5 July 2008
by Malcolm Curtis
Four federal parties rally in support of an initiative to replace a ban
on cannabis use for adults, while strictly enforcing its prohibition for
those under 18. Swiss voters are set to vote on the issue, rejected by
parliament four years ago, in a November referendum.
A coalition of federal Swiss political parties of various stripes has
renewed a bid to decriminalize marijuana in the country. Elected members
of the Radical, Christian Democrat, Socialist and Green parties on
Friday endorsed an initiative that would regulate cannabis use while
making it illegal for children under the of 18.
The initiative is scheduled to be voted on by Swiss voters on Nov. 30.
The parties have urged people to say yes to the proposal. Members in
Bern said the initiative offers a “reasonable policy” governing the use
of marijuana that is preferable to the current prohibition.
They noted that the proposal effectively protects young people by
banning it for those underage. However the group maintains that for
adults smoking a joint is a personal choice over which each person can
make their own decision.
“It is necessary to remove emotion from the debate,” said Geri Müller, a
Green party member of parliament from Aargau, according to a report
carried by the ATS news service. Stéphane Rossini, Socialist party
member from Valais, said it was not a matter of minimizing the
seriousness of marijuana use but to go beyond dogmatic arguments and
issues of conscience.
Marijuana officially remains a banned drug in Switzerland though
possession in small quantities for personal use is tolerated in many
cantons. The politicians calling for changes to the law say the current
prohibition has failed to cut use. Christa Markwalder, Radical member of
parliament from Bern, said an estimated 500,000 people in Switzerland
are regular or occasional users of cannabis. The more than 27,500
complaints lodged annually with police (based on 2005 figures) have only
served to needlessly overload the police and judicial systems,
The initiative previously only had the official backing of the Socialist
and Radical parties. Four years ago, the federal parliament threw out a
similar proposal put forward by the government. Switzerland gained a
reputation for its liberal drugs policy in the late1980s, but public
opinion later changed. It remains to be seen whether this time round the
pendulum will swing back on this issue.