Health & Science

For the first time in Switzerland, few selected people can legally buy cannabis for recreational use as part of a study

As part of the scientific pilot program Weed Care, a few people in Switzerland can buy cannabis for recreational use legally for the first time.

cannabis leaf
Illustration | © Rick Proctor

From January 30 and for a least a year, about 180 people in Switzerland are now legally allowed to buy cannabis in the nine Basel-based drugstores taking part in the scientific program called Weed Care.

The study conducted by the Basel-Stadt health department, the university psychiatric clinics, the Aargau psychiatric services and the University of Basel aims to examine consumer behavior and health effects of sale-regulated cannabis in comparison to the current situation in Switzerland in which cannabis is illegal. The study will last until at least March 2025.

Participants will be allowed to buy six cannabis products legally. Called Diesel Pollen, Lemon Tart, or also Strawberry Resin, all six products from Swiss manufacturer Pure Production include THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Four of them are in the form of dried cannabis flowers and two are hashish. They are sold between 8 Swiss Francs and 12 Swiss Francs (between 9 and 13 dollars) per gram depending on the THC content.

Participants are allowed to buy 10 grams of products for each purchase, the limit under which possession of cannabis has been decriminalized in Switzerland, and a maximum of 10 grams of THC per month.

Like any other people in Switzerland, they cannot use in public places or drive under influence of the substance. They can also be confiscated the cannabis they have by the police if they can’t justify the possession as part of the study or have more than the 10 grams of cannabis allowed. They are not allowed to share the cannabis from the pilot with others.

Participants are not paid for the study and need to buy cannabis at their own expense, which on the other hand is legal, has clear ingredients and a defined quantity of THC, free from pollutants or synthetic cannabinoids. They will need to answer a questionnaire about their health and consumption habits every two months.

The program received a large number of registrations to participate and had to stop accepting any further. Almost 700 people registered in only a few days.

A total of 374 people have been selected to participate in the study. The average age is 36 years old, the youngest 18 and the oldest 76. More than four in five are men. Participants live in the canton of Basel-Stadt, are at least 18 years old and use cannabis at least once a month.

Participants are divided into two groups. The first group of about 180 people can buy cannabis directly from the selected pharmacies right now, while the second one, the control group, will only be allowed to buy it in six months. They can buy cannabis for at least 12 months and can withdraw from the study at any time.

The pilot program was originally scheduled to start in mid-September last year but was delayed because the first harvest of the cannabis flowers didn’t meet quality standards set by authorities. Importing cannabis was discussed as an alternative at some point but the solution was dismissed.

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, another cannabinoid in cannabis plants has been legal in Switzerland since 2011. But the cultivation, import and sale of cannabis are prohibited in the country.

An amendment of the Narcotics Act in 2021 provided the legal basis for pilot trials on the regulated sale of cannabis for recreational purposes in Switzerland, as Swiss authorities debate on making the recreational use of cannabis legal.

In addition to Basel-Stadt, other scientific pilot programs are also being planned in other Swiss cantons and cities, including in Zurich, Biel, Lucerne, Geneva. In the canton of Berne, the government council recently opposed pilot tests justifying there are already enough studies to decide whether cannabis should be legalized.

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