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Coronavirus: Which Swiss cantons are fining people who don’t respect lockdown rules?

More than 2,000 fines have been given out across Switzerland for breaching coronavirus restrictions. Here’s where the authorities have been particularly trigger happy.

Coronavirus: Which Swiss cantons are fining people who don't respect lockdown rules?
Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

Switzerland has introduced a relatively modest fine of CHF100 for anyone caught breaking coronavirus restrictions. With only around 2,000 fines handed out it's certainly a far cry from France, where over half a million members of the public have been hit with fines that now begin at €135.

However, like everything in Switzerland, the likelihood of getting fined appears to differ dramatically from canton to canton. 

What we know about the victims of the coronavirus pandemic in Switzerland

Everyone in Switzerland is required to keep social distance from others while in public, to stay home other than for certain activities and to not meet in groups of more than five people when heading outside. 

Since the weekend of April 4th and 5th however, police have been “on the offensive” as reported in Swiss newspaper 20 Minutes – with a view towards discouraging people from going outside and breaching the regulations in the Easter weather. 

Vaud handing out the most penalties 

The western Swiss canton of Vaud, which has seen the greatest number of coronavirus infections and the second-highest number of deaths, has so far handed out by far the most fines of anywhere in Switzerland. 

Police in the canton told 20 Minutes that they had already issued more than 1,300 fines, either for people gathering in groups of more than five or for people not respecting the two-metre social distance requirement. 

The canton has also had almost 200 reports from members of the public who have observed someone breaking the rules. 

German-speaking Switzerland

Although German-speaking Switzerland has been less hard hit than French or Italian-speaking Switzerland, the police have been active. 

Police in Lucerne have issued more than 500 fines in total, while police in Basel City have handed out more than 400. 

St Gallen has issued more than 200 fines. 

Police in Basel Country and Aargau have not released figures but have indicated they are currently ramping up efforts to ensure the fines are adhered to. 

Zurich and Bern do not provide figures indicating how many fines have been handed out. 

Ticino

Ticino – the canton where the most people have died in Switzerland – may have put in place heavy restrictions in order to halt the impact of the coronavirus early, but police action in the southern canton is comparatively rare. 

Only 150 fines have been issued in Ticino.

The first person to die in Switzerland was a man in Ticino on March 5th. The canton as at April 9th has 219 deaths – just under a quarter of the total in Switzerland despite having only four percent of the population. 

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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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