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Sunday, October 18, 1998 Published at 06:51 GMT 07:51 UK

World: Europe

Hemp shops suffer legal setback

It is illegal to smoke hemp products in Switzerland

Hemp shops in Switzerland have been dealt a blow by a landmark ruling against a man selling hemp-filled aromatherapy pillows.

A regional court in Zurich said the man, James Blond, was guilty of breaking the country's drugs law. It fined him £10,000 and ordered him to hand over his estimated £40,000 annual profit. It also gave him a 14-month suspended prison sentence.

Our Geneva Correspondent Claire Doole says this first successful prosecution is intended to act as a strong deterrent to other sellers.

[ image: Hemp is a member of the cannabis family]
Hemp is a member of the cannabis family
The sale of aromatherapy bags stuffed with hemp had been a grey area of the law - with traders only considered to be breaking it if they knew customers were going to smoke the leaves.

Blond said he had sold the pillows to help asthma sufferers.

Although he plans to appeal to a higher court, the ruling paves the way for other Swiss regions to bring their own prosecutions.

Another hemp shop owner, François Roycer, says that the appeal process could take up to two years.

In the past few months, there has been a series of raids on hemp shops, mainly in German-speaking Switzerland.

In Switzerland, hemp products, such as clothes, can be sold legally, providing they are not eaten or smoked. But it is illegal to make claims about hemp's medicinal properties.

Hemp grown for fibre has only small amounts of the narcotic THC, while other cannabis plants have much larger amounts.

There are around 160 hemp shops in the country.

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