While cannabis reform is happening in Switzerland, the country has a ways to go before marijuana is legalized in the land of chocolate, cheese, accurate watches and anonymous bank accounts.
The status of medical marijuana in Switzerland is uncertain. While there is no explicit provisions for strictly medical use under current laws, medical use will likely not be prosecuted. CBD is legal as long as the THC content remains less than one percent. Anything more than that, though, and you could run into trouble with the law.
Before 2002, you could grow, possess, and use cannabis freely (and cheaply). You could easily buy both indoor- and outdoor-grown marijuana as long as you were over 18.
That relaxed policy came to a crashing halt in 2002, when cannabis was re-criminalized in Switzerland because the country had to comply with UN-mandated laws.
But like clocks that go around and round, things changed again in 2011.
Now, low-THC cannabis (less than 1%) is legal again. This is mostly used for medical purposes, as recreational weed has much higher THC levels.
In late 2016, shops popped up all over Switzerland selling low-THC weed (there are over 140 such shops now). The plan is to tax and regulate low-THC cannabis as economic justification for further reform (perhaps taking inspiration from progressive marijuana laws such as those in Colorado, Washington State, and California).
Recreational users are hopeful that the Swiss government will reform current laws and legalize recreational use – and the news, thus far, is good.
In 2016, the cities of Basel, Bern, Geneva, and Zurich announced plans to establish pilot cannabis clubs. 2,000 people will be allowed to join for four years and the purpose of the study is to understand their popularity, utility, and potential tax revenue.
Interestingly, hemp is perfectly legal in Switzerland (hemp generally contains less than 1% THC). Confusingly, stores selling hemp seeds can also sell high-THC seeds…
What’s Next for Switzerland?
But even with the confusion and restrictions, Switzerland has a relatively liberal drug policy even with the UN restrictions in place. Since a landmark court case in 2013, possession of up to 8 grams of cannabis is decriminalized and may not even carry a fine. Fines are generally very low, about 100 Swiss Francs if you’re in possession of more than 10 grams. Fines only increase significantly if you are a repeat offender or if you happen to be in possession of more than 4 kilos, at which point you may face jail time as well. Distribution of soft drugs like marijuana is also penalized less harshly in Switzerland than distributing hard drugs.
What’s in store for the future? A 2004 move to decriminalize possession and consumption of marijuana unfortunately narrowly failed in Parliament. Since then, the legalization issue has continued to evolve.
Results from a 2008 Swiss national referendum revealed that 36.7% of the country’s citizens supported legalizing cannabis. For now, the low-THC marijuana industry is booming, and is seen as a precursor of more progressive laws regarding high-THC marijuana and cannabis products.