Swiss government officials recently endorsed draft legislation that recommends police stop enforcing laws prohibiting the cultivation and sale of small amounts of marijuana. The move comes on the heels of a nationwide poll indicating that more than one-quarter of the population has used the drug, and that 54 percent favor liberalizing marijuana laws.
"Decriminalizing the consumption of cannabis and the acts leading up to this takes account of social reality and unburdens police and the courts," lawmakers representing the seven-member Federal Council announced Friday. Council members proposed the law change after consulting with the country's cantons, political parties, and export commissions, and finding strong support for softening Parliament's stance on marijuana.
Officials stated that the proposed policy would also tolerate the creation of private establishments, similar to so-called Dutch coffee-shops, that would sell small amounts of marijuana. In 1999, the Swiss Federal Commission for Drug Issues recommended Parliament legalize the possession and use of marijuana, and implement a national policy "making it possible for cannabis to be purchased lawfully."
The government's decision to liberalize its marijuana laws ignores pressure from United Nations officials, who last month chastised Swiss drug policies as overly lenient.
In recent years, several European nations - including Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain - have stopped enforcing criminal laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. Last January, Belgium became the latest European country to decriminalize marijuana. German courts have also ruled that minor marijuana possession should not be a criminal offense, but federal legislators have yet to amend the law to reflect that sentiment.
"Since the 1970s, most European countries have pursued marijuana policies contrary to those of the United States, which rely almost exclusively on arresting and punishing users," NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said. "Nevertheless, studies reveal that Americans use marijuana and other illicit substances at rates nearly twice as high as our European counterparts. U.S. political leaders could - and should - learn by example."
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director, at (202) 483-8751. To learn more about European marijuana policies, please visit the NORML website.