The news came out a few days ago. Not an official go-ahead to begin, but a final approval for the much-anticipated Switzerland recreational cannabis trials; the trials that will help determine recreational cannabis policy for an upcoming weed market in the country. The trials are still yet to begin, but more information is now available for what to expect; and the final barrier for it to happen, broken through.
What are the Switzerland recreational cannabis trials?
There are two things happening in Switzerland concerning recreational cannabis, but they’re heavily related. For one, Switzerland decided via a Council of States vote in September, 2021, that recreational cannabis shouldn’t be prohibited anymore. This was just a basic decision, and without any legislation to define what this would look like for the country. As a part of the vote, Switzerland’s parliament must now draft a bill for recreational cannabis.
The second thing started prior to this in 2020, when a pilot study to assess whether current cannabis laws should be updated, was approved. The amended Federal Act on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances went into effect in May of 2021, and allows trials to be held related to recreational cannabis in the country. The approved period for trials as per the legislation, is 10 years, but its not expected to take that long to establish policy.
The vote for legalization happened before any trial began (or was fully approved), which shows the emphasis went to ‘how to do it’ from ‘should we do it’. According to the study FAQ for the Zurich trials, this particular study will last 3.5 years. It’s quite possible that separate trials will get approved in another part of the country. The amendment is broad in that way, allowing for different research projects. This is the first to get underway.
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According to stadt-zuerich.ch, the study site, “The study examines the effects of purchasing selected cannabis products from controlled cultivation under regulated conditions on the consumption and health of the participants. In addition, different models of regulated cannabis procurement are to be compared with one another.”
The study is run by the city of Zurich in conjunction with the Psychiatric University Clinic Zurich. The study is called ‘Cannabis With Responsibility’ (Züri Can), and will only use a single location: Zurich, the capital city of Switzerland. All participants are to come from this location.
The study was supposed to begin at the end of 2022, but was postponed to an unspecified date in 2023. This happened because the Federal Office of Public Health and the Cantonal Ethics Commission, still needed to approve at the time it was supposed to begin. It was stated upon postponement that the cannabis needed for the trials, couldn’t be procured until approvals were met. The trials did finally get approved on March 21st, and are now said to begin after the summer holidays.
The low-down on recreational cannabis trials in Switzerland
The trials are not open to everyone in Zurich who want to smoke, and will only include a test group of 2,100 people. These 2,100 people will be able to legally buy weed for recreational use, in regulated amounts. The 2,100 alone will have access to pharmacies, dispensaries, and social clubs within Zurich, with 21 access points; though each participant must choose only one access point, and stick with it.
These access points can’t mess with pricing. All prices are formulated using current black market prices, along with consideration to THC and CBD content within a product. All supply points must sell at the same price for the same product, which is set by the study’s management. And all products used in the study must come from organic cannabis, produced in Switzerland. Cannabis cannot be consumed in public.
How will the government get anything out of this? Study subjects must fill out a survey every six months that goes over their general use habits, and whatever effects their use has on their health. The data from the study is meant to be released starting next year, and on a rolling basis (as the study progresses, not solely at the end of it).
Explained Barbara Burri, Zurich municipal health department project manager, via CNBC “The idea is to get robust real world evidence that serves policymaking for new [national] regulation on cannabis.” The part of the study is to assess the best ways to go about cannabis legalization, in order to create a compatible environment between this new industry, and the general well-being of the public.
If you’re a resident of Zurich who wants to be a part of this, you can register to participate. In order for consideration, you must already be a cannabis user, and an adult. You must not have underlying medical problems, and you may not participate if you’re employed as a driver. Anyone who fits this description, and is interested, can check out the registration, here.
What does the 2,100 represent?
2,100 people in the general Zurich area will be picked to participate in the upcoming recreational cannabis trials as a way to determine the best way to open a recreational market in Switzerland. Study trials of any kind aren’t meant to include everyone. They’re groups meant to represent wider populations. The idea being that a program that meets the needs of the chosen group, will also meet the needs of the wider population.
According to public health surveys out of Switzerland, via CNBC, about a third of the country has at least experimented with cannabis. It’s estimated that out of Zurich city proper’s 420,000+ residents, that approximately 13,000 regularly consume cannabis. Like many other cities, that 420,000+ only relates to people within city lines, not the entire metropolitan area that accounts for more like 1.4 million.
According to swissinfo.ch (SWI), there are approximately 220,000 regular cannabis users in the country. A 2016 estimate put it at 500,000, which is a pretty big difference, and perhaps, highlights how hard it is for governments to pin down numbers for illegal drug use. While the number could have dropped by over half in about six years (at a time when things are getting more liberal), its more likely that neither is exactly correct. I couldn’t find a publication of the latter number beyond the 2016 srf.ch article, which seemed a bit slanted against drug use in general. The 500,000 could be an inflated number that was used to incite fear.
This number discrepancy might also relate to specific definitions. Swissinfo’s number was specifically for ‘regular users.’ If the 500,000 relates to number of people who have tried cannabis at some point, for example, the numbers then make more sense.
Numbers often vary on these topics because of the difficulty in getting hard statistics; I’m putting attention on this discrepancy because the numbers are far enough off that one is over half the other. However, let’s remember CNBC put it at 1/3 of Switzerland’s adult population that had at least ‘tried’ cannabis (meaning millions), which then brings us back to the original issue, of not totally understanding what the use population is.
Switzerland has approximately 8.8 million inhabitants in 2023 as per worldometers. That means, if looking at the lower number, about 2.5% of the population regularly uses weed. If looking at the high number, about 5.6% of the population are regular users. This, of course looks at the comparison to the entire population, not just the adult population. Although one of the realities of cannabis, is that many under-agers use it too. And many people use it, while not being ‘regular users’. Overall, for a city with approximately 13,000 regular users, 2100 is a great representative sample.
The Switzerland cannabis trials haven’t started yet, but we’re now getting closer, with a final approval from necessary agencies. Considering Switzerland already announced a legalization, its questionable how necessary this study is, at least in terms of initial legislation.
With the way things are going, a market will open long before this study ends (particularly as Switzerland competes with Germany). This study might not be the basis for whatever legislation passes first, but its sure to be useful in effectively building a system; especially considering how many issues prevail in today’s cannabis market.
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