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How you can help others in Switzerland during the coronavirus pandemic

Want to help out during the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s how.

How you can help others in Switzerland during the coronavirus pandemic
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The outbreak of the coronavirus has placed unprecedented strain on healthcare workers and other authorities, particularly those who serve the most vulnerable members of the community. 

With plenty of residents of Switzerland now working from home, having their hours cut or even losing their job completely, several of our readers have gotten in touch to ask how they can help out during the crisis. 

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, there are some organisations here which have been set up to help those in need. 

The majority of the following can be used across Switzerland, while there are other apps which are restricted to one region like Zurich and Basel

Red Cross ‘Five Up’ app

The Red Cross and the Swiss Public Utility Society launched an app which coordinates volunteer groups with people who wish to help out. 

Called ‘Five Up’, the app is available in four languages – English, German, French and Italian – and has a special sector dedicated to the coronavirus. 

More than 40,000 people have signed up to do a range of tasks including shopping for at risk people or watching their children when the have to work. 

Although both the volunteers and those in need of assistance need to have the app in order to communicate, hotlines have been set up for people to call who may be in need of assistance but do not have a smart phone. 

The numbers are 058 400 41 43 in French-speaking Switzerland and 058 400 41 41 in German-speaking Switzerland. 

Help Now Switzerland

The Help Now platform links people who want to help with those who need it the most. 

Unlike some of the other help campaigns, there are a wide variety of different forms of assistance someone using the app can provide. 

As yet, it is not available in English, but can be accessed in German and in French

Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

For medical workers

Although Swiss authorities have said that hospitals are not at capacity, some areas of the country have been harder hit than others. 

The canton of Ticino, which borders the heavily hit region of northern Italy, has had just under a third of the country’s total deaths from the virus – despite having only four percent of the population. 

On Sunday, March 30th, Ticino authorities asked anyone who lived in the canton with medical experience – who was not already working in the health sector – to register to join the workforce. 

Anyone who fits the bill can do so through the following website

Shopping for the most vulnerable

Swiss supermarket chain Migros set up a free delivery service for the most vulnerable members of society, i.e. people with pre-existing conditions or who are over 65. 

The Migros ‘Amigos’ app – which was discontinued in 2019 but re-launched due to the coronavirus – lets people sign up to volunteer to deliver groceries. 

There is no contact with the recipients, as the groceries are left by the door and all transactions are made electronically. Recipients can give a tip electronically, rather than paying cash. 

More information is available here

Another app, Bring, also makes it easier to shop for other people. 

 

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CANNABIS

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?

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