Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOHP) officially approved the ‘Grashaus Project’ last month, the country’s sixth adult-use cannabis pilot study.
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.
Finn Hänsel, CEO of Sanity Group, tells Business of Cannabis that this pilot has been ‘years’ in the making, and while it began life long before Germany’s Pillar 2 was even conceived, he hopes to ‘learn a lot during this pilot programme that we can apply to Germany’.
“In the meantime, we can work with German municipalities to give them the right toolkit to create their own pilot project.”
Years in the making
The pilot study, which is now due to begin later this year, was initially conceived ‘three or four years ago’, when the Swiss government first revealed its intention to explore this scientific research programme to test the effects of adult-use cannabis.
Mr Hänsel explained that while Sanity’s DNA and core business is focused on medical cannabis, his company had been considering if and where there was potential to look at ‘recreational use from a scientific perspective’.
“We thought this might be the perfect sweet spot for us to research recreational and have the same kind of research-based approach that we have on the medical side.”
While the company is understood to have found its research partner, the Swiss Institute for Addiction and Health Research (ISGF), alongside its Canton partner Basel-Landschaft (Baselland), fairly quickly, it reportedly took months of back-and-forth with the health ministry to hammer out the details.
Die erste vollkommen legale Cannabis Dispensary in Europa? Dank der Schweizer Pilotprojekte und der @SanityGroupEU bald Realität – wir haben die Zusage des Schweizer Gesundheitsamtes bekommen und starten im November: https://t.co/JKnGBf21UG pic.twitter.com/QBp68zlPWK
— Finn Age Hansel (@AgeFinn) October 25, 2023
A key reason behind this extended development period is because the project is focused very clearly on harm reduction, meaning its creators had to consider if they ‘could work to bring consumers away from smoking joints with tobacco’, a consumption method currently thought to be used by around 95% of Swiss users.
“And that’s the reason why our whole project is about offering a wide range of products, which is also unique, no other pilot project is doing it. So we offer THC chocolate, we offer THC wine gummies, we offer THC extract, we offer THC vaping liquids and so on,” Mr Hänsel said.
Another key consideration was working out a system which would enable participants to consume openly without risking being penalised by police.
The solution was the development and ID card system. The cards are administered to participants once they have been screened for suitability by the ISGF, after which time they will be eligible to buy any product in the two dedicated dispensaries.
These will not only enable dispensaries and authorities to ‘immediately see who is participating’, but track the amount of product they have consumed month by month.
The Grashaus Project
Grashaus, which is scheduled to run for five years, has three main stakeholders. First, the ISGF will co-lead the project alongside Sanity Group.
As one of the biggest addiction-focused research institutes in Switzerland, the ISGF will be responsible for the research and development side of the project, which will aim to determine if ‘the structured and 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’.
The ISGF, alongside, its Scientific Director, Prof. Dr. Michael Schaub, will handle the screening and qualification of all participants, for example.
Meanwhile, Sanity Group will handle ‘the whole movement of goods including distribution, branding, packaging, product design and so on’.
As Swiss regulations require all products used in the pilot projects to be cultivated in Switzerland, SwissExtract is the project’s cultivation partner.
According to Mr Hänsel, the company will ‘grow and produce’ the products to Sanity’s design, and it has employed a ‘cannabis sommelier’ to test the products and offer feedback.
Aside from being the largest, and first to include a private company, this study will see the launch of the first legal dedicated adult-use cannabis stores in Europe.
This is a key part of the study’s research aims. Other pilots, such as the neighbouring Weed Care, sell cannabis legally from pharmacies, while others dispense via clubs.
Mr Hänsel suggested that clubs are good for ‘already frequent users’ who are very community driven, but may not be best suited to more casual users.
Meanwhile, many cannabis users can feel misunderstood as a consumer in pharmacies, as the pharmacists are not trained specifically on cannabis products.
“My hypothesis is that if the objective is to fight the legacy and legal market, then the dispensary is the best outlet because the barriers going into that dispensary are much lower.”