Pot smokers to get off with small fine

Cannabis smokers caught with less than 10 grams of the drug will now only be subject to a 200 franc ($219) fine.

Pot smokers to get off with small fine
Mateusz Atroszko (File)

The National Council voted on Wednesday to amend the Swiss narcotics law in a move that police warn could make tracing dealers more difficult, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

Adults aged 18 years or more caught with 10 grams of cannabis or less will no longer be the subject of what can be expensive and time-consuming criminal proceedings, but will instead be hit with an administrative penalty more akin to a speeding fine.

“Police can focus on the pursuit of drug trafficking rather than scatter its resources in pursuit of the consumers,” Social Democrat, Marina Carrobio, told newspaper Tribune de Genève.

But the Secretary General of the Association of Swiss Police Officers, Max Hoffmann, queried whether the new approach makes sense given that court proceedings would follow in any event where the individual had not paid his fine within 30 days.

Critically, Hoffmann fears that the anonymity of those receiving fines removes a major weapon from the police armoury in the fight against the major drug dealers, as there would be less opportunity for the police to obtain testimonial evidence, Tages Anzeiger reported.

Ticino Prosectuor, Antonio Perugini, also fears the move will affect prosecutions of the dealers.

“Without questioning the consumer, the fight against cannabis dealers is more difficult, because often we have nothing in hand except for their statements,” Perugini told Tages Anzeiger.

The debate was described as emotional by newspaper Tribune de Genève, which reported that the National Council tried to find a balance between those on the one hand who believe cannabis smoking to be recreational and unworthy of so much police and court time, and those who believe that such a penalty sends the wrong signal to young people.

The far-right Swiss People’s Party and the Conservative Democratic Party of Switzerland are angry at the perceived move towards legalization of cannabis, particularly given that the people voted against legalization three years ago, Tribune de Genève reported.

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Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials – with one condition

Switzerland’s Council of States has approved a plan to start cannabis trials for recreational use, but only 'experienced cannabis users' should apply.

Switzerland backs recreational cannabis trials - with one condition
A file photo of the opening of a cannabis clinic in Thailand. Image: Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
The study, which was approved by the Council of States on Wednesday, hopes to find out more about the effects that a controlled legalisation of the drug would have in Switzerland. 

As reported in Swiss news outlet Watson, the government is looking “only for adults who already use cannabis to take part in the study”. 

The proposal was previously approved by Switzerland's lower house – the National Council – in June. 

The decision to embark upon the trial was to be made in March but was delated due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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. 

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

The study wants to understand how the market for cannabis works – and how to combat the black market. The social effects of legalisation are also set to be studied. 

“The models must be tested before starting the debate on whether or not to liberalise cannabis,” said Pierre-Yves Maillard (Social Democrats), a spokesperson for the responsible committee. 

Only people who currently use cannabis – and can prove it – will be allowed to participate. Proof will be determined through a hair sample. 

‘Organic and Swiss’

There remains one sticking point between Switzerland's lower and upper house.

While the National Council has demanded that Swiss-grown, organic cannabis be used as part of the trial – the Council of States has said it does not want to make this a requirement. 

Instead, organic, Swiss-grown cannabis must be used in the trial “wherever possible”, with the Council of States noting that such cannabis is hard to find.

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

200,000 cannabis users in Switzerland

An estimated 200,000 people smoke cannabis products in Switzerland. Those in favour of the new trial argue that this shows the war on drugs has failed – and that legalisation will 

Since 2011, the sale of cannabis products containing up to one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the ingredient that makes users high – has been legal in Switzerland.

Regular strength cannabis and other associated products such as hashish are also illegal, although small amounts (less than ten grams) are decriminalised and will only attract a 100 franc on-the-spot fine. 

A poll by the World Health Organisation showed that more teenagers smoked in Switzerland than in any other European country, with 27 percent of 15 year olds having smoked at least once. 

The use of cannabis for medical purposes is also heavily restricted in Switzerland, with only one product – CBD oil – legally available for sale.