Summer session of the Swiss Parliament from 2-19 June 2020

Decisions in the first half of the session: Picked out: Cannabis supply to addicts – against all reason

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

In the first week of the session, National Council and Council of States approved drafts on the Corona Pandemic (supplementary credit for the unemployment insurance, urgent amendment of the Epidemics Act as the basis for the Contact Tracing App) presented already by Current Concerns Issues No. 12, 8 June 2020. The also here mentioned prolongation of the Swisscoy military action in Kosovo was unfortunately accepted by a majority of the National Council (against the votes of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the Greens). The decision of the Council of States on 16 June is expected to be held in the same tenor - no glory for neutral Switzerland.
   Of the other issues discussed in parliament two particularly important shall be singled out. One is the end point of years of rope pulling of both Councils with regard to the “Responsible Business Initiative” – federal popular initiative “protecting human rights and the environment”). The popular initiative is expected to be voted on 27 November this year. National Council and Council of States on June 8 and 9, agreed on an indirect counter-proposal within the framework of the revision of the company law (Swiss Code of Obligations) in a last minute decision. By that they hoped to bring down the initiative at the ballot box. The concerns of the initiators and the objections of the opponents deserve  that we take time for a factual consideration and discussion among us citizens. In this context also the legally rather complicated procedure of the parliamentary negotiations hast to be considered. Also for this we need some time.

   A second draft which should be a subject of discussion, is the so-called “controlled” dispensing of cannabis, which the National Council dealt with as first council. The majority on 2 June approved an “experimental article” in the Federal Narcotics Act – against all reason and against the duty of us adults to take care of the countrys young people›s health and show them a dignified and community-related way into the future. After all, a strong minority out of several parties said no to this experiment with our youth. In the following more details.

Already in earlier times Switzerland has achieved regrettable fame with the distribution of heroin (“narcotic-assisted treatment” of “narcotic-dependent persons” as referred to in Article 3e of the Federal Narcotics Act NarcA)1. Who is treating an alcoholic by supplying him with a bottle of hard liquor every day? In February 2019, the Federal Council brought up “scientific pilot experiments with cannabis”. Studies shall be pursued to do “research” into the use of cannabis for pleasure purposes.2
  
In fact, the legal prohibition of cannabis in Switzerland already is quite undermined: CBD-hemp with less THC is found on the shelves of the grocery stores and kiosks, the possession and use of small quantities of cannabis with illegal THC content is not or rarely punished in many places. In some cities government and administration openly tolerate so-called “Cannabis Houses”. And now with salami tactics to the next level?

“Scientific studies” to wrap the step-by-step legalisation
of narcotics in fine words

According to the message of the Federal Council to the Parliament an Article 8a should be added to the Narcotics Act, according to which the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) may approve “scientific pilot experiments” with cannabis to “gain insight into which effects new regulations have on the handling of narcotics not used for medical purposes” (paragraph 1b.) The permission for such “studies” should be granted to municipalities in order to try “alternative forms of regulation” like sale by pharmacies, says the Federal Council. The truth oft he matter is that the “studies” are used as a pretext to carry through the acceptance of consumption and production of cannabis (with increasing content of THC) especially in some cities, where the drug legalisation lobby has been pushing in this direction for some time.
  
As if we parents and teachers didn’t make our “studies” respectively bad experiences with young cannabis consumers for decades already. Out of bright, lively young people become physically and mentally impaired humans, who can›t concentrate in school, are interested in little more than their next dope and often have strongly fluctuating performances. In the worst case some even become psychotic.
  
The new article shall include that the studies “shall be conducted in such a way […] that the protection of health and of minors, the protection of public order and public security are guaranteed” (planned Article 8a, paragraph 1c). Meaning that the participants must be of legal age, and the Federal Council affirms: “They are forbidden to pass on this cannabis to third parties, and they must not consume it in publicly accessible places.”3 Do the people in the federal administration think the citizens are complete idiots?
  
The experimental article would be valid for ten years, then the results of the studies would be compiled so that the discussion on cannabis policy can be continued evidence-based [emphasis added mw.]. In plain language:...that planned legalisation can be supported by an allegedly “scientific basis”.

All power to the Executive branch – alarm is indicated

Every one of us has seen moral pointing fingers and read warnings in the media during the last months: The Federal Council had “usurped power” because he had made the necessary decisions in an urgent emergency caused by the Corona pandemic. There the accusation came to nothing because the Federal Council acted entirely lawful, based on the Constitution.4
  
But with the planned cannabis experimentation-article we would give the power of decision in this field entirely to the executive branch. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) would be responsible for the authorisations of cannabis experiments (Art. 8a paragraph 1), and the Federal Council would, in accordance to Article 8a, paragraph 2, regulate “the conditions for the conduct of ‚pilot tests‘ and is likely to deviate from a whole series of provisions of the Narcotics Act. This, mind you, with a regulation on which neither Parliament nor the people had anything to say.

Encouraging opposition against the gradual legalisation of cannabis

– In November 2019, the Social Security and Health Committee of the National Council (SSHC-N) requested that the experimental article should be defeated.
On 15 November 2019, the Social Security and Health Committee of the National Council (SSHC-N) rejected the idea of a “controlled distribution of cannabis for consumption”, which was pursued by the Federal Council. The result was slight with the president having the casting vote. But yet: hats off!5

– Strong minority in the National Council rejects creeping cannabis legalisation
Unfortunately, on 10 December 2019, the National Council did not follow the motion of its commission, but instead voted by 100 votes to 85 with 2 abstentions for the Federal Council’s wet idea – pardon, Cannabis-idea – and pass the ball back to the committee for a detailed drafting of a bill.6
  
On 2 June 2020 the National Council more or less approved the Federal Council’s proposal, but again in strong opposition to several parties. The opponents of a creeping legalisation of cannabis did their best to make the conditions for obtaining the drug more difficult at least. For example, they demanded that employers and schools be informed about participation or that the total THC level not exceed 15 per cent. All attempts to increase the hurdles were rejected by the advocates of legalization – among them the same parliamentarians who support the “Responsible Business Initiative”, i.e. strict standards on human rights and the environment that our companies are supposed to comply with. Not even the call for all participants temporarily handing over their driving licences was accepted - obviously, the fact that this would also endanger other road users is accepted. The culmination of the debate was the addition of paragraph 1 lit. d., according to which the substance distributed had to be native organic hemp – this was supposed to strengthen Swiss agriculture!7 Isn’t it absurd?
  
However, in this debate the strong minority of opponents of the experimental article from several parties was encouraging: 81 nays (10 members of the FDP, 18 from the centre parties (CVP-BDP-EPP), 53 of 54 votes of the SVP). The Social Democrats, the Greens and the Green Liberals voted unanimously yes, as did parts of the FDP and the centre parties (113 yes).

– Engaged voices in the National Council
A member of the National Council made reference to the increased public health concerns regarding the corona pandemic: “In a time like this, we should be increasingly aware that health is our highest good. We must take care of it and therefore reject this amendment as a whole.” (Member of the National Councel Therese Schläpfer, SVP ZH)8
  
Member of the National Council Benjamin Roduit (CVP VS) summed up the topic as follows: “Lorsqu’un médicament entraîne plus de maux que la maladie qu’il est censé combattre, je crois qu’il faut savoir y renoncer. Dans ce cas, on voit très bien que la libéralisation sera un signal d’appel, notamment pour les jeunes, à consommer plus, ce qui constitue un problème encore plus grand.” (“If a drug causes more suffering than the disease it is intended to combat, I believe we should refrain from using it. In the present case, we can see very clearly that liberalisation would send a signal, especially to young people, to consume more, which would aggravate the problem.
  
Furthermore, he addressed Federal Councillor Berset, head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs. Berset had done an excellent job in promoting public health this spring. Yet, he approved the distribution of Cannabis to addicts with zeal: “Monsieur le conseiller fédéral, pendant deux mois toute la Suisse a vu en vous quelqu’un de très soucieux de la santé des citoyennes et des citoyens de notre pays, comme un vrai père. Ma question est la suivante: cela ne vous gêne-t-il pas de cautionner des projets pilotes qui vont rendre encore plus vulnérable une partie de la population? (“Mr Federal Councillor, during two months, the whole of Switzerland has experienced you as person who is very much committed to the health of the citizens of our country, like a real father. My question now is: Don’t you mind advocating pilot projects that will make part of the population even more vulnerable?” – Translation Current Concerns) We will spare the answer of Federal Councillor Alain Berset.
  
Verena Herzog, Member of the National Council SVP TG and President of the association “Youth without Drugs”, addressed her colleagues in the Council urgently and directly. Here is an excerpt from her statement: “Swiss champion, European champion or even world champion titles in sport or another discipline fill us with pride. However, when Swiss youngsters are supposed to be world champions in smoking pot, as repeatedly quoted by various media, it should worry. What has gone wrong in our affluent society, what has gone wrong with our four-pillar principle? In the recent months, we have been clearly shown how important our state of health is. In the Corona pandemic, drug addicts are also among the vulnerable people. People with lung damage are particularly at risk of death from COVID-19. Unfortunately, this virus or mutations thereof are likely to keep on challenging us in the future. The drug cannabis is not illegal just for fun. Despite this knowledge, it is now to be given to addicts in pilot projects, instead of finally investing the time and financial resources in a credible, nationwide information campaign about the harmful effects of cannabis – as is being done by the FOPH on other issues. The aim must be to focus young people on more meaningful leisure activities. […] For example, due to a consistent health and prevention project Island succeeded in reducing the proportion of young people between 15 and 16 years of age smoking cannabis from 17 to 7 per cent within 20 years. Instead, our parliament is willing to sell cannabis with a THC level of up to 20 per cent to up to 5,000 adults per pilot trial – in the early seventies there was only three percent cannabis; all this despite the fact that a few years ago the sovereign rejected a relaxation of the Narcotics Act with 63 per cent voting no. […]”

What are the next steps?

The National Council having approved (provisionally limeted) distribution of cannabis by the state, it will be the turn of the Council of States in the autumn session. It is very much to be hoped that the Council of States will assume its responsibility for the health of the population and reject it. Otherwise, broad segments of the population will launch and support the referendum against it so that finally, the people can decide. Collecting signatures will be an opportunity for many discussions with fellow citizens on whether we want to accept downplaying and gradual legalisation of cannabis or say no to it, for the benefit of our youth.    •
 


1  Federal Act on Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Narcotics Act, NarcA) 3 October 1951, repeatedly revised
2  “Pilot trials with cannabis: message sent to the Parliament” press release of the Federal Council 28 February 2019
3  “Pilot trials with cannabis: message sent to the Parliament”, press release of the Federal Council 28 February 2019
4  see “Thoughts on freedom, federalism and democratic participation”, in: Current Concerns 8 June 2020
5  “Keine Cannabisstudien”. Press release of SSHC-N 15 November 2019
6  “National Council in principle for cannabis article” (SDA-report, 10 December 2019)
7  “National Council defines details for cannabis pilot projects”. (SDA-report, 2 June 2020)
8  19.021 Narcotics Law. Amendment. National Council debate 2 June 2020

Draft revision of the Federal Narcotics Act

(Version of the National Council from 2 June 2020)

The Federal Narcotics Act from 3 October 1951 (NarcA) is amended as follows:

I     Art. 8a Pilot tests

  1.  After consulting the cantons and communes concerned, the Federal Office of Public Health may authorise scientific pilot trials with narcotics of the cannabis effect type that
    a. are limited in time, place and purpose
    b. allow knowledge to be gained of the impact of new regulations on the use of these narcotics for non-medical purposes; and
    c. be conducted in such a way as to ensure the protection of health and minors, public order and public security;
    d. use only cannabis products that are of Swiss origin and comply with the rules of Swiss organic farming.
  2. The Federal Council shall regulate the conditions for conducting pilot tests. In doing so it may deviate from Articles 8 paragraph 1 letter d and 5, 11, 13, 19 paragraph 1 letter f and 20 paragraph 1 letters d and e.
  3. Narcotics of the effect type cannabis supplied in the context of the pilot tests are exempt from tobacco tax under Article 4 of the Tobacco Tax Act dated 21 March 1969.

II    1   This Act is subject to an optional referendum.
     
2   It shall apply for a period of ten years.
     
3   The Federal Council shall determine the date of entry into force.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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