When will it become legal in Switzerland?

Every few weeks, someone asks us this question, usually with a certain naiveté: as if it could only be a matter of days before this happens. But we are still a long way from legalization in Switzerland. Why is that? Our secretary Sven summarizes his impressions. Let's start with the consumers. There are many of them. Depending on the study or the question (“consumption daily” or “consumption in the last year”), there are hundreds of thousands or even more than a million. But even if that is a lot: With a population of almost nine million, they are just a small minority. Even if all hemp users were in favor of legalization, they would still not be able to reach a majority on their own.

There are, however, quite a few non-users who have realized the futility of prohibition, for example among addiction specialists. But they do not succeed in gaining political acceptance. They would prefer to take a stricter approach to the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco, which are handled quite liberally, and a more liberal approach to hemp than is the case today, so that all these psychoactive substances would be subject to a common scheme based on effective dangerousness. In doing so, however, they are burdening themselves with two problems, each of which seems almost insoluble in itself.

Even if many users would like to see an end to prohibition: A considerable part of the smokers was and is against a legalization. There is always the fear that prices would rise (whereas today's prohibition profits could pay almost any tax), that then more monitoring could be done (this cannot be completely ruled out anymore, e.g. compulsory registration for each plant and all users), that one could lose one's small business (selling to other users to cover one's own consumption): It is better to stick to the status quo than to risk something new.

More decisive for the inactivity of most people seems to me: It works! The black market works most of the time. People get their hands on weed and hash, often of decent quality. Of course, dignified counters with different tested varieties would be nicer. But as long as the consumers get to the stuff and no problems arise: Why should they support a change that might come at some point and of which they don't know exactly how it would be designed in the end?

Because it can work for decades: The dealer provides weed or hash, nothing happens while driving. Everything is easy… until it happens:

⇒ Smoking a joint in a stupid place (which nowadays usually results in a pardonable fixed penalty of 100 francs ).

⇒ The dealer is caught and you are identified in his messages (which can then become unpleasant, moreover, the source also dries up).

⇒ A consumer buys a larger quantity for the next few months and is caught (and then suspected of being a dealer himself).

⇒ Someone gets caught in a traffic control and this really hurts the person concerned: punishment for driving under the influence of drugs as well as a driving fitness assessment with enforced abstinence.

⇒ An order for hemp seeds is confiscated by customs and leads to criminal proceedings with all their consequences (which can be very stressful for those ordering).

At such moments, it becomes clear to all concerned that today's narcotics law is a pretty nasty law. Basically, dealing THC is a misdemeanor (the higher level of illegality). Anyone who deals is even very quickly on the level of severe misdemeanor or felony with a minimum penalty of one year imprisonment. Only consumption and preparatory acts are contraventions (the lower level of illegality). That's when the feeling comes up: “This can't be true!? We live in 2021!” But it is true, but it affects “only” about 10% of consumers per year. For the others, it works!

Those who are affected by repression see quite clearly that something has to be changed. But this person has at this moment other things in mind than long-term political commitment. Who gets problems with THC and driving, pays quickly 3'000 to 5'000 francs, a lot of time and nerves go additionally on it. Who ordered hemp seeds, may have to go for the first time to a police interrogation, experience for the first time a house search. And then also pays 500 to 1,000 francs. Or to put it another way: at this moment, those affected must first solve their acute problems. This is understandable, but it does not change the reality.

For many users, the principle of hope also prevails: legalization will come on its own at some point, you don't have to do anything for it. Every headline in the media (“Federal Council wants…”, “Commission wants…”) is seen as already fulfilled: it's already happening. I have been seeing such headlines and such reactions to them for 30 years now. Well, it didn't become legal. The necessary majorities for it could not be achieved: neither with the Federal Council proposals around the turn of the millennium, nor with the popular initiative in the 2000s.

Previous attempts in parliament to fundamentally change the situation have also not yet succeeded (e.g. parliamentary initiative by the Greens, failed in 2018). A new popular initiative has been discussed again and again and clarifications and many meetings have been made for it. But the necessary people and funds are not in sight despite all efforts.

Of course, there is also always fear of reprisals if one would get involved. But one must see clearly: Whoever orders hemp seeds abroad has a good chance of being involved in criminal proceedings. Anyone who drives a car with traces of THC in their blood risks getting an entry in their criminal record every time. Those who deal may well end up in pre-trial detention for a few days. But anyone who is politically committed to the legalization of hemp will not be prosecuted for this. We have that much freedom in our country. It is probably mainly a matter of passivity or shame that is concealed by fear.

Among the politically active, however, there were and are also some blind spots. Many continue to ignore the great difficulties in working out a majority for legalization or even for decriminalization. So far, there has never been a majority in favor of legalization among the voters, and it is still unclear what a majority could be found for in the population. A comprehensive survey would probably cost several tens of thousands of francs. But such a survey would be necessary if we do not want to continue to poke around in the fog. Our “legalization grid” project is intended to provide a construction kit of regulatory options that could then be clarified. The worst thing, however, is that a constitutional amendment requires not only a majority of those voting, but also a majority of the cantons. This is almost impossible to achieve if you look at a map of Switzerland with the cantons and consider that Uri and Zurich, Ticino and Geneva each count the same. We still lack a credible strategy on how we could master this cliff.

Another point that is often forgotten because it is very troublesome: Switzerland has signed the international treaties on drug prohibition. This means that legalization is not really possible. Well, at least there are now states like Canada that have also signed these treaties and more or less just ignore them. They call this “Respectful non-compliance”. But can Switzerland do the same, with our understanding of the law? Such questions are still unanswered - and clarification would require a lot of work and money for legal expertise.

In addition, there are many other legal problem areas. Whoever wants to create a hemp proposal for Switzerland that is legally “leveraged” (dealing with international treaties, constitutional provision, new hemp law, rights of the cantons and possibly municipalities) and can convince a majority of the parliament, the voters and the states, must do a lot of back-breaking work, work on it for many years and be pragmatic.

Because the image of THC users is still bad. The problem potheads are highly visible, while the vast majority of problem-free users, as mentioned above, keep a low profile. This distorts the perceived reality and is really a big problem to convince the non-users to change the situation. Just talk to a teacher: with practically all students who cause problems in class, sooner or later you will find something weed. That also many weed possess, which do not make problems, one does not see simply. And the fact that those with problems usually have many other problems in life besides weed is sometimes seen. But the “stinky” weed, the red eyes etc. are just conspicuous and are perceived by many strongly and also as causal for the problems.

In addition, Switzerland is a conservative country. Social liberalism has a very hard time (e.g. late introduction of women's suffrage; long lasting ban on concubinage; late acceptance of homosexuality; the city council of Zurich wanted to ban the new street parade in 1994). Such initiatives take an incredibly long time and many attempts. One has to remember: Most of the liberalizations so appreciated today, such as longer opening hours for pubs or more diverse cultural offerings, were first fought for by the 1980s movement, in a sometimes violent protest.

So the black market will be needed for a long time, because it will not become legal any time soon. Unless a lot of people move, stand up with their name and picture, argue and convince a majority that does not consume. To achieve this is the challenge. So far, the hemp scene has not managed this. At least: legalization has now been achieved even in conservative areas (US states). Therefore, it seems to be possible in principle. But the situation in Switzerland has its peculiarities. A strategy is needed on how we could achieve it here with us - taking into account our legal boundary conditions, the different language regions and the stubborn cantons.

That's why it's not yet legal: because not enough people have thought about it and then acted on it. Sometimes such historical departures happen. I am curious whether I will still experience such a one. I, we continue to stay tuned and are very interested in reactions or additions to these reflections. Because we have to overcome these hurdles together if we want to win.

You can find an overview of regulatory options for legalization as well as a nice solution for it here.

Last modified: 2024/03/27 08:56

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Legal overview

Shit happens 15 (Summer 2023)

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