In May 2021, the Swiss Parliament amended the Federal Narcotics Act to allow scientific pilot trials for the controlled distribution of cannabis for recreational purposes. The goal of these pilot studies is to create the scientific basis for possible future cannabis legislation. The legal amendment from last May pursues an explicitly scientific goal. Accordingly, the pilot trials will be closely monitored by scientists, as well as conducted locally and for a limited period of time only. The legislation allowing for the pilot trials will be in force for 10 years – until May 2031.
The pilot trials will begin in 2022 and will not be carried out by the federal government itself, but by interested municipalities, cities or universities. The cities of Zurich and Basel are both already preparing pilot projects for recreational cannabis use. In Zurich, pharmacies and clubs were able to register for the pilot project “Züri Can – Cannabis with Responsibility” until the end of 2021. The city of Basel, whose project is scheduled to run for 3 years, intends to start selling cannabis in pharmacies by mid-2022. According to nau.ch, other cities and municipalities are also about to start pilot projects. The respective trials are limited to 5000 participants.
The pilot projects will be conducted as follows: In a first step, the lead scientists of the respective pilot trial will select cannabis cultivators and producers suitable for producing the cannabis for their study. These may be producers of medical marijuana and/or producers of CBD cannabis, which is already legal in Switzerland if the THC-content is under 1%. According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), it might even be possible that hemp pioneers from the 1980s and 1990s, who often cultivated cannabis illegally in the meantime, could be relied upon for the pilot trials under tight supervision. In total, several tons of cannabis will be needed for the pilot trials. In addition, the cannabis products used in the trials must, whenever possible, be of Swiss origin and comply with the rules of Swiss organic farming.
Upon successful review of the Cannabis producers and cultivators, the scientific aspect of the pilot trials will commence. As such, study participants will be recruited. These participants must fulfill certain conditions. They have to be at least 18 years old and able to prove that they already consume cannabis. In addition, they must legally reside in the canton in which the respective pilot trial is being conducted. Participation can be revoked at any time. Within the framework of the trials, participants can obtain a maximum of 10 grams of cannabis per month. The pilot trials will be monitored closely, and the lead scientists of each study must inform the FOPH every year about its findings from the trial as well as about the quantities dispensed and stored. The results of the respective project must be documented in a research report. The FOPH is obliged to publish these research reports on an ongoing basis. The scientific monitoring and publication of the reports is particularly important with regards to a possible change in Switzerland’s cannabis legislation.
With the initiation of the pilot trials, Switzerland is taking a further step towards researching and contemplating the legalization of cannabis. In doing so, Switzerland is following a trend in North America and Western Europe, where many countries have already legalized cannabis containing THC for recreational purposes.