Switzerland’s pioneering cannabis pilot project has developed into Europe’s most advanced and accessible adult-use framework throughout 2023.
Six pilot projects have now been approved by Switzerland’s Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH), three of which are already selling cannabis legally to Swiss citizens, and ‘dozens’ more are reportedly in the pipeline.
Without encroaching any international laws, Switzerland has managed to roll out an adult-use cannabis market that could soon outsize many medical cannabis markets across Europe, while collecting much needed data which will be crucial to the roll out of more permanent frameworks in future.
While Switzerland is undoubtedly one of 2023’s success stories, its cannabis project got off to a rocky start.
December 2022 – The ‘Weed Care’ pilot, set to be Europe’s first ever THC adult-use cannabis trial, was initially set to be launched in Switzerland’s third most populous city, Basel, on September 15.
However, just days before the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis was set to launch across selected Basel pharmacies, the city’s health department announced that the cannabis provided ‘narrowly failed to meet the quality standard’, seeing the batch incinerated and the trial put on hold.
The issue, according to the project’s grower’s Pure Production AG, was due to trace amounts (well within the limits of conventional food consumption) of fluopyram, a pesticide found in the greenhouse soil from years before the site was used by Pure.
This began a ‘six-week’ discussion between the government and the study’s proprietors on how to find an alternative source of product to ensure the study could start as soon as possible.
As these discussions were ongoing, Pure successfully harvested a second batch on an alternative site, and received its confirmation that the batch matched ‘all the criteria of the quality assurance’.
In December, 2022, Pure confirmed that Weed Care was now due to begin on January 30, 2023, following the four month delay.
January 2023 – Weed Care is officially launched, seeing selected participants of the pilot able to purchase cannabis for recreational purposes legally for the first time.
It also marked the first implementation of the Cannabis Dispensary System (CDS), a software solution developed by Swiss firm Vigia AG in partnership with the FOPH, enabling stakeholders to ‘track and document every step along the supply chain’.
This software is set to be used in each of the pilot trials, and will play a crucial role in collecting the data necessary for Switzerland’s cannabis project to meet its goals.
“With the cannabis pilot trials, Switzerland can become an example for a structured legalisation process. A possible legalisation is tested in a real environment so that problems can be identified early on and minimised or even eliminated. In addition, it can be jointly determined where the degree between over- and under-regulation lies,” the company explained in a press release.
March 2023 – Two additional, much larger pilots are given the go ahead from the FOPH, as reports suggest that more than a dozen pilots are now in the works.
In late March, ZüriCan was officially approved, a 2,100-participant study set to be conducted in Zurich in conjunction with the city council and the Psychiatric University Clinic Zurich, with potential extensions to Winterthur.
The three-year study is designed to examine the ‘best possible ways’ to distribute cannabis from different points of sale, and will include ten cannabis social clubs, ten pharmacies, and a ‘drug information centre’, where flower and resin-based cannabis products can be legally purchased.
The third Swiss study, also approved by the FOPH in late March, will study the evolution of consumption behaviour in up to 1600 adults who already consume cannabis, while examining the feasibility of regulating cannabis ‘through non-profit sales’.
The 4.5-year study, set to take place in the French-speaking region of Lausanne, will be conducted by the Institute for Criminal Sciences (ESC) of the University of Lausanne and the Department of Addiction Medicine of the University Hospital of Vaud (CHUV).
Both studies, initially due to commence in the summer of 2023, are considerably bigger than Weed Care which has just 374 participants, half of which will not be able to legally purchase cannabis until July.
May 2023 – Just two months later, another two studies in Bern and Geneva are given the green light by the FOPH.
Safer Cannabis – Research In Pharmacies randomised controlled Trial (SCRIPT), a three year study set to be monitored by the Universities of Bern and Lucerne
The three-year study, set to include 1091 participants from Berne, will aim to assess the health and social effects of selling cannabis in ‘strictly regulated non-profit’ pharmacies.
Meanwhile, a fifth pilot study dubbed ‘The Cannabinotheque: a pilot trial for the regulated sale of cannabis in the canton of Geneva’ is authorised.
This 1000-participant study, run by the Addictology Service of the Geneva University Hospitals and the University’s sociology department in partnership with the Carrefour Addictions Association among others, is set to run for three years.
July 2023 – Preliminary findings from Weed Care come in, as the inaugural study opens up to all of its 374 participants.
According to the local health department there ‘no adverse effects’ have been reported since the study began in 2023, in which time 13kg of cannabis products were sold.
Of the six products sold, including two hashish and four cannabis flower, the highest THC strains were reportedly the most popular with participants.
August 2023 – ZüriCan is officially launched. Meanwhile, as new details of Germany’s newly proposed ‘two-pillar’ framework for its landmark CanG bill become clearer, stakeholders increasingly turn their attention towards Switzerland for guidance.
September 2023 – Switzerland’s sixth and largest pilot project to date, the ‘Grashaus Project’, gets official approval from the FOPH.
This study represents a number of firsts for Switzerland’s rapidly expanding research-based cannabis programme. Not only will it be the largest to date, with nearly 4000 participants set to take part, but it will be the first to be run by a private company, Germany’s Sanity Group.
According to the FOPH, the key aim of the study will be to examine whether the ‘controlled sale of high-quality, organically grown cannabis by trained sales personnel in cannabis shops can shift consumption towards a reduction in the harm caused, a reduction in illegal use and the associated problems, and improvements from a health (physical), psychological and social perspective’.
It is set to take place in the canton (Swiss state or province) Basel-Landschaft (Baselland), which is traditionally considered a ‘half-canton’ alongside its urban counterpart Basel-Stadt, where the country’s first cannabis trial Weed Care is situated.
December 2023 – As the country’s cannabis project gathers pace, two of its pilots officially begin sales of adult-use cannabis to participants.
Cann-L was, initially scheduled to begin in July, launched non-profit sales of adult-use cannabis at a dedicated store at rue du Maupas 7 on December 11, 2023.
The store will offer a range of products to the 250 participants who have already registered in the pilot project, including three gram bags of flower with potencies varying from 5% THC to 15%, costing between nine and 12 Swiss Francs per gramme (roughly £8-£10)
Meanwhile, just weeks after announcing its approval from the FOPH, Grashaus Project also opened the doors to its first dedicated cannabis store on December 07.
The ‘first legal cannabis specialist shop’ in Europe opened its doors in Allschwil in the northwestern Swiss canton of Basel-Landschaft, enabling the hundreds of patients who have already registered for the pilot to purchase a raft of products from flower to hashish, extracts, vape liquids and edibles.