UN DRUGS BODY SLAMS SWITZERLAND
The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has
sharply criticised aspects of Switzerland's drugs policy.
The INCB said plans to decriminalise cannabis and the provision of
injection rooms for heroin addicts were steps in the wrong direction.
The criticism was contained in the INCB's annual report, which
monitors the ways in which countries around the world are upholding
international conventions on drugs control.
The most important of these, the convention of 1961, says drugs should
be used for medical and scientific purposes only.
Switzerland is a party to this convention, but Herbert Schaepe, the
INCB's secretary general, believes this is being undermined by
government proposals to decriminalise cannabis.
"How can we eradicate drugs in developing countries if a rich country
like Switzerland cultivates between 300 and 500 hectares for the
production of cannabis?" Schaepe said.
"We're already getting complaints from neighbouring countries, with
Swiss cannabis being seized in France and Germany.
"It's really very disturbing that a country with such good financial
resources can't stop this."
But Thomas Zeltner, director of Switzerland's Federal Health Office,
says the proposals to decriminalise cannabis simply reflect reality
and have the support of the Swiss public.
Hemp Shop Trip
Earlier this week Zeltner accompanied the Swiss interior minister,
Pascal Couchepin, to a hemp shop, where the minister was apparently
"very impressed" by the variety of cannabis products on offer.
"We think it is better to permit the use and sale of these products in
a controlled manner," Zeltner told swissinfo. "But [they are meant]
for adults only and not for foreigners - we don't want to offend
But Zeltner admits that a lot of people in Switzerland are also
growing cannabis in their attics or basements.
"It is a dilemma. This market is very difficult to control, but that
doesn't mean we are not bothering about it."
Zeltner also denies that permitting cannabis as a social drug
undermines the 1961 convention. "We took legal advice on that and I'm
confident we will reach a solution with the INCB on that point."
But the INCB's criticism does not stop at cannabis. The board also has
serious doubts about Switzerland's policy of providing injection rooms
for heroin addicts.
The rooms, now commonplace in most Swiss towns and cities, provide
addicts with clean needles, medical attention and a safe place to take
"Allowing drug abusers to take illegal drugs into an injection room
where they can consume in a cosy environment under the supervision of
the state is not in line with international treaties," said Schaepe.
"It means illicit drugs can be abused with impunity."
Schaepe also casts doubt on Swiss claims that injection rooms help
prevent the spread of HIV infection among drug users.
"Research shows that better prevention and education campaigns would
be more useful in preventing the spread of HIV," he insisted.
According to statistics, the rate of HIV infection among drug users in
Switzerland has fallen since the introduction of injection rooms, but
it is difficult to prove that the decline is a direct result of the
Zeltner maintains that injection rooms are valuable in that they
reduce the harm caused by heroin addiction.
"Deaths from overdoses are much lower, because medical staff are
immediately available to treat addicts.
"And we see the rooms as a possible first step to getting addicts off
drugs, with social workers and counsellors on hand to offer advice."
Zeltner says he is somewhat disappointed by the INCB's criticism.
"We do understand that the INCB as a global player has some difficulty
bringing all member states under one umbrella," he said.
"But at the end of the day, each country has to find its own policy,
and that will be different in different countries."
Schaepe maintains that these policies should not diverge so widely
that they become inconsistent with international conventions.
"Of course governments are the masters of their drugs policies," he
said. "But when one or two begin to disagree with the international
framework, it is our duty to alert the international community to