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Switzerland’s ‘Pragmatic Not Political’ Approach To Cannabis Reform Should Set Precedent

Last week saw the launch of ZüriCan, Switzerland’s second cannabis pilot set to give over 2000 Zurich inhabitants legal access to adult-use cannabis. 

The study, which is being run alongside the University of Zurich, is also the latest to utilise Swiss cannabis software provider Cannavigia’s proprietary ‘Cannabis Dispensary System’, which it developed in partnership with the country’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). 

Coming just days after Switzerland’s inaugural pilot project Weed Care study reached its second phase, Business of Cannabis spoke to Cannavigia’s COO and Co-founder Philipp Hagenbach to discuss the rapidly evolving Swiss cannabis project and how its software is helping shape the industry’s future. 

Are you pleased with the progress of the Weed Care pilot so far? 

We are pleased with the progress of the Basel pilot. It’s important to note that any new initiative such as this requires additional support during the preliminary onboarding phase. Despite this, the project has been running smoothly and has surpassed our expectations in many ways.

The project targets a size of 374 individuals split equally into two groups – the experimental group and the control group. Participants are randomly assigned to either group. The experimental group instantly had access to legal products in pharmacies.

READ MORE: Europe’s First Recreational THC Cannabis Trial Will ‘Open The Door For THC’ In Switzerland Like ‘CBD Opened The Door For Cannabis’

The participants from the control group continued interacting according to the current legal framework and needed to buy products on the illicit market. However, since June 29th, six months after the project’s initiation in January, both groups have access to legal cannabis.

Not only have the participants expressed their satisfaction due to their recently gained access to legal cannabis, but also all stakeholders involved. This widespread satisfaction speaks volumes about the success and potential of this pilot.

Moreover, a recent publication by the pilot project management commended our efforts and included some preliminary evaluations. These positive reviews, published just a few weeks ago, further emphasize the effectiveness of this pilot project and the satisfaction of all involved parties.

CannL in Lausanne and La Cannabinothèque in Geneva are set to launch imminently, do you have any updates on their progress?

Regarding the progress of CannL in Lausanne and La Cannabinothèque in Geneva, I must update you on their timelines. CannL and ZüriCan received their general permission in March and Geneva a few weeks later. With the current progress and necessary preparations, we are projecting that the pilot projects in Lausanne and Geneva will likely commence at the beginning of next year.

While it’s too early to provide in-depth progress updates, the preliminary feedback by the stakeholders has been promising. We’re constantly adjusting and refining our approach based on this feedback to ensure we’re moving in the right direction.

What other pilot studies are in the works?

In terms of other upcoming pilot studies, there are several exciting developments on the horizon. Starting with the city of Zurich, their pilot project launched last week on the 22nd of August. We feel honoured that we have been supporting this project in different aspects.

It represents the largest trial to date with 2,100 participants and 21 dispensaries from pharmacies, social-clubs, to a specific drug information centre as an outlet. Each dispensary is allowed to conduct 50 150 participants. An additional bonus is our newly developed API to enable a seamless data transfer between our CDS module and the research software being used in the pilot projects.

READ MORE: Switzerland Approves Another 2 Adult-Use Cannabis Pilot Trials In Bern & Geneva

Moreover, we’re preparing for the launch of pilot studies in the cities of Bern, Biel, and Lucerne. These projects have already received approval and will be commencing soon. Next to the two launched projects of Basel (WeedCare) and Zurich (ZüriCan), we are in close contact with several other pilot trials such as SCRIPT, Cann-L and La Cannabinothèque. Each of these projects has its unique requirements and complexities, and Lausanne’s, for instance, is slightly less complex than Zurich’s.

While I’m not at liberty to disclose specific details about other potential pilot studies at this time, I can assure you that we’re actively engaging in prospecting projects and are in close conversations with the responsible stakeholders. Our mission remains focused on delivering effective, tailored solutions for each location we serve.

With Germany now looking to focus on a Swiss-style model in its Pillar 2, do you think other EU countries might soon adopt similar frameworks? 

As Germany is moving towards the implementation of a similar approach to the Swiss model for its second pillar, it does set a precedent that could potentially influence other EU nations.

The Swiss methodology has shown effectiveness and could be an attractive role model for other countries looking to improve or change their legal systems. However, it’s important to remember that each country has its own unique economic context and political climate which will greatly influence their decisions. In the past, implementing a new law too quickly led to increasing uncertainty and less control, resulting in more dilemmas.

Examining countries like The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Malta, and the Czech Republic reveals a keen interest in individually crafting unique legal frameworks. While this proactive approach propels legislative advancements and adds drive to the industry, it simultaneously results in a diverse, and sometimes conflicting, legal landscape.

What can other countries learn from the rollout of the pilot studies so far? 

There are several key takeaways from the Swiss pilot studies so far. First and foremost is the importance of adopting a pragmatic approach over a politically driven one. It’s crucial to focus on getting things done effectively and efficiently.

A gradual rollout is also valuable. Understanding the market dynamics before introducing the general public to new systems or policies is crucial. Sudden changes often meet resistance, so a slow and steady approach can lead to better acceptance and integration. Emerging industries create new challenges in general, that’s obvious. But the fact that on a global level (UN) cannabis is still illegal indicates how complex international commercial (narcotic) cannabis trade is.

The importance of supply chain security cannot be overstated. Until now, there wasn’t any, so the establishment of a reliable commercial supply chain is critical. If such a system is rushed, it could jeopardize public safety. Quality criteria also need to be met, which requires further empirical studies.

Additionally, harm reduction and consumer safety play crucial roles in the rollout of these pilot studies. Ensuring that consumers are safe and minimizing potential harm should always be a priority when implementing new initiatives.

Finally, pilot studies serve as an essential tool for catching up with knowledge gaps. For about 60 years, outside of Israel, little research has been done. These studies help to fill this void, contributing to a more informed policy framework.

 

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