The Swiss government has approved plans to legalise the consumption and sale of cannabis in Zurich in a trial that will assess the economic and health benefits of regulating supply of the recreational drug.
As part of a three-and-a-half-year scientific study starting this summer, 2,100 residents of Switzerland’s biggest city will be able to buy regulated doses of cannabis for personal use if they agree to answer a questionnaire every six months on their consumption habits and health.
Some European authorities are looking to emulate US states in moving towards the liberalisation of laws on cannabis consumption. In Germany, the government unveiled plans for the nationwide legalisation of the drug — with strict conditions — last October. There is still no clear timeframe for the legislation in Germany to be enacted.
Barbara Burri, the project leader from the Zurich municipal health department, said on Wednesday: “The idea is to get robust real world evidence that serves policymaking for new [national] regulation on cannabis.”
The Swiss government’s announcement followed final approval from the federal health department on Tuesday.
Cannabis will be available for participants to purchase from pharmacies, special dispensaries and social clubs across Zurich from July at prices which can be adjusted to reflect changes in black market prices.
According to public health surveys in Switzerland, one in three adults has tried cannabis. In Zurich, a city of 400,000 residents, an estimated 13,000 residents are regular users.
Participants will be able to choose from a range of products with different concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol — the active component in cannabis.
High-strength strains with up to 20 per cent THC concentration will be available. All the products will be strictly controlled for purity, and produced organically by licensed Swiss firms.
“The trial will have a broad focus to gain data on the effects of different strengths of cannabis, on what helps individuals make informed decisions and on the pros and cons of different models of sale,” Burri said.
Evidence from the trial will be published on a rolling basis from next year.
Participation in the programme will be available to anyone aged over 18, excluding pregnant women, professional drivers and adults who display any signs of drug dependency or poor health as a result of drug use.
Just over a third of Swiss citizens voted in favour of legalising cannabis in a 2008 referendum, but opinion on the issue has since shifted significantly.
Swiss parliamentarians passed an amendment to the country’s narcotics act in September 2020 to allow for “pilot” legalisations of cannabis. The Swiss city of Basel launched a smaller-scale trial legalising cannabis use in September. Zurich finalised its proposals for a trial scheme last July.