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Claire Doole in Geneva
"Hemp farms are growing in Switzerland"
 real 28k

Saturday, 17 June, 2000, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Swiss move to ease cannabis law
hemp
Dozens of hemp farms have appeared in Switzerland
Switzerland could be on the verge of overtaking the Netherlands as the cannabis centre of Europe, with plans to legalise consumption of the drug.

Next month, the Swiss Government will unveil proposals to relax laws on consumption and possibly, in a limited way, on sales and production.

Unlike in the rest of Europe, hemp with a narcotic content is legal, as long as it is not sold to be smoked as cannabis.

Dozens of hemp farms have sprung up in Switzerland in the past five years along with 150 hemp shops, where hemp products are sold together with marijuana.



Consumption yes, sale and production definitely no. That would make Switzerland an island and we do not want that

Health Ministry chief Thomas Zeltner
To cover themselves legally, the shops pack the dried weed in cellophane, and then barcode, price and label it as "hemp tea", "dried flowers", "organic buds" and "scent sachets".

A recent report by the Federal Commission for Narcotics Issues, an independent panel that advises the government, found that half a million people out of Switzerland's population of seven million smoked cannabis at least once a month.

It concluded that cannabis had all but attained middle-class respectability "because of widespread use and a marked increase in its social status".

The narcotics commission, along with some of the cantons is calling on the government to legalise possession, sale and consumption of small amounts.


flowers
Shops sell cannabis as dried flowers
The head of the Health Ministry, Thomas Zeltner, says next month the government will propose to parliament that the laws on cannabis are relaxed.

However, he said he would be against legalising the sale and production of cannabis.

He said: "Consumption yes, sale and production definitely no. That would make Switzerland an island and we do not want that."

Three of the parties in the governing coalition are expected to agree with the decriminalisation of consumption.

Black market

Mr Zeltner says the government may suggest a system similar to that in the Netherlands which will mean consumers and traders will no longer be prosecuted.

"There is a possibility that the government will introduce a formula like the Netherlands that hemp production and sale will in principle be illegal, but that law enforcement will not look after these shops."

Francois Reusser, the president of the Swiss Hemp Association, who runs Chanf, a popular Zurich hemp shop, said: "Adults have the right to have controlled and regulated access to that stuff.

"That way the black market will disappear and that is what we want from the government."

'Needle park'

Switzerland has attempted innovative ways to combat the drugs problem.

The largest open-air drug market, the notorious "needle park" in Zurich, was closed in 1995 after pressure from community groups upset with crime and other problems.

But Switzerland continues to experiment with progressive treatment programmes, including prescribing heroin to hard-core addicts under strict medical control.

Swiss voters in 1998 overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to legalise both so-called "soft" and "hard" drugs.

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29 Nov 98 | Europe
Swiss drugs change up in smoke
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