Cloudy Prospects for Cannabis Reform in Switzerland

The Swiss National Council has rejected a bill to allow cannabis pilots after the Council of States approved what would have been a change in the Swiss Narcotics Act (BetMG) in May. In the neighbouring Germany, the Parliament discussed a cannabis-petition submitted by the German Hemp Association (DHV) in a first reading.

In Switzerland, as in Germany, the use of cannabis is approved only for research purposes in exceptional cases. Neither Swiss nor German lawmakers allow for cannabis pilot projects to monitor recreational cannabis issues. Although such pilots could theoretically be approved in Germany if they are in the public interest, attempts to set up recreational cannabis pilots have failed since the first application by the state of Schleswig-Holstein in 1999.

Swiss National Council rejects Cannabis-trials

In Switzerland, the Ministry of Health (BAG) has repeatedly denied the approval of such pilot projects because cannabis consumption for recreational purposes violates applicable law, even in the context of a model project. In 2016 former Federal Councilor Ruth Dreifuss met the incumbent Federal Councilor Alain Berset Berset several times and convinced the former opponent of the necessity to allow cannabis-trials.  In November 2017, Federal Councilor Alain Berset rejected such a license to the city of Bern due to the lack of legal basis.

After Berset’s rejection the Solothurn, on March 15 Councillor Roberto Zanetti presented a bill to the Council of States (small Chamber of the parliament) that would expand the BetMG with a so-called “experimental article” and thus create a legal basis for the pilots being requested by many Swiss cities.

On June 11th the National Council (Big chamber of the Parliament) rejected the amendment adopted by the Council of States in March. The parliament decided by a slight majority of 96 to 93 votes to reject federal trial-regulated sales of cannabis.

The “cannabis-initiative,” which will appear in a second referendum on cannabis legalization after the first, which took place in 2008, failed with 37 percent support.

A lot has happened since the introduction of the 2008 referendum on cannabis legalization. There has been a CBD boom in Switzerland and public opinion changed dramatically. In recent polls, approval for a regulated cannabis market in Switzerland has reached more than 60 percent.

Cannabis also remains a hot topic in the German Bundestag

The German parliamentarians also dealt with cannabis this week. In November 2017, the German Hemp Association presented a petition with almost 80,000 signatures to the Petitions Committee of the Bundestag, whose core demand is:

“The Bundestag may regulate the market for cannabis as a recreational substance, paying particular attention to the aspects of youth protection, prevention, consumer protection and quality control.”

On Monday, June 11th, delegates of all five parties represented in the Bundestag discussed the best supported of the past year in the Petitions Committee. While the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Nationalist Party (AfD) spoke out against a controlled cannabis market, representatives of the Greens, Free Democrats (FDP), the Lefties and also the co-governing Social democrats (SPD) positioned themselves in support.

On June 27, the German Bundestag will debate three legislative proposals from the Greens, the Lefties and the FDP. Then one will see whether the SPD MPs are in a position to persuade their government- and coalition-partner to compromise. Although the petition is not binding, rather it strengthens the position of cannabis supporters within the parliament and the German government.

The CDU has already signaled that it will reject the proposal. Their governmental partner SPD will not endanger the coalition for cannabis policy. But even if the government does not legalize cannabis in a coup, the SPD, in the face of massive petition and opposition support, could move its coalition partner to small concessions, such as allowing cannabis trials.

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