SWITZERLAND is just weeks away from launching Europe’s ‘first recreational THC cannabis pilot project’, the first in what is thought to be nearly a dozen cannabis pilot trials set to take place in the country over the coming months.
Dubbed ‘Weed Care’, the pilot is set to be launched in Switzerland’s third most populous city, Basel, on September 15, and will run until March 2025.
It marks the latest in a rapid succession of major developments towards cannabis liberalisation in the country, after the country made significant changes to regulation to relax its restrictive access to medical cannabis last month.
Lino Cereghetti, COO of Pure Production AG, supplier and key stakeholder in the pilot, told BusinessCann: “If CBD opened the door for cannabis, these pilot projects will open the door for THC.”
Weed Care Pilot
The Department of Health of Basel City, the University Psychiatric Clinics Basel, the University of Basel, and Pure Production will work in collaboration, alongside other stakeholders such as Swiss compliance software and supply chain management platform Cannavigia, to run the pilot.
Around 370 participants, who must be over 18, a resident of Basel-Stadt and an existing cannabis user, will take part in the two-and-a-half-year study.
Throughout its duration, these participants will be regularly interviewed to establish the levels of their cannabis consumption, and its effects on their physical and mental health, ‘among other things’.
According to Mr Cereghetti: “One of the main goals of this study is to figure out if, in a regulated market where they have a choice, people choose risk-minimising products. Because if they go to the black market, all you get is high THC, no CBD.”
They will have access to four different flower products and two different hash products with varying degrees of THC content under 20%.
All the products will be supplied by Pure Production, and all will be available at ‘black market prices’ of between 8 and 12 Swiss francs per gram, the equivalent of around £7 to £10.
Luc Richner, CEO of Cannavigia, added: “In the upcoming pilot project in Basel, prices are based on the THC content of the cannabis and may vary during the trials.
“The studies behind the trials are designed to give a better understanding of the effects of controlled access to cannabis on the health and behaviour of users and may also examine the impact on the local black market. However, the specific research questions will be decided by the relevant research projects.”
Participants will be able to purchase their products from nine different pharmacies in 5-gram packs and will be able to buy up to two packs at a time.
Cannavigia will also be providing the dispensing system for the pilot, which will see the producers ‘use its software to track their cultivation and distribution’, enabling the Federal Office for Public Health (FOPH) to ‘know the amount of cannabis produced’, and the dispensaries to ‘authenticate participants to ensure only people approved for the trial can purchase cannabis’.
“Due to the Narcotics Act and the obligation to report to the UN, maximum conformity and transparency is required. In addition, the pilot projects provide a scientific basis for a possible future legalisation,” Mr Richner explained.
“We have developed an extension of our Cannavigia software that provides the necessary information for both aspects. The transparency along the supply chain builds trust for a future legalisation of cannabis and helps to draw a realistic picture of what a possible legalisation may look like in the future.”
More Studies on the Way
These pilot studies have been made possible by vital regulatory changes made to the Swiss Federal Narcotics Act on May 15, 2021.
While the FOPH approved the pilot on April 19 this year, applications for such studies are understood to have been submitted by Bern and Basel universities as early as 2017, which reportedly ‘set the political process in motion’.
Despite reportedly being open to the idea, the Government was forced to reject these proposals on the grounds that no legal framework was in place that would allow such pilots to take place.
Last May’s amendment laid out this legal framework, enabling a controlled sale of cannabis for recreational cannabis for research purposes for 10 years, and offering a ‘broad framework of possibilities’ designed to provide a strong evidentiary foundation for the best regulatory route forward.
According to Mr Cereghetti, Basel, Bern and Zurich all announced plans to execute pilot projects when the regulation changed last year, but Basel was the fastest moving.
Now the Basel study has been given the green light, a number of study applications from other cities are understood to have been submitted.
“These are still in the process, and they will be granted within the next one, two or three months, depending on the submission date and how complete these applications were.
“Currently, there are about 10 projects in Switzerland that have openly communicated that they have either started to submit or are still in planning to submit, and we are involved in many of them. Also, we’re considering setting up our own pilot project in 2023.”
Not only are numerous additional studies due to be launched over the coming months, but also a fresh attempt at national recreational legalisation is understood to be underway.
Following an unsuccessful referendum to legalise the cultivation, purchase and consumption of cannabis for personal use in 2008, seeing 63% of citizens vote against it, a second public vote was being worked on by Pure and other parties.
In light of rapid progress made on the medical cannabis act and the pilot projects, however, the group ‘didn’t see a reason for a public vote anymore’ and decided to pursue a parliamentary route.
In October 2021, the Commission for Social Security and Health of the Council of States voted in favour of a motion allowing the full legalisation and commercialisation of adult-use cannabis.
Now, a subcommittee of the commission, containing nine people, has been given until October 2023 to draft legislation that would ‘regulate recreational cannabis nationwide’, and a parliamentary group has been established to ‘educate them over the next one and a half years’.
“This means the people writing the law will have a good understanding of cannabis and the mistakes, from places like Canada, that we can learn from.
“What has happened in public perception over the last five years in Switzerland has been incredible. We could have a complete regulation of the cannabis market in Switzerland by 2025. And still, these pilot projects will happen in parallel.”