As part of the Federal Department of Home Affairs of the Swiss government, The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) ensures an affordable and efficient healthcare system for almost 9 million Swiss. It works for a general well-being of the public and develops Switzerland’s health policy.
Cannabis falls under the authority of the FOPH and is classified as a prohibited narcotic drug. Nevertheless, Switzerland has one of the highest prevalence rates of cannabis use in Europe and it seems that prohibition has not had the intended effect. Rather, there are unsafe products in circulation and barriers for harm reduction, treatment or prevention are high. Additionally, consumers are criminalised and the associated health and social costs appear to be high. On the other hand, a completely free commercial market is also associated with high health and social costs. It seems that a middle-ground regulation might be the solution for both extremes. Unfortunately, there are not many studies researching the impact on public health or what the impact of recreational cannabis legalisation in Switzerland could be*.
Considering the dilemma presented above and the unsatisfactory situation in Switzerland, where cannabis consumption is widespread despite prohibition and the black market is thriving with no guarantee of consumer safety, the Swiss parliament made an important amendment to the Federal Narcotics Act in May 2021**. The amendment allows cannabis pilot trials to be conducted, aiming to provide a scientific basis for future regulation by making the dispensing of cannabis for non-medicinal reasons possible. Over the next decade, various organizers such as universities, cantons, and municipalities will conduct scientific studies as part of these trials. Their goal is to gain a better understanding of the usage, dispensing and effects of controlled access to recreational cannabis.
For example, the aim of the first approved study, Weed Care, is to ‘investigate the effects of cannabis regulation for recreational purposes compared to the illicit market on problematic cannabis use, mental disorders, and physical health’, according to their study protocol from March 2023*. They aim to achieve this by comparing one group of people who has access to recreational cannabis in a regulated setting of pharmacies, to a control group of people who purchases and consumes cannabis through the illicit market. The data gathered in trials like Weed Care and all future studies will be vital in shaping future policies and regulations surrounding the cannabis industry in Switzerland.
Problem: Ensure traceability and safety for consumers during the pilot trials
The FOPH holds the responsibility of ensuring the public health and general well-being of the Swiss population. As the goal for future regulation is to ensure consumer safety and decrease or even eliminate the black market, pilot trials need to be conducted with the utmost safety for consumers and the public at large throughout the whole supply chain. As the cannabis can only be purchased in a regulated setting, only registered participants of the studies are allowed to purchase cannabis, with a maximum amount of gram THC per purchase and per month. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that the cannabis products are of high quality, safe and traceable. The parties involved must have an overview of the quantity of cannabis in circulation and how much has already been sold. These factors need to be measurable and tracked from the producers who supply the cannabis for the studies to the dispensing of the products to study participants. Given these requirements, the FOPH was in need of a reliable monitoring and reporting system that all stakeholders can utilise in a secure manner and that brings traceability to the supply chain.
Solution: a reliable monitoring and reporting system
Vigia AG has been invited by the FOPH in a public tender to provide the track and trace software which will allow the different stakeholders – the FOPH, cantonal authorities and licensees – to fulfill their monitoring and reporting obligations. As the licensing authority, the FOPH is responsible for monitoring compliance with the legal provisions.
Vigia developed the Cannabis Dispensary System (CDS) as an extension to their existing Compliance Software Suite Cannavigia. The combination of these two perfectly fulfills the FOPH’s requirements, resulting in a reliable monitoring and reporting system.
Cannabis cultivators for the studies can use the existing Cannavigia software to monitor their supply chain and cultivation, fully documenting their plants and processes to ensure high and consistent quality of the finished products. The Cannabis Dispensary System is then used by study coordinators to register research participants, set limits per purchase and month and include selected sales points where participants can purchase cannabis. The CDS allows these sales points to keep track of their narcotics inventory, sales and the specific quantities dispensed to participants, ensuring that only authorised individuals can purchase cannabis products. Moreover, study coordinators have an overview of the cannabis in circulation for their project, while the FOPH has an overview of all ongoing trials. This enables the FOPH to fulfill their reporting requirement of the dispensed cannabis to the UN. The fully traceable supply chain of individual studies not only ensures conformity with all required standards but also consumer safety through monitoring of sales and consumption volumes. With this system in place, the FOPH can ensure the safe and traceable conduct of cannabis pilot trials in Switzerland.
Conclusion: Switzerland as an example for other countries?
Switzerland has chosen a structured legalisation process based on pilot trials, while other countries like the Czech Republic or Germany discuss and present their own ways of legalisation. Every country must take its unique nation-specific factors into account. However, the safety of consumers and ensuring transparency and traceability along the supply chain is crucial. Consumers must know the products they are buying and consuming and authorities need to have insights into the supply chain.
If you are interested in learning more about how our Cannavigia software or our Cannabis Dispensary system can be beneficial for regulators or authorities and ensure transparent and traceable supply chains, don’t hesitate to contact us!