Pubdate: Tue, 17 Apr 2001
Source: Time Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2001 Time Inc


The Swiss Move To Legalize The Cultivation, Sale And Consumption Of Marijuana

Switzerland may no longer be known just as the land of chocolate and 
cheese; marijuana could soon become as much a part of the Alpine landscape 
as edelweiss.

Last week the Swiss government approved a law, still to be endorsed by the 
Parliament, that legalizes the production, sale and use of marijuana, 
making Switzerland's policy toward the drug one of the most liberal in 
Europe. Sale of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine will remain illegal. 
"No research shows that marijuana is more harmful or addictive than alcohol 
and tobacco," says Georg Amstutz, spokesman for the Federal Office of 
Public Health.

Authorities say thelaw, which has the backing of all cantons and most major 
political parties, reflects the widespread consumption of cannabis in 
Switzerland and the need to regulate it. Statistics show that in a 
population of 7 million, more than 500,000 are regular consumers who 
collectively spend over $650 million a year on marijuana.

The move to legalize cannabis is seen by the government as a necessary step 
toward regulating the cultivation, sale and consumption of the drug."We 
believe that repression will not stop its sale and use, but by legalizing 
it we are eliminating the black market and putting it out in the open where 
we can control the situation," Amstutz says. Legalization will mean that 
marijuana could be openly consumed in public places where tobacco and 
alcohol are allowed.

The law will not, however, give free reign to marijuana dealers and users; 
strict rules will govern its production, sale and consumption. For example, 
only Swiss-grown marijuana can be sold -- quantities and prices are still 
to be determined -- and export or import of the drug will be forbidden. By 
the same token, only Swiss residents will be able to purchase the drug and 
sale to minors will be prohibited.

Amstutz says the government will intensify its drug prevention policies and 
does not think that availability of marijuana will lead to an increase in 
use. "Maybe in the beginning some people will try it out of curiosity, but 
in the long run we don't believe we'll see a rise in consumption," he says. 
"When something is no longer forbidden, it becomes less attractive."

Bernard Rappaz, a cannabis grower in the canton of Valais and one of the 
leading proponents of legalization, says he is "very happy" with the new 
law, which will allow him to grow cannabis on his 30-hectare farm, one of 
300 such plantations in the country. "The society living with tobacco and 
alcohol can certainly permit legal marijuana," he says. Rappaz, who has 
been smoking marijuana regularly for the past decade, says the new law "is 
a sign that society is becoming more responsible. Personally, I' d much 
rather see my son smoke a joint than drink alcohol."

The law, Amsutz says, is in accordance with all international treaties and 
will benefit other European countries by ensuring that home-grown cannabis 
is no longer exported. And while the government will not gain financially 
from the marijuana industry -- sales will not be taxed -- Amsutz says one 
advantage will be a lighter load on the police and justice system.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart