Switzerland is to become the first European country to launch a cannabis sales pilot program to study the effects of cannabis legalization.
The so-called “Weed Care” pilot program will be officially launched on September 15 and is scheduled to last for two and a half years, ending in March 2025.
The program involves 370 participants based in Basel, Switzerland’s third-most populous city.
Participants involved in the pilot program are over 18, reside in Basel-Stadt Canton, and are already adult-use cannabis consumers.
Throughout the entire study, the participants will be regularly asked about their cannabis consumption behavior and physical and mental health, among other things.
“The first research question is whether consumption changes – whether more is consumed, less or the same amount,” said Regine Steinauer, head of the addiction department at Basel University, as reported by Euronews.
She added that the study would also investigate whether mental and physical health changes when cannabis is consumed in pharmacies.
Participants will be able to buy four types of cannabis products and two types of hashish-based products from the nine pharmacies participating in the study after showing their ID cards.
Pharmacies will sell cannabis-based products from CHF 8 (about $8) to CHF 12 (about $12) per gram, a price determined by the current going rate on the illicit market.
Products containing different THC levels are produced by the Swiss company Pure Production.
THC levels of dried flowers vary from 5% to 17%, while hashish products contain a THC level between 13% and 20%.
Participants can buy packs of 5 grams in pharmacies and consume cannabis products only in private rooms.
As current law doesn’t punish the possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis, participants can buy up to two packs per purchase.
According to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the pilot program aims to increase knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of controlled access to cannabis and provide a scientific basis to legalize adult-use cannabis in the country.
FOPH authorized the cannabis sales pilot program on April 19, and it will be carried out jointly by the University of Basel, the University Psychiatric Clinics, and the Department of Health of the Basel-Stadt Canton.
Lukas Engelberger, medical director of Basel’s health department, said on a Facebook post that the Basel-based cannabis sale pilot project is the first in the country. However, other Swiss cities are working on a similar program.
“I’m happy about that. Of course, I would prefer that we didn’t use cannabis at all, with all its risks and disadvantages. However, we have to state that the current prohibition regime has not led to a decline in consumption. It is therefore right and important to test new regulatory models,” he wrote.
On May 15, 2021, an amendment to the Federal Narcotics Act came into force, allowing pilot trials on the controlled sale of adult-use cannabis in Switzerland, though limited in terms of time and space.
Despite being illegal, the FOPH estimates at least 200,000 active consumers of adult-use cannabis in the country, but they may be much more.
Switzerland held a referendum to legalize the consumption, purchase, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use in 2008. However, around 63% of Swiss citizens voted against the proposal.
On August 1, 2022, Switzerland fully legalized access to medical cannabis through a physician’s prescription and allowed the export of medical cannabis products for commercial purposes.
A study conducted by the University of Geneva and the consulting firm EBP reveals that the cannabis industry in Switzerland could generate CHF 1 billion (about $1 billion) per year.