Seven out of ten foreign criminals deported from Switzerland

A total of 71 percent of foreigners convicted of crimes subject to a mandatory detention order last year were ordered to leave the country, new figures show.

Seven out of ten foreign criminals deported from Switzerland
The infamous 'black sheep' campaign poster from the 2016 initiative calling for foreign criminals to be automatically deported from Switzerland. Photo: AFP

That is a slight rise on the 69 percent registered in 2017.

In total, 1,702 foreign adults were handed deportation orders, according to the figures on criminal convictions published by the Federal Statistics Office.

The largest number of orders (649) related to serious drug offences, while 425 orders were issued for convictions for serious cases of theft and 97 orders were for robbery offences.

Most of the convicted criminals were men, and most did not hold a Swiss B (resident foreign national) or C (settled foreign national) permit, the FSO said in a statement (here in German).

Read also: Crime in Switzerland – what the latest figures reveal

Just 25 percent of B and C permit holders were handed deportation orders while this rate was 91 percent for other foreign nationals.

Criminal convictions for theft and fraud, including social security fraud, were not included in the statistics, with the statistics agency saying criminal records did not provide enough detail in those cases.

A highly political issue

The issue of deportation of foreign criminals is highly political in Switzerland.

The law allowing for such deportations came into force in 2017 after Swiss voters backed a popular initiative on the subject proposed by the right-wing, anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP).

Under the law, foreigners can be expelled for 5–15 years for committing serious crimes including intentional homicide, serious assault and sexual acts with children among others. Repeat offenders can be expelled for 20 years or even for life.

Hardship clause gives judges elbow room

But the law also contains elbow room for judges in the form of a “hardship clause”. This sees courts able to refrain from deporting someone if expulsion would involve serious personal hardship to the person involved – a provision which recognises the special position of the many people born and raised in Switzerland who do not hold a Swiss passport.

Last year, the new system came under intense fire from the SVP after the statistics office published data showing just 54 percent of eligible criminals had actually been handed a deportation order.

The SVP described the figures as an “absolute scandal” and said the hardship clause was being used as a way to get around the new law.

The FSO was then forced to revise its figures which had originally included types of fraud that are not actually subject to mandatory expulsion orders. The final figure was thus revised up to 69 percent.

In its statement of Monday, however, the statistics agency noted that courts did not give reasons as to why criminals had not been handed a mandatory detention order. 

This meant that no statements could be made as to how the “hardship clause” was being used, the agency said, noting that there were a variety of reasons deportation orders were not issued, including cases where criminals had acted in self defence, or where they came from a country which is part of the EU free movement of people area.

In 2016, the SVP launched a campaign which would have seen foreign criminals convicted of even minor crimes expelled. But voters rejected this at the ballot box.

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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.

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

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?