TWO new adult-use cannabis trials have been approved by Swiss authorities, meaning thousands of citizens across three cities will be able to purchase cannabis for recreational purposes legally by the end of the year.
Last month Züri Can, a 2,100-person trial set to take place in Zurich, and Cann-L, a 1,600 person trial due to be launched in Lausanne, were given the green light in rapid succession by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
The news came as Switzerland’s inaugural adult-use cannabis trial, Weed Care, which launched in January this year, has seen the first signs of positive feedback from its participants.
With these two much larger trials approved, and over a dozen similar studies understood to be in the pipeline, Switzerland’s cannabis pilot trial framework could soon produce an adult-use market similar in size to the UK’s medical market, without officially legalising cannabis.
Weed Care progress
Europe’s first THC recreational cannabis trial Weed Care began in January this year, after its launch was delayed for three months in September.
As Business of Cannabis reported at the time, the study was delayed because the cannabis products set to be sold to customers across the Swiss city of Basel ‘narrowly failed to meet a quality standard stipulated in the Ordinance on Pilot Trials under the Narcotics Act’.
Despite Weed Care’s tumultuous start, Marc Brüngger, Head of Innovation and Regulation at the study’s supplier Pure Production, said it had now been ‘running smoothly’ for two months.
“Study participants are super happy with the quality and also the presentation of the products that they’re receiving. The pharmacies are ordering a lot. Actually they’re ordering or consuming more than we thought they would, which is really interesting.”
Mr Brüngger added that of the six products being supplied by Pure for the study, two of them currently stood out as clear favourites.
While it was suggested these products could be favoured as they were closer to what participants have been used to on the black market, he stipulated that it was still far too early to draw any concrete conclusions, especially given that half of the study’s 374 participants would not be able to purchase cannabis until July this year.
Swiss news publication SRF also recently published some preliminary indications from the trial, which is designed to ‘examine the health effects of regulated cannabis sales’, including the consumption habits of participants compared with when cannabis is only available on the black market.
Project manager Marc Walter told SRF that while the study is still in the very early stages, he believes that participants will gradually consume cannabis with a lower THC content than is usually sold on the street.
This was validated by the testimony from an anonymous participant, who said he smoked ‘less strong weed’ than he did prior to the study, when he used to want the ‘strongest’ strains available.
Furthermore, Mr Brüngger said: “We are receiving great feedback from various pharmacists. They are positively surprised about the behaviour of the study’s participants. Thus, these trial studies are improving the image of cannabis for consumers as well as for the rest of the population.”
This positive feedback on the study so far was echoed by Cannavigia, the provider of track-and-trace software for Weed Care.
Its COO Philipp Hagenbach told Business of Cannabis: “The project leaders were successful in registering participants, while the pharmacies use the Cannabis Dispensary System (CDS) daily to track the dispensed amount of cannabis to consumers.
“Frequent and consistent communication with all parties involved has resulted in a very satisfactory handling of the project. Additionally, their feedback has given us valuable insights into possible ways to further improve the user interface and what might be helpful for our work with the upcoming projects Züri Can and Cann-L.”
In late March, Züri Can was officially given the go-ahead from the FOPH, with cannabis sales set to commence from August 2023.
The 2,100-participant study will be conducted in Zurich in conjunction with the city council and the Psychiatric University Clinic Zurich, and may also be extended to Winterthur.
The three-year study aims to examine the ‘best possible ways’ to distribute cannabis from different points of sale.
This will include ten cannabis social clubs, ten pharmacies, and a ‘drug information centre’, where flower and resin-based cannabis products can be legally purchased, all of which have already completed the tender process.
Pure will once again be supplying the product for the study, alongside SwissExtract, seeing ‘around ten products’ offered, four of which will be resin while the remaining six will be flower products.
The prices of these regulated cannabis products will be adjusted to reflect changes in illegal market prices.
Participants will have the option to select from a variety of products with varying concentrations of THC and CBD. The products will be strictly monitored for purity and organically produced by licensed Swiss companies.
Mr Brüngger continued: “We are proud to be a producer for the pilot project in Zurich as well. We are fortunate that the permit has arrived in optimal time for the upcoming cultivation. We can expect the harvest in July.”
The study was initially due to launch in autumn 2022. However, as Switzerland still requires product to be grown organically, no cultivation can take place during the winter months, meaning the start date has been pushed back until this summer.
Cannavigia will also provide its software for both Züri Can and Cann-L, which it described as ‘an important milestone for our team, as approximately three times as many users will actively use the CDS’.
“There will be a more diverse mix of sales points like social clubs and pharmacies, and more participants will be involved. For instance, Züri Can alone will include over 2,000 participants, which is five times more than Weed Care.
“And of course, the additional projects are another important step towards laying the scientific basis for future legislation of recreational cannabis in Switzerland.”
The third Swiss study, also approved by the FOPH in late March, will begin sales to 1,600 participants in July this year.
It is understood to be inspired by a similar study implemented in Quebec, and has already garnered considerable interest from participants, with over 2,000 participants completing the eligibility survey.
According to the FOPH, the 4.5-year project, set to take place in the French-speaking region of Lausanne, ‘aims for a size, in terms of number of participants, likely to have a significant impact on the black market’.
The project 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), and Cann-L will aim to examine the feasibility of regulating cannabis ‘through non-profit sales’.
The main research will be conducted by Addiction Suisse, which will study the evolution of consumption behaviour in adults who already consume cannabis.
A sales team is reportedly being trained to provide advice on consumption and risk reduction as well as existing legislation.