The Council of States wants to introduce a fixed penalty system for fining cannabis smokers, but has become mired in a debate on whether to hit tokers with 200 francs or 100 francs.

"/> The Council of States wants to introduce a fixed penalty system for fining cannabis smokers, but has become mired in a debate on whether to hit tokers with 200 francs or 100 francs.

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CANNABIS

Fixed dope smoking fines make slow progress

The Council of States wants to introduce a fixed penalty system for fining cannabis smokers, but has become mired in a debate on whether to hit tokers with 200 francs or 100 francs.

Currently people caught in possession of cannabis have to appear in court where a fine is assessed according to the details of each case. This is felt to be consuming too much court time and money, prompting the move to a fixed penalty system.

The National Council proposed in March to set a fine of 200 francs ($213), for adults found with less than 10 grams of cannabis – a higher penalty than that suggested by the Federal Council and a special committee. Those with more than 10 grams will still have to go to court.

A 200-franc fine was considered too high by Switzerland’s upper house, the Council of States, which is seeking to have it reduced to just 100 francs ($106), online news site 20 Minuten reported.

“200 francs is disproportionately high – especially compared to road traffic fines,” councillor Felix Gutzwiller for the Free Democratic Party of Switzerland told the website.

“100 francs is enough,” agreed fellow party member and President of the Health Commission, Christine Egerszegi.

Some, such as lawyer and Councillor Paul Rechsteiner from St Gallen believe that the fine should be reduced even further to just 50 francs ($53). The canton of St. Gallen has had the fixed penalty model in operation for some time – fining people in possession of up to five grams 50 francs.

“The aim of the fine model is to reduce criminalisation and not to increase the penalties,” he said.

Still others, such as Councillor for the Swiss People’s Party, Roland Eberle, said: “Punishing cannabis smokers is right. 200 francs is not terribly high.”

The Council of States will discuss the matter further on Monday.

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CANNABIS

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. 

 

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