Switzerland has finally announced its highly anticipated three-and-a-half-year pilot scheme to implement the development of a recreational cannabis trial (and industry). This is a direct result of legislative changes made in Swiss law about the same last year.
The trial will allow Swiss cities to set up their own cannabis markets, and further, conduct their own studies on the effect of such trial cannabis markets—as well as the impact on the citizenry on the use of the drug.
The Zurich trial, called “Zuri Can” will begin in the fall of next year and include different products with varying levels of THC and CBD content. The municipal trial will be supervised by the psychiatric hospital of the University of Zurich.
Local manufacturers must obtain a production permit from the Federal Office of Public Health to ensure quality standards.
Beyond being one of the most avidly watched experiments right now, this is also a large turnaround by the Swiss people and legislature in a relatively short period of time (and one that both tracks and lags North American reform by about seven years). In 2008, almost two-thirds of the Swiss voting public decided against decriminalization of cannabis for personal use.
What is Good (And Bad) About the Approach
At this point, as the recreational reform discussion has stalled in the DACH region (Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) beyond the rest of Europe, any federally regulated recreational trial in any of these countries should be considered a mark of progress.
Sadly, however, there are still some odd elements to all of this that smack of lingering stigma, starting with having the recreational trial in the country’s largest city supervised by any Psych Department. The second odd twist to this is that the trial only seeks “experienced users” to participate.
What exactly an “experienced” user is defined by will be determined by hair tests—namely, one must prove that one has consumed enough cannabis for the proof to show up not just in urine or even blood tests.
Beyond this definition, however, the study goals are clear: to understand the dynamics of a legitimate market and how to set up the same to combat the illicit one. The idea, of course, in four years, is ostensibly to transition to a federally licensed, national recreational market—the second in Europe after Holland at the current schedule.
Beyond Zurich, other experiments are planned for the largest Swiss cities including Basel, Bern, Biel and Geneva.
While of course official estimates are just that (and for all the obvious reasons), there are currently an estimated 200,000 people who consume cannabis or cannabis products on an ongoing basis.
Organic in Switzerland
There is another twist to all this that could prove to be a game changer in the way that cannabis is grown (and even for medical purposes) across Europe. Namely, the only cannabis to be allowed in the trial must be grown both domestically and organically.
This means that the Swiss are potentially setting another precedent that could well ripple across Europe if not the entire cultivation industry. So far, there has been terrific debate about how both medical and recreational cannabis should be cultivated.
The debate so far—mainly whether cannabis grown indoors but under high GACP standards (namely national if not regional standards for all foodstuffs) could, in some circumstances, be certified as EU-GMP (or pharmaceutical grade) through the processing, extracting and packaging process. The requirement that cannabis be an organic crop in Switzerland begins to better define the process generally—and, in fact, could well become a regional standard for all cannabis grown throughout the EU. See Portugal and Spain, for starters, where this debate has begun to rage, triggered by the German medical import market.
If such a regulatory schemata were widely copied from Switzerland, this, in turn, would help regulate nascent domestic markets across the continent and create a path to both the pharmaceutical and recreational markets that starts with a single certification.
This also could be used to lower (significantly) the expense of medical cannabis production, not to mention lower the carbon footprint of the same.
In its own way, the strategic Swiss may, as a result, leave their own mark on an industry that, far from Swiss borders, needs better guidance about how to cultivate and process in the future.
Marguerite Arnold is a veteran cannabis industry journalist, covering the market from Germany since 2013. Her new book, Green II: Spreading Like Kudzu about the inside story of the first German cannabis cultivation bid is now on sale in English and being translated into German.