Switzerland to Lift Ban on Medical Cannabis

The Switzerland government announced on June 22 that it will lift the ban on medical cannabis, as according to an amendment to the Swiss Narcotics Act that parliament approved in March 2021. According to Agence France Presse, the government “intends to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use for patients.”

“The decision to use a cannabis-based medicine for therapeutic purposes will rest with the doctor, in consultation with the patient,” the government said of the amendment. As of August 1, patients will no longer be required to obtain permission from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). However, adult-use cannabis sale and consumption will still remain illegal.

In Switzerland, medical cannabis is only allowed for patients with a doctor’s approval, or previously required approval from the FOPH. However, medical cannabis is still only allowed if the medicine contains less than 1% THC, and is licensed. Currently, only Sativex is approved for prescription to patients.

The country’s federal public law institution, Swissmedic, which is responsible for both “authorization and supervision of therapeutic products” including cocaine, methadone, and morphine could eventually be directed to manage the cannabis industry going forward.

Back in 2019, FOPH issued approximately 3,000 authorizations for cannabis patients suffering from a wide variety of medical conditions. However, the FOPH described this process as “tedious administrative procedures.” “Sick people must be able to access these medicines without excessive bureaucracy,” it stated.

In September 2021, the Switzerland government approved a recreational cannabis trial called “Zuri Can,” which is expected to begin this summer. There was one caveat, requiring that only “experienced users” should apply to participate, and this is verified by testing hair samples instead of urine or blood tests. The trial program will be held in Basel, Switzerland, and analyze results from 400 people who will be approved to buy recreational cannabis from specific pharmacies.

Also in June 2022, a new study conducted by the University of Geneva and EBP, a consulting firm, explored the benefits of full cannabis legalization. According to researcher’s findings, approximately 56 tons of cannabis is consumed every year in Switzerland. Based on this data, annual revenue for adult-use cannabis sales could collect up to $582 million Swiss francs (CHF). The industry could generate 0.06% of the country’s economy, which is roughly the same contribution as Appenzell Innerrhoden, the country’s smallest canton by population and area. Legal cannabis could also provide up to 4,400 full time jobs, in comparison to the country’s Swiss accident insurance, which has about 4,200 employees.

Ultimately, as seen in other countries, there are many benefits to establishing a regulatory framework for cannabis legalization. Study author and Research Associate at the Institute of Sociological Research of the University of Geneva Dr. Oliver Hoff explains that it’s time that Swiss cannabis laws received an update. “The simulation shows, that the current form of regulation produces [an] economically inefficient result,” Hoff said in a statement. “While artificially high profit margins enable illegal actors to generate generous profits, consumers suffer from inadequate transparency regarding products and quality. The healthcare system and preventative measures have a hard time accessing consumers with problematic consumption patterns and the state lacks access regarding regulatory, fiscal and public-health oriented initiatives.”

FOPH Head of Policy and Implementation, Adrian Gschwend, also provided a statement about the timing of this study. “The study comes precisely at the right time as the commission for social and healthcare issues of the national assembly has recently started a legislative proposal regarding the legalisation of cannabis,” Gschwend said. “The results show that both the current illicit market as well as a liberal commercial market inflicts costs on the public while individuals generate big profits. We thus need a well-regulated market that ensures both protection for children and adolescents as well as health protection measure.”

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Swiss City of Lausanne to Launch Recreational Cannabis Trial This Fall

Cann-L (or Cannabis Lausanne), the four-year recreational cannabis trial, will be launched by the end of the year, according to municipal councillor Emilie Moeschler who spoke to the press on Tuesday, “In Lausanne, as in other cities, cannabis is very present … It is essential for cities to launch such experimental studies to address the issue in an objective and dispassionate way,” he said. He also stressed that the city “has already shown, in 2018, its interest in a pilot experiment with the federal authorities in order to change its policy in this area.”

The city is now on track to become the second in the country after Basel, to proceed with a recreational cannabis trial. Bern, Geneva, and Zurich are also in the process of developing their own projects. The May 15, 2021, amendment of the Federal Narcotics Act allowed these five cities to proceed.

Lausanne: Similar, But Different

In Lausanne, allowed products will be sold in a dedicated store run by the non-profit Cann-L. Unlike German-speaking parts of the country which have chosen to use pharmacies for the trial, Lausanne’s entry into the conversation will be more like the Spanish idea of a cannabis club.

All hemp sold in the facility will have to meet two requirements—being both grown locally and produced in organic environments.

The police will monitor the facility, identify the cannabis being sold and differentiate products sold legally vs. the black market.

Consumption is not allowed in public, and of course, customers may not resell to third parties.

Pricing has been designed to match the black market—namely flower will retail for between 10-13 francs per gram. Participants will not be allowed to purchase more than 10 grams a month.

Study participants (aka customers) will be required to have residency in Lausanne and, further, already use cannabis. Eligibility for participation can be found here—although the project is not yet accepting applicants. The city as well as Addiction Switzerland (chosen to conduct the scientific aspects of the trial) will submit their plan to the canton’s ethics commission and the Federal Office of Public Health by the end of May.

The study is expected to cost around $390,000 per year—or about $1.5 million over the course of five years.

The Impact of The Swiss Trials

As is already being seen in the diverse nature of the canton approach to such trials, both the pharmacy first and dispensary first models are being trialed in Switzerland in a way that is bound to attract the attention of every other European country now considering recreational reform. This starts with Germany, right across a common border, which also shares a special trade alliance with Switzerland (and Austria) known as DACH.

The fact that the Swiss will have data as soon as the end of the year will also, no doubt, shape the discussion, in at least Germany, about how to allow individual states to have some say about how recreational reform will unfold in their local jurisdictions.

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Europe’s First Cannabis Wellness Spa Opens in Switzerland

In a move that was inevitable, if not out of an upscale version of Cheech and Chong’s Great European Cannabis Adventure, the first cannabis wellness spa has now opened its doors in Switzerland.

Promoting itself through the German-speaking press as a place to relax aus hanf —in other words, an interpretation of cannabis luxury wellness of the cannabidiol kind, it is certainly a well-timed venture. It is not only safe from changing regulations (although the country is launching its own recreational trial), but also bound to attract COVID-weary adventurers looking for a luxury getaway.

Hemp muesli and yoga with CBD oil-scented massages certainly sounds enticing, particularly as an après ski event. The winter season lasts through April in this part of the world. 

Beyond this, of course, luxury wellness never really goes out of style.

Cannabis Wellness Retreats

While still staying in safe territory, this CBD Schlosshotel is clearly the beginning of a massive, cannabis-themed wellness trend now on schedule to roll out through this part of the world. It will not be long before higher THC offerings are part of the mix. The Swiss experiment with full cannabis legalization almost guarantees that.

None of the projects of this ilk will be on the budget side for a while—but give it time. The hostel, hotel, and hospitality business, particularly when mixed with wellness cures, is a long-established tradition in this part of the world. Don’t forget that beyond winter sports, whole towns in Switzerland and across the DACH region were established just as wellness retreats, often around a bubbling mineral well or two—and frequently available for summer as well as winter getaways.

Cannatourism is coming to Europe. This is just the first crest of a very large wave.

The Issues Involved with Cannabis Wellness Retreats

Legally, such establishments are on the forefront of several developing aspects of cannabis case law across the region. This includes applications of so-called Novel Food as well as loopholes now being carved in sovereign Narcotics Laws. However, Switzerland is a very interesting place for this kind of cannabis-hospitality model to begin to flourish given the waivers now being accepted by the government as the country implements a unique experiment in the region.

Edibles, including those containing THC, will be available from not only the country’s pharmacies, but also “cannabis clubs.” A wellness experience that incorporates a higher level of THC is only a matter of time here.

What About Other EU Countries Outside of Switzerland?

Given the delay right now across the DACH and EU border on all things recreational cannabis reform related, any unique development in neighboring countries is bound to be both studied if not potentially copied down the road. The German Alps feature cultural and wellness experiences not so far afield from Zermatt, even if occasionally of a more budget friendly kind. However, fairly radical changes in the law here, unless certain regulations are waved (as the Swiss have done) will be necessary before this kind of retreat would be possible in either Germany or Austria.

That said, nothing is entirely off the table. It is all just a matter of time. Not to mention the success of such experiments right across a German-speaking border or two.

In Spain, there are experiments like this afloat, although sometimes occurring in “secret” locations. But so far, such establishments have limited themselves to CBD, at least on their promotional material, for understandable reasons.

One thing is for sure. The cannabis luxury wellness experience is here to stay. Other kinds of similarly-themed vacations and destination spots are absolutely sure to follow.

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Luxembourg Publishes Details on Domestic Recreational Cannabis Plan

There is a very funny thing about the European cannabis discussion right now, particularly as the news of the German decision to proceed with recreational reform has emerged with the formal creation of the next coalition government. Namely that promising reform while entering power is fairly popular, if not an inevitable development at this point, nobody really wants to go first.

That honor, so far, within Europe (beyond Holland) will almost certainly go to the Swiss, who are powering forward with the nitty gritty details required to create a new market as of next year. However, Switzerland is famously not in the European Union. And within such countries, no politician, at least until the German decision to proceed with recreational, has quite known how to frame such forward progress in formal statutes.

That reality has been made even more clear during the last week as Luxembourg’s government, which promised as part of its platform in 2018 that it would legalize recreational use by 2023, has just taken a rather large sidestep. Namely, the country’s first foray into this discussion will be in fact just to allow adults the right to self-cultivate four plants.

For all the hullabaloo, in other words, this is a dramatic twist if not anti-climatic development in a situation now fraught with the inevitability of reform (even if not in Luxembourg first).

Luxembourg: The First Baby Steps

What is so ironic about all of this is the fact that for the past three years, officials in Luxembourg have made it very public that they were “studying” the Canadian model. What has developed is actually far more like the Dutch (at least so far) if not the evolving situation in other European countries (see Malta, which allowed home-grow this year and appears to be actually on the verge of greater reform by the end of the year, not to mention Italy, which appears to be backing into the same thing).

This is what the government is prepared to regulate: the seed market. Plants grown in private homes, away from sight and out of reach of minors, will have to be grown from either seeds purchased domestically (in either brick-and-mortar establishments or online), or even from abroad (see Holland, for starters). 

In the meantime, there will be a plan produced for the national production of seeds for commercial uses. This presumably is the next step the Luxembourgians see the market evolving into as Germany now presumably takes the lead on setting policies that will probably be copied across Europe.

The legislation also proposes decriminalizing the possession of up to three grams of flower if caught in public, with perpetrators punished with a fine that is like those for tobacco transgressions.

Of course, this development is also a bit more than a face-saving move. The country is moving, even if slowly, towards full cannabis reform. In the meantime, Luxembourg will be creating a longer-term infrastructure for a commercial market to begin. Not to mention offsetting the huge outlay of government funds for medical cannabis, which as of this year was going for 100 euros a gram (wholesale).

What Is Likely to Happen

While this is pure conjecture at this point, the interesting thing about the Luxembourgian development is that it may end up being very much like a mix of the Swiss and German markets. The Swiss made the sale of CBD plants legal, which in turn set off a cottage industry post 2017, which in turn has clearly created a basis for the recreational market now set to launch in the first half of 2022. 

The Swiss also appear to be creating, deliberately, a domestic market for the sourcing of all cannabis for this new domestic market. Indeed, all cannabis bound for this national trial must be sourced within Switzerland’s borders.

It is very likely that the market in Luxembourg will eventually be similar. This way, it also keeps the discussion about the cannabis tourist trade in limbo, at least until someone else beyond the Dutch addresses it. Indeed, there is a lingering stigma in Holland about pot tourism that continues to rear its head in Luxembourg too, even as this is also an obvious way to repair COVID-induced damage to this sector of every European economy right now.

No matter what, however, it is clear that no country’s politicians in Europe, particularly if they come to power with a pro-cannabis plank, can entirely duck the conversation. 

Luxembourg, however, is not going to be “first” within the EU, much less Europe. That distinction, as of the recent news revealed, will almost certainly be the Swiss and the Germans.

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Switzerland Proceeds with Regulation of Cannabis Industry

According to Switzerland’s government agency in charge of public health and welfare, cannabis should no longer be banned but rather comprehensively regulated. As a result, the National Council now has the task of creating said framework and for an integrated medical and recreational infrastructure. The first city to kick off this enchilada of cannabis will be the country’s largest and its capital of Zurich.

There are several issues at play here beyond regulating the industry at a national leve—a task in truth that has only been achieved by two countries to date (Uruguay and Canada). Switzerland is backing into all of this with a country-wide trial. 

This is deliberately limited to 5,000 study participants per canton, but it will begin to create a “state-by-state” organization for the industry to grow. Such participants will have to show that they are already cannabis users. This should not be hard to do. About a third of the Swiss population has admitted that they have smoked cannabis at some point. About 200,000 admit to smoking regularly.

Cities will be able to conduct scientific studies—both on the economic impacts of a new industry as well as the impact of recreational cannabis sales (and accessibility) on a local level.

Local manufacturers must obtain a production permit from the Federal Office of Public Health to ensure quality standards.

Participants will be able to purchase cannabis from both pharmacies and social clubs.

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What is the Significance of this Development for Switzerland?

Right now, there are three pending adult use markets in Europe. This includes Luxembourg, which has now decided to move forward more or less on schedule to create the same and Portugal, which is still in the process of deciding how to do that at a legislative level. Then there is Holland, which is also a different animal at this point, with a regulatory schema that is federal, even if the coffee shops in the larger cities are still largely an independent force.

The Swiss trial, however, is intriguing for several reasons.

The first is that it is designed to promote a domestic cultivation market, and further one that includes recreational (high THC) cannabis. Beyond this, the Swiss market will begin to feature products not much seen in Europe to date—namely extracts and edibles. This is a massive next step in the discussion, even if it will take the EU itself a little while to adjust on a regulatory front. 

Regardless, the relative freedom from EU regulations will create an interesting outlier in the middle of the entire European conversation that will not be ignored. This includes the other legalizing states. It will also, certainly, include the other two trade partners in the DACH trading region (Austria and of course the big cannabis Kahuna in this entire conversation, Germany).

After the national election here, there has certainly been an injection of renewed optimism about change on the horizon. There are now multiple legal challenges floating around the discussion, starting with the CBD front

Beyond that, there is also a new hope that at least decriminalization if not a German recreational trial is in the works.

The Swiss trial, in other words, may move a lot of levers on the reform front—and not just domestically.

There is also another discussion in the room, however. Namely, if cannabis can be sold in pharmacies without a prescription, where does the line between “medical” and “recreational” cannabis lie?

The GACP vs GMP Discussion

Beyond extracts and edibles, perhaps the greatest impact the Swiss trial will have is to begin to define the line—starting with cultivation—between pharma grade cannabis and that bound for recreational markets.

The first place this will show up is cannabis sourced from indoor vs. outdoor cultivation sites. GMP cannabis must be grown indoors (for starters). Given that Switzerland has a short natural growing season, the likelihood is that most of the domestic cultivation bound for either market will be grown indoors.

Beyond this, however, cannabis in Switzerland will be routed through existing pharma, food, beverage and cosmetics channels. Novel Food is going to be waived (for the purposes of the trial at least).

This means that for the first time, there will be a fully baked cannabis market, leaving no part of the plant, by cannabinoid, or use, or product, out of the mix.

This is very different from anything else seen in Europe right now, and it is going to start to make a difference just beyond Swiss borders. Namely, it is very likely that the “recreational,” high-THC market here may also finally defeat the Novel Food genie—and for all cannabinoids grown in the region, if not extracted in a way that is recognized as “normal” here too.

For all these reasons, the pending national trial in Switzerland is likely to upset the cannabis (apple) cart just by showing what is possible.

The states who border the country and are poised on the verge of more reform themselves, are absolutely watching.

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Switzerland’s Zurich to Begin Recreational Cannabis Trial in 2022

Switzerland has finally announced its highly anticipated three-and-a-half-year pilot scheme to implement the development of a recreational cannabis trial (and industry). This is a direct result of legislative changes made in Swiss law about the same last year.

The trial will allow Swiss cities to set up their own cannabis markets, and further, conduct their own studies on the effect of such trial cannabis markets—as well as the impact on the citizenry on the use of the drug.

The Zurich trial, called “Zuri Can” will begin in the fall of next year and include different products with varying levels of THC and CBD content. The municipal trial will be supervised by the psychiatric hospital of the University of Zurich.

Local manufacturers must obtain a production permit from the Federal Office of Public Health to ensure quality standards.

Beyond being one of the most avidly watched experiments right now, this is also a large turnaround by the Swiss people and legislature in a relatively short period of time (and one that both tracks and lags North American reform by about seven years). In 2008, almost two-thirds of the Swiss voting public decided against decriminalization of cannabis for personal use.

What is Good (And Bad) About the Approach

At this point, as the recreational reform discussion has stalled in the DACH region (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) beyond the rest of Europe, any federally regulated recreational trial in any of these countries should be considered a mark of progress.

Sadly, however, there are still some odd elements to all of this that smack of lingering stigma, starting with having the recreational trial in the country’s largest city supervised by any Psych Department. The second odd twist to this is that the trial only seeks “experienced users” to participate.

What exactly an “experienced” user is defined by will be determined by hair tests—namely, one must prove that one has consumed enough cannabis for the proof to show up not just in urine or even blood tests. 

Beyond this definition, however, the study goals are clear: to understand the dynamics of a legitimate market and how to set up the same to combat the illicit one. The idea, of course, in four years, is ostensibly to transition to a federally licensed, national recreational market—the second in Europe after Holland at the current schedule. 

Beyond Zurich, other experiments are planned for the largest Swiss cities including Basel, Bern, Biel and Geneva. 

While of course official estimates are just that (and for all the obvious reasons), there are currently an estimated 200,000 people who consume cannabis or cannabis products on an ongoing basis.

Organic in Switzerland

There is another twist to all this that could prove to be a game changer in the way that cannabis is grown (and even for medical purposes) across Europe. Namely, the only cannabis to be allowed in the trial must be grown both domestically and organically. 

This means that the Swiss are potentially setting another precedent that could well ripple across Europe if not the entire cultivation industry. So far, there has been terrific debate about how both medical and recreational cannabis should be cultivated.

The debate so far—mainly whether cannabis grown indoors but under high GACP standards (namely national if not regional standards for all foodstuffs) could, in some circumstances, be certified as EU-GMP (or pharmaceutical grade) through the processing, extracting and packaging process. The requirement that cannabis be an organic crop in Switzerland begins to better define the process generally—and, in fact, could well become a regional standard for all cannabis grown throughout the EU. See Portugal and Spain, for starters, where this debate has begun to rage, triggered by the German medical import market.

If such a regulatory schemata were widely copied from Switzerland, this, in turn, would help regulate nascent domestic markets across the continent and create a path to both the pharmaceutical and recreational markets that starts with a single certification.

This also could be used to lower (significantly) the expense of medical cannabis production, not to mention lower the carbon footprint of the same.

In its own way, the strategic Swiss may, as a result, leave their own mark on an industry that, far from Swiss borders, needs better guidance about how to cultivate and process in the future.

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Swiss Doctors to Prescribe Cannabis Without “Exceptional Authorization”

There is a not-so-quiet revolution going on in Switzerland at the moment. The country is getting ready for what is likely to be Europe’s most disruptive recreational trial.

In the meantime, all sorts of other consequential events are underway. Namely, the government is about to remove the requirement that prescribing cannabis doctors obtain special permission before prescribing cannabis.

Last Wednesday, the Swiss Federal Council (the seven-member executive council that serves as the collective head of state and federal government of the country) opened deliberation on changing the national Narcotics Act.

Cannabis of both the medical and recreational kind has been banned in the country since 1951. By amending the federal Narcotics Act in this way, Swiss physicians will be allowed to prescribe cannabis more or less freely and as they wish. Currently, there are about 3,000 authorizations issued every year to treat patients with cancer, neurological diseases and MS. 

Cannabis will as a result, become “just” a “controlled narcotic” as it is across the DACH border with Germany (DACH is an acronym for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, who share a special trading alliance). Culturally, the three countries are also closely aligned, starting with a common language.

The Strange Swiss Twist

Since this is cannabis, no matter where the reform is happening, there is bound to be a twist in all of this. 

On the positive side, the cultivation, manufacturing and selling of medical cannabis will be federally authorized, for the first time. Commercial export will be permitted. Less clear are the rules for imports (although it is highly unlikely anyone will ban imports of the EU-GMP medical kind). 

Given that Switzerland’s immediate trading partner to the north (Germany) moved to do this four years ago, this is hardly revolutionary. Indeed, the first Deutsch-cultivated cannabis is just now reaching German pharmacies.

In the meantime, cultivation for personal use (of course) is still banned.

And here is the most unusual, if not cynical twist of all.

Within several months, Switzerland will also begin a unique recreational trial. Namely, pharmacies will be able to sell high-THC products to anyone who has the money to pay for them as long as they are over 21.

The Swiss solution is not as cynical as the Dutch (who allowed insurers to stop reimbursing domestic medical cannabis claims almost as soon as Germany changed the law to mandate that public insurers do so back in 2017).

That said, the experiment is certainly taking place at an interesting time, just across the border. At the recent ICBC in Berlin, one of the most avidly attended panels was the discussion, by federal German politicians, of which way the cannabis legalization winds will blow as a result of the late September election. 

Cannabis reform is a sore point everywhere, including, if not especially Germany, Europe’s largest medical cannabis market (by far) as well as its most influential, is a hot topic just about everywhere.

It is also highly unlikely that any reformer in Germany will ignore the opportunity to point out to still highly reluctant German politicians, about what the Swiss are now doing.

See post-COVID tax revenue.

Easier Access…

One of the largest bug bears in the room, across the DACH region (which of course also includes Austria) is the continued, draconian response of authorities to any kind of cannabis reform. An example of this is the recent disaster suffered by Lidl, one of the world’s largest retailers, in Munich. 

In fact, the lack of reform and the ridiculous prosecutions particularly in Germany of late (hemp tea is also a favourite subject), are likely to force at least some kind of reform in at least Germany. Add to the equation a general loosening of the restrictions in Switzerland, along with what seems already to be a smoother if not more sensible plan for cultivation and manufacture, and the Swiss looked primed to take the lead in Europe, if not the DACH on all things both medically and recreationally reform inclined if not minded.

According to Dr. Francis Scanlan, the CEO of Cloud 9 Switzerland, a Life Sciences company about to launch its own THC Swiss chocolate bar after pioneering the entry of his product as the first CBD edible to be starting sales in Dubai, the change is not only welcome, but also overdue.

“This is a very rational, albeit progressive, move in response to the acceptance by the majority of stakeholders in Swiss society that cannabis is a legitimate medicine that truly helps patients while potentially reducing healthcare costs as well as generating tax revenues,” Scanlan said. “What is happening in Switzerland for prescription medical cannabis and our new recreational Pilot Program is very admirable and should be seen as a pragmatic approach to regulating a far too long stigmatized plant across the world.”

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Cannabis – Swiss Neutrality as a Vicious Circle

Cannabis, marijuana, dope, Mary Jane – the plant is known by various names. In recent years, opinions have been widely divided around the effects and use of cannabis. While certain countries legalize its use altogether, in others it is still prohibited and punished. Is this fair? Some claim that marijuana damages the psyche and leads […]

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The Swiss Government Greenlit Trials to Assess the Need for New Cannabis Regulation

In order to appropriately regulate the drug in the future, Switzerland is conducting scientific trials with regular citizens to establish the health and safety of cannabis.

The first thing to remember about Switzerland is that it’s not a member of the European Union, this is important because it means that it is not subject to EU regulation concerning things like hemp, and cannabis in general. As of right now, Switzerland allows cannabis products with as much as 1% THC.

While this is still a pretty low amount for anyone used to smoking a typical joint these days, it is quite higher than the standard EU regulation of 0.2%. Anything stronger than this amount, however, is still strictly illegal.

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What this means for CBD specifically?

With a 1% THC limit, Switzerland allows nearly any CBD product since most CBD products already contain very low amounts of THC. CBD, or cannabidiol, is another major cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, thought slightly less well-known than the more popular – and psychoactive – cannabinoid THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. Since CBD is not psychoactive, it has been more widely accepted in the last few years, particularly for medical use (though recreational too).

CBD is now associated with a myriad of health benefits with a very wide range: help in fighting microbial disease, and even antibiotic-resistant bugs; useful for depressive, sleep, and attention deficit issues; as a way to control skin ailments; as a possible anti-tumor treatment; as a useful helper in stabilizing blood sugars; and with pain, and spasticity issues relating to neurological diseases and damage.

$2 Million Going To Cannabis Cancer Research Led By Professor Mechoulam

In Switzerland, each CBD product is allocated to a specific group: medical, utility (which includes cosmetics), ingestible, tobacco products (for which the tax was just removed – see below), or to a final non-specific category, sort of like a miscellaneous option. Each of these groups comes with its own set of regulations that it operates under.

  •     Medical products – Fall under the Federal Act on Medical Products and Medical Devices
  •     Ingestible products – Fall under the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO. Interestingly, though Switzerland is not part of the EU, it is a part of several bilateral treaties, and abides by certain provisions in order to be a part of the single market. Because of this, they abide by the Novel Food Catalogue of the European Commission, and require an authorization from the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO in order to get around it, if it can be gotten around.
  •     Utility products (including cosmetics and e-cigarette liquids) – Fall under the Federal Nutrition and Utility Products Act.
  •    Tobacco substitutes – Fall under the Tobacco Ordinance, and requires being registered with the Federal Health Department before they can be sold. As mentioned earlier, a tax that had been placed on CBD because of this grouping, has been lifted, and is explained below.
  •     Other CBD products – Fall under the Federal Chemicals Act, as well as the Federal Act on Product Security.

Past research denials, and why it’s happening now

In 2013, Switzerland adopted a policy to decriminalize smaller amounts of cannabis. Much like in Portugal, instead of criminal charges for someone carrying less than 10 grams, they are instead subject only to a fine, which may or may not be enforced. Even so, legal costs of keeping it illegal are still rather high. Another interesting advancement is that the Swiss Federal Court made a ruling to remove the tax on legal cannabis in the tobacco category (that which has 1% or below), a tax that was meant to be levied on tobacco originally.

The repeal of the tax came about because of the grievances of three different cannabis production companies, and the ruling found that there really wasn’t a legal basis to put the massive 25% tax on the sale price of a non-tobacco product. This came about a year after a ruling by the Federal Administration Court to maintain the tax and to keep legal cannabis in the same boat as tobacco. What a difference a year can make.

Part of the reason this is coming up now – apart from the fact that it seems to be coming up quite a bit globally, and does happen to be at the right point in time and space for the conversation – according to a Swiss Federal Council news release in 2018, as many as 200,000 Swiss smoke cannabis regularly which makes the need to revisit new ways of regulating it a bit more vital. In fact, the Swiss black market for cannabis has grown extensively, and this means an overall lack of quality control, something that could be vastly improved upon with new regulation.

Switzerland’s proposed plans for new studies

According to the initial structure proffered a year ago, as many as thousands of people could receive legal cannabis every month while being a participant in the study. This could even include edibles. They would, of course, be highly controlled trials with all participants 18 years or older, and participants would have to already be cannabis users. These studies would be meant to last approximately five years, with the possibility of a two-year extension if requested, and each would have no more than 5,000 participants, but the exact number would vary according to the specific trial.

How it passed, and stipulations

Last month, Switzerland’s health commission in the lower house of the Federal Council did greenlight a pilot program by a 17-8 vote which would, indeed, permit the legal production and distribution of cannabis for recreational purposes. One of the main differences from the original proposal is the inclusion of the mandate that all cannabis products used in the study must come from Switzerland and be sourced through organic farming (this came about from a 13-7 vote with four abstentions).

Pressure Mounting In Switzerland To Legalize Cannabis

The maximum THC value allowed in the study is 20%, a pretty decent amount for a study really aiming to figure out what the effects of cannabis actually are on a population. Another stipulation of the studies is that each participant is limited to at most 10 grams of pure THC monthly. Yet another condition is for employers and schools to be made aware if employees or students are part of the trials (a point this author finds a bit difficult to swallow in that it very much compromises the privacy of participants – and might well be a reason for people to avoid participating when they might have otherwise done so.)

It should be noted that while the Swiss government came out in support of these studies, the more conservative parliament required the setup to be very tightly controlled. In fact, in the past, similar trials were also attempted, but shutdown by parliament over fears it could lead to complete legalization. In 2017, the Federal Office of Public Health shot down a request for a scientific study by the University of Bern. As a way to grease the wheels with legislators this time around, when the plans for the trials were proposed, they were done so under very strict protocols.

How much sense does this structure really make?

There are already many Swiss cities and institutions that are eager to participate. The overall plan is to have a ten-year period of research studies after which the government would look at all the results, take everything into consideration, and update legislation from there as necessary. Of course, ten years from now is a long time in and of itself, and considering how quickly the cannabis industry has boomed in just the last few years, it could very well be that these plans are almost far-fetched in their expectation of a static world to do them in.

European Parliament Calls For Uniform Medical Cannabis Regulations

So much regulation the world over could be changed by ten years from now, that while the idea of what they want to do sounds like a step in the right direction, I do wonder how much the proposed plans make sense since they span such a large amount of time in such a dynamic industry.

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