Switzerland and Cannabis: Black Market Boom, Social Clubs and Suicidal Farmers

Many wouldn’t believe Switzerland to be a major player in the European cannabis industry, and while little media attention is ever given to the country nestled comfortably between France and Germany, there is more happening than meets the eye.

Cannabis use in Switzerland is surprisingly high, according to Addiction Monitoring Switzerland. 210,000 people in the country have admitted to smoking cannabis regularly, although unofficial figures put that number at around 500,000. That is around 7% of the entire population of the country.

The black market in Switzerland is also exceedingly high. According to a Europol report, Swiss share of the nine billion euro cannabis market in the continent is around 920 million euros; more than 10%. For a country with just 8 million people living in its borders, those numbers are remarkable.

With such a demand for cannabis in the country, both recreational and medical, are there any plans for a legal market?

Well, in 2013, Switzerland made global news by decriminalising cannabis possession. Anyone caught with up to 10 grams would be released with a minor fine and a clean criminal record.

In January 2015, Geneva’s health minister Mauro Poggia announced that he would be open do a legal cannabis market, in order to undermine the growing illicit trade in the country.

While earlier this year, four cities in Switzerland agreed to create cannabis clubs, in which members could use marijuana without penalty. The projects in Zurich, Basel, Bern and Geneva would authorise the controlled use of cannabis for both youth and adults, who have developed serious social issues after using the drug.

Perhaps the most overwhelming reason for legalising cannabis in Switzerland is to offer farmers new lines of work. In November 2015, there were reports in the Swiss media that a number of farmers had taken their lives, unable to make ends meet due to lack of income. However, in April, the Director of Bern’s Social Affairs office Franz Teuscher revealed that dozens of these farmers are desperate to cultivate cannabis, on the back of the news of cannabis club pilot projects.

Director of the Bern farmers society Andreas Wyss emplored to the media that the industry needs cannabis;

“There’s real potential. Growing cannabis is easy and doesn’t take much space. And there’s already some expertise related to growing hemp.”

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