PARLIAMENT REJECTS DECRIMINALISATION OF CANNABIS
Smoking a joint will remain illegal in Switzerland after parliament
threw out government proposals to decriminalise cannabis.
The House of Representatives refused by 102 votes to 92 to debate
amendments to the drug law -- the second time it has dismissed the
proposal. It was the fourth attempt since December 2001 to vote on a
government proposal aimed at decriminalising the production and
consumption of cannabis for personal use.
The other parliamentary chamber, the Senate, has twice come out in
favour of a more liberal drugs policy.
But in last autumn's session, which came just ahead of parliamentary
elections, the House of Representatives dismissed the proposal
outright. Monday's debate was touted as the last chance for the bill
and its rejection means that current drugs legislation -- which is 30
years old -- will remain in force. Blow The decision comes as a blow
to supporters of a more liberal drugs policy, including the interior
minister, Pascal Couchepin, the centre-left Social Democrats and the
Thomas Zeltner, director of the Federal Health Office, said he
regretted the decision. "[The rejection of the bill] leads to fears
that certain cantons will be tempted to make their own laws, which
will create inequality in the country," said Zeltner.
"We can continue to live with the law, but it does pose problems," he
added. The Social Democrats said in a statement that they were
disappointed by the decision, especially as it came on the same day
that parliament agreed to lift a century-old ban on absinthe.
The party said that it condemned the "denial of reality which raises
doubts about whether we have a pragmatic and efficient public health
policy". Updating the law Couchepin had argued that it was time to
take into account the current situation in Switzerland -- some 500,000
people are estimated to smoke dope regularly. "One cannot act as if
they do not exist in the name of an unattainable ideal of abstinence,"
Couchepin said during the debate.
Under the government proposal, the consumption of cannabis and
possession of it for personal use would no longer have been a criminal
offence. Limited trade in the drug would also have been allowed, but
the import and export of cannabis would have remained outlawed.
Police officials and teachers said they were disappointed that
parliamentarians had thrown out the proposal.
Michel Graf from the Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug
Addiction criticised the "lack of courage by politicians" and the
"missed opportunity for a real debate".
In the end, the rightwing Swiss People's Party and a number of
parliamentarians from the Centre-right tipped the balance against
revision of the law. Here to stay Ruth Humbel Naf from the Committee
for Social Security and Health -- which was in favour of keeping the
status quo -- said that young people could only be protected if
cannabis remained illegal.
She argued that Switzerland would have become a centre for the trade
in drugs had parliamentarians supported the bill.
But the issue is not destined to disappear following Monday's
decision. The Christian Democrats said they planned to launch a
parliamentary initiative to revise the law according to the four
pillars of Switzerland's drugs policy: prevention, therapy, repression
and harm reduction.
The proposal also advocates punishing cannabis consumption by imposing
small fines. The Committee for the Protection of Young People Against
the Criminalisation of Drugs is also planning to launch a people's
initiative for a "reasonable cannabis policy and efficient protection
of young people". The committee is made up of young Social Democrats
and Greens and also includes some supporters of the Christian
Democrats and Radicals.