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Cannabis Country Report Switzerland – a country on its way to full legalization?

April 19, 2022 | Category : Analysis and opinion | Posted By : Deon Maas

This cannabis country report Switzerland serves as an introduction to potential cannabis growers in Switzerland. This information is relevant to all growers. The information was correct at the time of publication.

The total number of medical and recreational cannabis users in Switzerland is estimated to be around 500,000 among a population of 8 million. The recreational use of cannabis in Switzerland is in general illegal, though minor possession of up to 10 grams was decriminalized to a small fine in 2012. In 2016, four cities stated they were looking into establishing pilot cannabis clubs for the purpose of evaluating scientific data on the impact of full cannabis legalization. This set a political and legislative process in motion that culminated in the establishment of controlled cannabis trials for recreational use that will start in the coming months.  

Cannavigia supports the pilot trials  

The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) approved the first application for a cannabis pilot trial in Basel-Stadt on April 19, 2022 (read here the media release in German). It is a joint project of the University of Basel, the University Psychiatric Clinics and the Department of Health Basel-Stadt to sell cannabis in pharmacies.  

Cannavigia has won the FOPH’s official tender for the track & trace contract and is supporting the pilot trial in Basel-Stadt and all following trials. The cultivation, distribution and dispensing of the non-medical cannabis is tracked via the Cannavigia software. The transparency of the software ensures that the entire process from cultivation to dispensing is controlled. In this way, Cannavigia helps to generate a strong scientific basis for possible decisions to regulate the handling of cannabis.  

The current legal situation in Switzerland 

Since 2017, legal cannabis, also known as “low-THC weed”, with less than 1.0% of THC is sold at nearly every tobacco store in the form of smokeable cannabis flower. 

In October 2021 a major hurdle was crossed to initiate cannabis legalization in Switzerland which sets the stage for Switzerland to emerge as a market leader in this field. The production, cultivation, trade and consumption of cannabis should no longer be banned in Switzerland after a commission investigating the drug said the laws should be changed.   

The Social Security and Health Commission of the Council of States (SGK-S) said cannabis should be regulated in Switzerland in order to control the “cannabis market for better youth and consumer protection”. The aim of the SGK-S is to eliminate the black market for the drug in Switzerland. Despite these promising developments, Swiss precision will make sure that it is still a while before the laws are drawn up and passed. 

1. Usage of medical cannabis in Switzerland 

The use of medical cannabis became legal in Switzerland in 2011. Growing, selling and importing cannabis for medical use is, in general, allowed. With the amendment of the Narcotics Act, which we expect will be enacted by mid-August 2022, some major hurdles regarding the prescription of medical cannabis will be removed, and exports of medical cannabis out of Switzerland will for the first time be enabled. 

2. The CBD market in Switzerland

The growing of hemp with a THC of less than 1% (also referred to as the CBD market) is unregulated and no license is needed. Farmers could realistically expect to earn 10,000 francs per are (one percent of hectare) with the crop.

3. Recreational cannabis in Switzerland 

On 25 September 2020, Swiss parliament approved an amendment to the Federal Act on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances, which came into effect on 15 May 2021. The amendment provides the legal basis for scientific trials with selected groups of recreational cannabis users residing in Switzerland, and establishes a federally regulated cultivation and harvesting process for narcotic cannabis with dosage/potency limitations (20% THC), limits for pesticide residues, and warning label requirements. Additives to cannabis products will also have to undergo federal approval and need to be declared. Federal ordinances will remain in effect for 10 years, determining the individual criteria for trial participants, and regulating the national production and trade of psychotropic cannabis. 

A number of larger Swiss cities and municipalities have expressed interest in participating in those trials but will have to prove first that recreational cannabis is not negatively affecting the well-being of the general population. Starting in 2022, approved Swiss cannabis users will have the opportunity to obtain cannabis at local pharmacies, selected dispensaries and social clubs under these strict regulations set forth by the Federal Office of Public Health.

The three-and-a-half year pilot scheme allows cities to conduct scientific studies on the effects of the cannabis market and of the recreational use of the drug. The ‘Züri Can – Cannabis with Responsibility’ study will start in the autumn of 2022, making different products available, with different levels of THC/CBD ratios. 

Local manufacturers must have a production permit from the Federal Office of Public Health, ensuring quality standards. Consumers of cannabis products will also be limited to protect health, public safety and minors. 

The Züri Can trial will be supervised by the psychiatric hospital of the University of Zurich. 

Regulations on cultivation

  • Products must be organically grown, with the definition for “organic” being set out in Swiss Law
  • Products must be grown in Switzerland insofar as is possible 
  • Products must be grown in accordance with Good Agricultural Practices set out by the European Medicines Agency 
  • Exceptions to the above may be made if the demand cannot be met by products produced under these conditions 

Regulations on Products

  • The THC content should not exceed 20%. 
  • Products should not contain more than 10 mg of THC per unit of consumption. 
  • The cannabinoid contents must not deviate from the reported values by more than 25% for raw flower or 15% for processed products. 
  • Unprocessed products (flower), extracts and isolates as well as ingestible products can be permitted in pilot schemes. 

Some issues, some good news and some advice 

On paper this all looks great, but practically there are some issues that you should consider when setting up growing operations in Switzerland.

  • The CBD market is saturated with some farmers going back to traditional crops. 
    “The saturation of the demand for raw material that we are witnessing in Switzerland reflects a reality that is already well known overseas (in the United States, Canada and some Latin American countries), where more and more companies are slowing or even suspending production, because the supply of available raw materials has long exceeded demand. The return to traditional crops could also be attributed to the high lease prices for land and greenhouses used for growing hemp. In many cases, these were significantly higher than rates for the same facilities if used instead for traditional produce. The subsequent levelling of prices has probably also forced an adjustment towards the usual agricultural lease rates, a factor that has perhaps discouraged those who leased out land for hemp in recent years.” (Swissinfo
  • Only one grower is currently supplying the medical cannabis market. For the time being and until the enactment of the new regulations, no exports are allowed. 
  • The recreational market pilot programme seems to be strictly focused on Swiss growers only who are setting up soil-bound production outdoors or in greenhouses. In other words: Indoor growing facilities are not allowed to supply THC containing cannabis to be used in the pilot trials.  

Now for some good news   

  • Along with the trial schemes for adult use supply in The Netherlands, Switzerland will be the first region in Europe to allow for a fully legalised adult use cannabis supply chain. This will open up the market and give more opportunities for growers. 
  • The relative freedom from EU regulations will create an interesting outlier in the middle of the entire European conversation that will not be ignored. 
  • For businesses it is important when making their financial commitment, to feel secure and have the government support in the country where they grow Switzerland’s slow roll-out seems to be well thought out with a long term plan in place. 
  • You are allowed to be part of one of the pilot schemes even if you are not Swiss. 
  • In 2022 exports of medical cannabis will be enabled and growers can produce for the international market. 

Advice from an experienced Swiss grower 

  • Conditions constantly change. The law, the people, the environment. You as a grower have to adapt and adjust constantly instead of only sticking to a predetermined plan.  
  • That is why you need to work more than you expect and everything might take longer than you planned 
  • The bureaucracy is not your friend, but has to and can be conquered 
  • There are many inexperienced cultivators and there are no elders to learn from, which can cause an asymmetrical flow of information 
  • The bigger and more sophisticated your operation, the bigger your success, underground growers are currently struggling with all the rules and professionalism 

Some facts about Switzerland

Longform name: Swiss Confederation 
Legislation: Federal republic
Ruling party:  Swiss People’s Party
Currency: Swiss franc

History

The Swiss parliament adopted its first narcotics law in 1924 to allow the country to ratify the International Opium Convention of 1912. Cannabis was included on the list of controlled substances in 1951, when the law underwent its first full revision. It remains somewhat unclear why cannabis was put under control as the use of the substance was largely unknown in the country at that time. Cannabis use developed among the country’s youth during the second half of the 1960s. In 1969, about 500 drug-law offences were registered – mostly for cannabis use and possession – and 60kg of hashish were seized. The same year the Swiss Federal Court ruled that the use of drugs, which had not hitherto been an offence, was equivalent to the possession of drugs and should be prosecuted accordingly. The number of cannabis-related offences grew rapidly at that time and this contributed – alongside the emergence of a heroin problem – to a second revision of the narcotics law lasting from 1971 to 1975. Its two main aims were to provide help to existing drug users and to fight drug trafficking. Two visions of drug policy clashed during the parliamentary debates: one wanted to criminalise drug use in order to combat drug trafficking, promote public order and reinforce prevention. The second pointed to the contradictions of a policy seeking at the same time to punish and to help drug users.

Economy

Natural resources:Hydropower, timber and salt 
Agricultural land:38.7% 
Irrigated land:630 sq km 
Median age:42.7 years 
Population growth:0.65% 
Youth unemployment:8% 
GDP growth rate:1.11% 
Inflation:0.3%
Agricultural products: Milk, sugar beet, wheat, potatoes, pork, barley, apples, maize, beef and grapes 
Industries:Machinery, chemicals, watches, textiles, precision instruments, tourism, banking, insurance and pharmaceuticals 
Population below the
poverty line:
16%
Export partners:Germany, United States, United Kingdom, China, France, India and Italy
Export commodities:Gold, packaged medicines, medical cultures and vaccines, watches and jewellery
Airports with
paved runways:
40
Airports with
unpaved runways:
23

Geography

Geographic location:Central Europe, east of France,
north of Italy 
Border: 1,770 km 
Border countries: Austria, France, Italy, Liechtenstein,
and Germany 
Coastline:No coastline 
Terrain:Mostly mountains with a central
plateau of rolling hills, plains, and large lakes 
Highest point:Dufourspitze 4,634 m 
Lowest point:Lake Maggiore 195 m 

Weather

Natural hazards:Avalanches, landslides, and flash floods 
Weather: Temperate weather that varies with altitude. 
Cold, cloudy, rainy, and snowy winters.
Cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers
with occasional showers

Environmental Issues

  • Air pollution from vehicle emissions 
  • Water pollution from agricultural fertilizers 
  • Chemical contaminants and erosion damage the soil and limit productivity 
  • Loss of biodiversity 

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