The Cantonal Basel Cannabis Report

Basel has had enough of waiting for the big NarcA revision. An interdepartmental report from 2004 analyzes the situation around hemp and proposes concrete measures. The entire Basel administration should be able to orient itself on this.

Unité de doctrine

“The present Cantonal Cannabis Report was prepared in close cooperation with all administrative offices involved in the cannabis problem and thus represents a 'unité de doctrine' of the Basel administration,” it says in the introduction to the Basel report. In fact, a large number of authorities were involved in the preparation of this report: Councillors from the Sanitary Department, the Police and Military Departments, the Justice Department, as well as the heads of the Health Service, the “Youth, Family, Prevention” Department and the “Schools” Department. In addition, the police commander and the first prosecutor. The list shows that the relevant people and the decisive offices are behind this report. (Even the head of “City Gardening and Cemeteries” was there . . . )


Now the report lists some facts about the current situation: Cannabis use is widespread; there has been a switch from (imported) hashish to (domestic) weed; there are risks to smoking pot, but they are no greater than with legal alcohol and tobacco. “The risks of cannabis use are particularly person- and behavior-specific.” One can only subscribe to this: There are stoners who have not found a sensible way to deal with THC products. But there are many who manage their consumption responsibly. Then follow some frank words about the repression against the stores: “Between October 2002 and the end of January 2003, public prosecutor and the police carried out intensified measures against the cannabis stores. Out of 87 stores identified, 11 were still operating at the end of January 2003.” The report justifies the fact that some stores still exist by the limited human resources available to criminal prosecution.


The report also notes that more and more young people are smoking pot, but that these young people are also turning to alcohol more and more often. And: “Today, cannabis use can hardly be associated with subcultural affiliation or social norm-breaking. Rather, it is associated - in line with alcohol and tobacco - with the 'socializer' and relaxation functions of these substances, which are also widespread and appreciated among adults. Based on various representative studies, it can be assumed that the vast majority of all cannabis users engage in experimental or occasional use without any health-relevant problems arising. Cannabis users come from all social, demographic and educational groups. Individuals who develop dependence as a result of excessive use often exhibit deficits in personal and social resources.”

Narcotics Act

Regarding the Narcotics Act, the report states: “The trade in cannabis and the cultivation associated with it is consistently prosecuted in Basel on the basis of the mandatory provisions of the current Narcotics Act. Repressive measures against individual cannabis stores are therefore still possible and necessary. Consumption of cannabis and acts related to its consumption constitute contraventions for which the principle of opportunity is applied prosecution. The Youth Prosecutor's Office conducts proceedings against young cannabis users when they become aware of their use.” So here a triage is made: trafficking is always prosecuted (as far as capacities allow), consumption is actually not prosecuted, unless it concerns young people, where one does not want to simply stand by and watch. But what exactly does “opportunity principle” mean here?


After the report expresses its support for the ongoing NarcA revision and also wants to make existing help services for young people with addiction problems more accessible, the first rather theoretical part concludes: “Until the new narcotics law comes into force, the general situation will inevitably continue to be characterized by uncertainties and contradictions regarding a coherent cannabis policy. A clear stance on the part of the canton or the relevant authorities should help to reduce the number of these uncertainties and contradictions and to clearly communicate and justify those that inevitably remain.”

Key figures

Then follow some key figures of Basel's cannabis policy: “Basel-Stadt pursues a pragmatic cannabis policy with the aim of separating soft and hard drugs”, “There is a priority regulation with a focus on the prosecution of trafficking in hard drugs (especially heroin and cocaine)”, “The priorities in the measures on cannabis use are in the areas of prevention, protection of minors, and counseling and help. The measures target the problem areas of early entrants, problematic use among young people, excessive use and other forms of risky use”. Remarkable: Nothing to read here about repression? So really a comprehensive decriminalization?

Action plan

Then follows the plan of measures, now it becomes really concrete. Regarding repression, the report says: “Repressive measures against individual cannabis stores are still possible and necessary. However, following the priority rule will inevitably mean that a small number of cannabis stores will continue to exist. If the number of cannabis stores increases again, the public prosecutor will have to examine the possibility of a concentrated deployment of personnel, reinforced by members of the cantonal police, against the cannabis store scene for the purpose of renewed reduction.” This is probably the most honest assessment of how to deal with cannabis stores that I have ever heard from official sources. Basically, the trafficking of hash and weed will be prosecuted. But not in first priority, but in second or third. And regarding consumption, the report states: “ Consumption will be specifically prosecuted in Basel, as before, only if there is a need for it due to special circumstances (e.g. harassment of the public and residents by a consumer scene or simultaneous suspicion of trafficking in cannabis).” This is the concrete version of the Basel Opportunity Principle: consumption is prohibited, but in some cases it is not prosecuted. Whereby the criteria for this non-prosecution are already very vague. Does a single stoner “bother” other people at a streetcar station and is a case brought against him? Does one have to stand somewhere alone on the Rhine and if then the smoke does not stress anyone it is ok? That leaves the police a lot of leeway. But at least it is the very first version of a concrete opportunity principle. It is, so to speak, the most minimal form of a partial decriminalization of consumption. However, it only applies to adults. “The Youth Prosecutor's Office conducts proceedings against young cannabis users when they become aware of their use, whereby the principle applies that the younger and the more frequently a minor has used cannabis, the more action is taken. The consequences are information of the parents and appropriate sanctions under juvenile law (reprimands, fines and, in the future, above all, compulsory participation in courses in order to deal with one's own consumption and life situation there).”


This view from Basel could set a precedent throughout Switzerland, at least in the cities. It will probably be the maximum possible until the new NarcA comes into force (if it is not scuttled by the National Council after all). There is hardly any room for maneuver in the retail sector: anyone who opens a store will sooner or later have to face a raid. The store may well run for a few months. When it comes to consumption, the focus is increasingly on the conspicuous smokers: The very young; those who cause further problems or those who consume quite a lot. The Bernese “Bund” wrote about this report: “Normal stoners should not be excluded.” A wonderful word, “normal stoners”. If one really does not want to exclude us THC-users anymore, then the NarcA must be changed, there is no way around it. But at least: those who smoke pot at home, don't stress anyone out with it, are adults and don't ingest too much THC, won't be actively prosecuted. That's not enough, but it's a step in the right direction. Initially only in Basel . . .

You can download the whole report.

Last modified: 2024/03/27 08:56

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