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Swiss want to reopen pot legalization debate

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Photo: Mateusz Atroszko
11:02 CET+01:00
A Swiss parliamentary committee looking into drug issues wants to reopen the debate on the legalization of marijuana in the wake of developments in the US, Uruguay and New Zealand.

“Many models that exist around the world should be studied and analyzed, that is the basis of our reflection,” Toni Berthel, committee president and a member of the Swiss association for addiction, is quoted as saying by the ATS news agency.

Berthel confirmed information reported on Sunday by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly newspaper about the new look at Swiss cannabis laws.

The American state of Colorado recently liberalized laws permitting stores to sell small quantities of cannabis to individuals, who are legally allowed to possess up to one ounce of pot while travelling, although smoking the drug in public remains banned.

“The members of our committee want also to be informed on the different experiences in the matter of controlled sale of pyschotropic substances,” Berthel said.

“Consumers (of cannabis), the young notably, are still exposed to the black market in Switzerland, which is not a panacea.”

Switzerland moved to liberalize its drug laws with legislation taking effect on October 1st 2013 that made possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketing offence.

The change in the law authorizes police officers to issue 100-franc ($110) tickets for adults found in possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less.

Up to 500,000 people in Switzerland use marijuana at least occasionally, according to estimates, although it remains an illegal drug.

A survey published last October for the federal office of public health showed that more than 20 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 had consumed cannabis in the prior 12-month period.

Last year, ATS reported that around 30,000 pot-related cases ended up in the courts, something which the ticketing law aimed to reduce.

Approaches vary from one canton to another, with the canton of Ticino taking a harder line against illegal drugs than cantons such as Fribourg.

Someone caught with ten grams of cannabis could face a fine of up to 3,000 francs in Ticino, while in Fribourg the same offence could draw a 50-franc fine.

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Changes to cannabis laws appears to be making greater headway at the cantonal level than at the federal level.

MPs from the canton of Geneva, for example, are already looking into possible models for the sale of marijuana, including “coffee shops” such as those in the Netherlands, where pot can be legally purchased and consumed.

Other possibilities include specialized shops, medical access and associations of cannabis users.

On Tuesday, a working group with representatives from Zurich, Basel, Geneva and Bern will discuss possible projects “in the field of cannabis regulation”, Schweiz am Sonntag reported. 

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