By Alfa · Jul 11, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    A nationwide clampdown on shops selling cannabis risks driving pot
    smokers into the arms of dealers pushing hard drugs, warn health officials.

    They say drug dealers could be the main beneficiaries of parliament's
    decision not to decriminalise cannabis.

    In many parts of Switzerland, police have cracked down on hemp shops
    selling cannabis and related products. In Ticino, of the 75 outlets
    operating in 2002, only two remained in business in 2003.

    "We are concerned about it, because in the shops we knew they could
    buy cannabis and products made with cannabis, and that was all," said
    Sandra Meier, spokeswoman for the Federal Health Office.

    Reports say dealers can net SFr70 ($57) on a gram of cocaine, compared
    with SFr15 on the same amount of cannabis. Dealers can be expected to
    push hard drugs for profit, Meier told swissinfo.

    "There is a danger that [the users] not only can buy cannabis, but
    also heroin and other hard drugs," she said.

    Cannabis users are "mainly young people" whose exposure to hard drugs
    could come at a crucial time, with devastating impact, Meier added.


    Psychiatrist Thilo Beck, who works at the clinic for methadone and
    heroin-assisted treatment in Zurich, said there was no evidence that
    pot use led to harder drugs.

    But young people might be expected to experiment when hard drugs were
    offered - and the decision not to decriminalise cannabis could create
    confusion as to the relative danger, he told swissinfo.

    "In my opinion every healthy adolescent wants to try different

    "What we are not so happy about, is that marijuana is being treated
    the same as the highly-addictive hard drugs - and it is not as serious
    if you compare. We would have an easier time getting our message
    across if people could keep these things apart in their minds."

    On June 14 parliament rejected moves to decriminalize cannabis, for
    the fourth time since December 2001.

    The vote against revised legislation means the existing 30-year-old
    law will remain in force.

    Wide Use

    According to the Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug
    Addiction, more than 500,000 people in Switzerland smoke pot regularly
    - more than one in 15 people. The rate of use drops after age 30.

    Between 300 and 500 hectares of cannabis are under cultivation in

    The Federal Health Office supported the bill because it felt the law
    should "reflect reality" and because it would allow some state control
    over the sale of cannabis, said its director Thomas Zeltner.

    Meier added that the bill's failure put the burden on the cantons to
    enforce the law, a fact that displeases police and teachers'

    "The situation is not satisfactory. Police will have to apply their
    limited resources to bring charges against pot smokers," Meier said.

    "And the difficulties of applying legal provisions will continue to be
    a headache for the authorities."

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