the legalisation of cannabis,” Gschwend said. “The results show that both the current illicit market as well as a liberal commercial market inflicts costs on the public while individuals generate big profits. We thus need a well-regulated market that ensures both protection for children and adolescents as well as health protection measure.”