Markus, a part of the 370 adults participating in Basel’s “Weed Care” scheme, confidently places an order for his preferred strain of ‘Purple Gas’ at his local Klybeck pharmacy. With every successful transaction stored in a brightly coloured packet, the Swiss city places a new order for insight into the effects of a regulated cannabis supply on user behaviours and health, with the hope of potentially influencing Swiss law.
Basel, now one of seven Swiss cities as the nucleus of these scientific studies, has drawn the focus on health risks, smoking patterns, and problematic consumption rates. Despite growing public support for these pilot projects, a spirited debate continues. The unfolding episode has left many wondering if Switzerland’s cautious, scientific approach could be an emerging template for other countries deliberating the legalisation of recreational cannabis.
After making his first joint purchase, Markus revealed that he began smoking cannabis socially when he was just 14 years old. He now enjoys the occasional joint at parties and after work, finding it a soothing way to unwind from a long day at his demanding restaurant job. He eagerly signed up for the study, as part finding a reliable source and quality of cannabis, and part contributing to a better perception of cannabis smokers.
Medical cannabis has been legalised in Switzerland for special cases such as pain relief. Low-potency cannabis, containing less than 1% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance that contributes to a “high”, is also accessible for non-medical use. Although growing, dealing and consuming stronger cannabis is not permitted by law, personal possession of up to 10 grams is unpunished. As an estimated one-third of the Swiss populace have tried cannabis in their lifetime, Switzerland has been brainstorming the potential decriminalisation of recreational cannabis for a while.
Swiss-certified pharmacies selected by Basel City’s cantonal health authorities, such as Klybeck, now provide six varieties of cannabis products. The organically cultivated cannabis, produced by Swiss firm Pure Production, offers different potencies, with products named such as “Purple Gas”, “Lemon Tart” and “Diesel Pollen”.
The Swiss trials continue to be strictly supervised, with participants mainly being men between 18 and 76 years old. Restrictions limit purchases to two five-gram packs each time and a maximum of 10 grams of pure THC per person, per month. The products are preserved under high-security conditions, with THC levels varying from 4.5% to 20%, and prices on par with those in the illegal market. The cannabis must be transported in its original packaging and consumed privately by the participants.
Legalisation of recreational cannabis use has been a steadily growing conversation worldwide. Since 2014, several American states, Uruguay in 2012 and Canada in 2018 have given the green light for recreational cannabis use. Thailand, since 2022, has also joined the roster as the first country in Southeast Asia to decriminalise cannabis.
Despite the growing acceptance of cannabis, there are legitimate concerns regarding its association with health-related problems. With scientific studies highlighting a sharp increase in psychiatric hospital admissions related to cannabis use, the importance of safer consumption methods has become more crucial, as evidenced in Canada’s focused approach on public health and safety.
In the global scene of evolving cannabis laws, Switzerland has announced plans alongside countries like the Czech Republic, Germany, and Luxembourg for providing a regulated supply of cannabis for recreational use. As these pilot trials advance throughout 2023, the anticipation for the first findings due in January 2024 increases. The Klybeck pharmacy reports as early as the first half of 2023, that 13 kilograms of cannabis were sold through the scheme, and “no adverse events” occurred.
The course to decriminalisation is complex and yet Switzerland’s progressive leap has instigated an essential dialogue about the potential advantages and challenges of cannabis legalisation that cannot be ignored.