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Heroin delivery before hemp legalization

At a lecture in February, Felix Gutzwiller, a preventive physician and member of the National Council, explained his assessment of the status of the narcotics law revision in Switzerland. An interesting lecture with a clear overview of the political problems in the revision of the Narcotics Law.

Lecture at the Institute for Addiction Research

The Institute for Addiction Research in Zurich organizes an event every month on prevention and treatment services in the field of addiction as part of the ISF Forum. It aims to bring together practice and research and to inform about trends in the field of addiction. At the beginning of 2000, the ISF had asked Felix Gutzwiller, a well-known bourgeois member of the National Council and professor of preventive medicine, to report on the revision of the Narcotics Law on February 6, 2001. At that time, it was still assumed that the Federal Council's message would certainly be available by the beginning of February, so that it could be informed and discussed at this lecture. But like so much in the history of the narcotics law revision, this deadline was not met. Nevertheless, the lecture took place - but the speaker would have preferred to discuss this next step concretely, rather than speculating about it rather vaguely. (We also discuss the message itself in this issue starting on page 35).

Everybody wants to know

Before the presentation, the expert on the revision of the Narcotics Law was asked by various interested parties what the status of the Federal Council's message was and - above all - what it would and would not contain. Gutzwiller was unable to resolve this tension. Instead, he gave an interesting lecture with two focal points. On the one hand, his topic was the technical side of law revision: What has to happen in which order for an amended law to come into force? Secondly, he outlined the possible contents of the revision and pointed out the problems associated with these contents, which set the framework for the political discussion in parliament as well.

About the revision process

So everyone was waiting anxiously for the message of the Federal Council, which has been published in the meantime. According to this message, the first council has to be determined. Switzerland has a bicameral parliament (National Council and Council of States) and every business is first discussed in one council and then referred to the second council. Before the actual discussion in the first council, its commission deliberates on the Federal Council's message (during June, the commission of the Council of States probably started these deliberations). When the discussions in the First Council are completed (this should happen in the course of 2001), the business will be brought to the Commission of the Second Council and then dealt with by the Second Council itself (this could happen in 2002). There may be two delays in this area. On the one hand, the commissions may still decide to hold further hearings or have additional reports prepared by experts. On the other hand, differences may arise between the two councils during the deliberations, which will then have to be settled. Once the councils have reached agreement and passed the federal decree, a referendum can be lodged against it. It is almost certain that this will happen: there are enough die-hards who will fight even the most minimal improvements on principle. These forces are also strong enough to collect the necessary 50,000 signatures within 90 days, so that the referendum comes about. Finally, the amended narcotics law must be approved in a referendum (which is expected to be in 2003) and then be enacted (around 2004). However, if it fails in the referendum, the whole discussion would be set back by years: Apart from a pile of broken pieces, nothing would have been achieved. So much for the technical procedure. Now to the possible contents of the revision.

Tobacco and alcohol cannot be defined as addictive substances

At the beginning of the discussions about a revision, the idea was not simply to carry out a narcotics law revision, but to create a general narcotics law. Alcoholic beverages and tobacco products would then also have been included. Not in the sense that they would have been banned as well. They would have remained legal, but they would also have been listed as addictive substances. However, the innkeepers and other well-organized circles mobilized massively against this, so that this part fell silently under the table. Although especially preventive medicine knows that legal drugs are a much bigger problem for the health of the population than illegal drugs. But in terms of realpolitik, it is impossible to push through a law against the resistance of the landlords and the tobacco companies.

Heroin levy to be anchored

The first issue remaining for the revision of the law is the definitive anchoring of heroin dispensing for severely addicted fixers. Until now, this very successful form of treatment has been based on an urgent federal decree that expires in 2004. Many preventive physicians and those working in addiction support want this form of treatment to be definitively anchored in the law. If this does not succeed, the heroin program would have to be terminated at the end of 2004 and many fixers would be back on the street - with all the negative consequences (procurement crime, spread of HIV and hepatitis). So there is a lot of pressure to deal with this issue.

No longer punish consumption

The second issue is the exemption from punishment for consumption. Either for all narcotics, or only for hashish and weed. In principle many see that the punishment of the consumption brings nothing, but the reservations straight against the punishment exemption of the heroin and cocaine consumption are nevertheless still quite large. Exempting smoking pot from punishment, on the other hand, should find a majority among the population, according to Gutzwiller's assessment. For preventive medical reasons, a ban on consumption on public property would be desirable. How far the preparatory acts could then also be exempted from punishment (possession of 5 grams?, possession of 10 grams?, how many balcony plants are okay?, etc.), that remains open and will still trigger some interesting discussions.

Tolerate hemp trade?

Finally, the third topic is the new handling of commercial cultivation and sale. This is certainly the most controversial chapter. The proposed opportunity principle is nowhere integrated in Swiss legislation, unlike in Holland, and there are still many people against making money from the sale of hash and weed. Of course completely hypocritical, considering how much money is made with the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco. And these cannot even be defined as addictive substances for political reasons, because otherwise the landlords would threaten with a referendum.

Beautiful models and realpolitik

For Gutzwiller, it is problematic that the last vote on controlled heroin distribution resulted in an acceptance, but with only 55 percent yes votes. Even if it can be assumed that the first issue mentioned above, namely heroin distribution, would be accepted again, it is questionable how many other issues can be combined in a voting proposal so that there is still an acceptance. And it is clear to him that it does not bear much more additional: perhaps the exemption from punishment of cannabis use, that could be in.

A template or step by step?

He could also imagine a division of the various issues. After all, it would be a rather strange vote if there were a joint bill for the controlled release of heroin and the exemption from punishment of the consumption of cannabis products. Two issues that actually don't have much to do with each other (except that both substances are in the same total prohibition category). A staging or parallel treatment seems to be possible to Gutzwiller, he will probably push for it in the National Council. As a preventive physician, it is clearly important to him to anchor heroin distribution. For him, there is a need for action there, and he wants to make a difference. On the subject of hemp, he certainly tends to be on our side, but I already sensed that this subject is not very close to his heart. For him, smoking pot is primarily a harmful behavior (smoking) and he certainly does not consider it desirable that people smoke pot. There is also simply no pressure for him to move forward with this issue (there is no threat of HIV and hepatitis epidemics from people smoking pot, there is no threat of open drug scenes, people smoking pot are not perceived by him as a powerful force, such as the Restaurant Owners Association). He is certainly in favor of legalizing consumption, but this does not have the same importance for him as the definitive anchoring of heroin distribution.

Desirable and feasible

Gutzwiller also made a clear distinction between two levels: On the one hand, one can discuss what would be just, logical, beautiful models of a new way of dealing with psychoactive substances. On the other hand, one must ask oneself the question: How do we get what to the point where it is approved in a referendum in the next few months? These are effectively two different considerations. Beautiful concepts may be beautiful and also morally convincing, perhaps even just. But political enforceability does not necessarily have anything to do with it. Only proposals that reach a majority are enforceable. This will be the exciting process of the coming months: Who will bring together which majorities for which issues in parliament and among the population?

Last modified: 2023/12/22 21:16

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