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Where there’s smoke, there’s political fire

The rising popularity of marijuana that doesn’t make you high – a product known as “cannabis light” or “CBD cannabis” – is causing a headache for Swiss politicians.

It is sold in many Swiss shops and generates millions of Swiss francs in sales. Swiss authorities now ban growing, selling or consuming cannabis with a THC content, the main psychoactive element in the plant, over 1%. Above this limit, cannabis is considered a narcotic.

Possession of up to a maximum of 10 grammes of the drug is punishable by a fine of CHF100. The law allows for the controlled and limited use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Now, as the legal cannabis market continues to boom in Switzerland, supermarket giant Coop says that by the end of July it will stock the first ever ‘cannabis cigarettes,’ made by a local tobacco producer.

And the Swiss Customs Administration has now registered 250 manufacturers – a gold rush of sorts since it was just five at the start of the year. They now have thousands of square metres of cultivation areas.

“The easier the hemp is available, the more is consumed,” said parliamentarian Andrea Geissbühler of the Swiss People’s Party, who compared the ease of obtaining it to buying a pack of gum, according to a report on Sunday in the Luzerner Zeitung.

Others say they fear the rising cannabis use will lead to poor student grades at school.

Another parliamentarian with the right-wing People’s Party, Verena Herzog, called Coop’s action “absolutely irresponsible” by enriching itself at the expense of youth. “You get the feeling that cannabis is harmless – but that’s not (true)!”

Long-simmering debate

The debate in parliament has been going on for several years, but the recent acceptance and rising popularity in commercial markets is intensifying attitudes on all sides. Switzerland has long played a pioneering role in drug policy. In 1986, it was the first to open shelters for addicts and in 1994 it medically prescribed heroin.

The Legalise it! association plans to launch a citizens’ initiative for the legalisation of cannabis consumption in Switzerland.

By a vote of 63% opposed, Swiss voters in 2008 shot down a citizens’ initiative calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis consumption. Despite this, subsequent years yielded no lack of plans and proposals for the regulated distribution of cannabis.

At the forefront of some of these measures are some of Switzerland’s big cities, including Geneva, Zurich and Basel, which launched pilot projects to study the effects of controlled consumption of cannabis within associations known as “cannabis social clubs”. The city of Bern also announced the launch of a project to study the effects of the regulated sale of cannabis in pharmacies.