The Drug Lobby Assails the Swiss Parliament
by Jean-Philippe Chenaux
Those in Switzerland who were banking on a rapid revision of the Federal Narcotics Act are going to have to come down to earth. Following the adoption by the Council of States (Upper House), in December 2001, of the dire Swiss government bill, the Health Commission of the National Council (Lower House) was meant to give it a reading on 28 August. The discussion was postponed to October, so that the debate in the Lower House could not take place before the Winter session. That means that the procedure of ironing out differences of opinion will not be taken up until 2003, which allows a few extra months to prepare the reply to the drug lobby.
During this time, the perverse effects of the policy dictated by this lobby continue to be ever more broadly felt, i.e. a weakening of prevention, repression and the therapy aimed at abstinence in favour of a supposed 'harm reduction' that no longer has anything to do with reducing supply and demand, the resurgence of 'open scenes' (Zurich), an increase in drug-induced deaths in several big cities (Basle and Berne), an explosion in the consumption of cocaine and synthetic drugs (ecstasy, GHB, 'Thai pills'), as well as cannabis products increasingly rich in THC (the active substance), the maintenance of heroin addicts in their chemical straitjackets, and all this at a time when the Council of Europe is ripping up a report by the EMP Flynn praising the very hypothetical charms of the 'Swiss model' and when Denmark is abandoning its plan to prescribe heroin to drug addicts.
As regards health and the future of youth, not to mention the image of Switzerland abroad, the issues at stake in the current revision of the law are of capital importance. The Swiss government bill, in its present version, would contribute to dismantling the anti-drug legislation and to isolating Switzerland a little further still in an area where it already stands banished from Europe, as it is, along with Albania, the only country not able to ratify the 1988 United Nations Convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
Each year, Switzerland is picked out by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). In its latest report, the Board considers that 'the draft legislation would provide for much more than the depenalization of cannabis consumption and preparatory acts'. It would amount, warns the INCB, 'to an unprecedented move towards legalization of the consumption, cultivation, manufacture, possession, purchase and sale of cannabis for non-medical purposes'. That would 'not be in conformity with the international drug control treaties, in particular the 1961 Convention'. A legal opinion sought by the Federal Office of Justice from the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law in Lausanne also concludes that the provisions concerning the cultivation of and trade in cannabis are not compatible with international treaties.
Cannabis is not the only substance at issue. Heroin, now being produced by the company DiaMo Narcotics, Thun (canton Berne), has been removed from the list of prohibited substance and its prescription to heroin addicts exalted to the status of treatment (reimbursable by health insurance companies). The mention in the Act of the objective of abstinence falls by the wayside. The criteria for admission to the heroin prescription programmes will not appear in the Act, but in an order thereby placing it beyond the jurisdiction of Parliament. The supposed 'harm reduction', on the other hand, will be anchored in the law. Cantons that, hitherto, had refused to make injection premises ('shooting galleries') and syringe distributors available will now have to do so and assume the cost of measures that merely prolong dependence. With the power vested in the Federal Council to limit legal action against drug-related offences, we shall sooner or later see the decriminalisation of the consumption of all narcotics.
May Swiss parliamentarians understand that the realisation of the common good is incompatible with the demands of the drug lobby. If not, there will be sufficient responsible citizens to collect the 50,000 signatures necessary for launching a referendum.
This article first appeared in PATRONS (7-8/2002), the organ of the Centre Patronal ' federation) in Paudex/Lausanne (Switzerland), in mid-July 2002 and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.