Switzerland Approves Pilot Program, National Council to Rule on Legalization

A bill has been passed in Switzerland allowing cannabis studies and pilot programs for cannabis distribution similar to that of Amsterdam. These “coffee shop” systems would provide a place for consumers to both purchase and enjoy cannabis.

Five different cities have already called for these “coffee shop” pilot programs. In the trial, 1,000 people are allowed to purchase cannabis legally in pharmacies. The project would be evaluated and serve as a basis for future cannabis policies.

The Ministry of Health called for the amendment of the Narcotics Act, which classifies drugs and permits usage in Switzerland. Switzerland’s smaller chamber of parliament, The Swiss Council of States, unanimously approved the bill. The Council’s 46 members represent Swiss cantons, or federal states. It is similar to the U.S. House of Representatives.

It now goes to the National Council, which is the second and larger chamber of parliament, for approval. There are 200 members. The two parliament chambers together make up the Swiss Federal Assembly.

Switzerland decriminalized minor possession in 2012 and the government estimates that 200,000-300,000 people use cannabis on a regular basis. Public consumption carries a small fine of 100 francs.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and is free to set its own marijuana policies. Switzerland nearly legalized cannabis in 2001: The Council of states approved the legalization law, which was then passed to the National Council.

At the time, the “War on Drugs” was in full effect. The National Council came under massive international pressure to reject the law. Once Switzerland joined the United Nations in 2002, they were forced to reject the law and cannabis was not legalized.

The decision is once again up to the National Council, 16 years later. As international perception of cannabis usage changes, the vote is expected to be very close.