Switzerland joins the European countries that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes. As of August 1st, 2022, patients can obtain medical cannabis with a prescription. Before the new legislation, patients needing medical cannabis had to apply to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the Swiss federal public health center. The new law also allows the export of medical cannabis for commercial purposes through the authorization that companies must apply to Swissmedic, the Swiss drug, and medical device monitoring authority.
To legalize medical cannabis in the country, the Swiss Federal Council (the executive branch of the federal government of the Swiss Confederation) lifted the ban on cannabis for medical purposes by amending the Swiss Narcotics Act passed by parliament in March 2021. The Federal Council justified the legalization of medical cannabis in the country by stating that the demand for authorizations has increased in recent years. It implies a considerable administrative burden and slows down medical treatment.
The FOPH issued around 3,000 authorizations for patients with cancer, neurological diseases, or multiple sclerosis in 2019. The figure excludes patients who obtained cannabis from the illegal market. Although the Federal Council approved cannabis for medical use, only products containing high levels of CBD with less than 1% THC, a limit specific to the cannabis industry, are allowed, while adult use remains illegal.
However, Switzerland will launch a pilot program for adult-use cannabis to provide information about the plant's regulation through selling cannabis products for adult use in Basel.
With a Law that Benefits Its Citizens, Switzerland Can Change the EU's View
By legalizing medical cannabis, Switzerland is seeking proper regulation to allow access to medical treatment with cannabis products while protecting the population from the illegal market, which until now supplied patients for years. The trial program for cannabis sales could convince lawmakers to legalize adult use in the country.
Also, Switzerland has shown a forward-looking approach in setting its drug policy over the years. Legalizing medical cannabis is the latest step in fine-tuning a new trend in Europe in terms of policies related to the plant.
Recently, several European countries are working towards regulating cannabis for adult or medical use as a new way to protect public health and fight the illegal market. However, Germany appears to be the only European country working to legalize cannabis sales for adult use at this time. Nevertheless, other countries are helping to ease cannabis restrictions on the continent, such as Malta, which last year became the first EU country to legalize the cultivation of the plant for personal use.
The medical cannabis situation in Europe is fragmented, even more, chaotic is the legal situation for adult-use cannabis, which differs from country to country. Some countries have fully implemented their legislation in the medical area. Others suffer from a lack of supply and implementation is often difficult. Medical cannabis legalization in Switzerland and creating an export market may help other European countries to meet patient demand for medical cannabis.