The government of Switzerland has approved a plan to legalize the possession and consumption of cannabis in the city of Zurich as part of a three-year pilot program to assess the social and economic impacts of legalizing cannabis. Through the trial, thousands of Zurich residents will be able to purchase cannabis for personal use beginning this summer.

“The trial will have a broad focus to gain data on the effects of different strengths of cannabis, on what helps individuals make informed decisions and on the pros and cons of different models of sale,” said Barbara Burri, a project manager at Zurich’s municipal health department.

The pilot program will allow a test group of up to 2,100 Zurich residents to purchase regulated doses of cannabis for personal use from pharmacies, social clubs and special dispensaries. Researchers have made arrangements for a total of 21 supply points to be located throughout the city. Sales of cannabis for the study are expected to begin at the supply points beginning in August of this year. 

The study’s participants will have the option of a variety of cannabis products with different potencies of THC and CBD. All cannabis products obtained through the pilot program will be organically produced by licensed Swiss companies and lab tested for purity and potency. Prices of cannabis available at the study supply points will be set to reflect prices of the city’s illicit market.

After receiving government approval, two producers—Pure Production AG and Swissextract—will begin cultivating cannabis for the study, according to a report from Forbes. The first harvest of cured cannabis flower is expected to be ready in July, with cannabis concentrates coming to the pilot program’s supply points in October.

Participants in the study, which is being conducted by the Zurich city council in association with the University of Zurich, will be required to answer a questionnaire every six months during the three-year study period. The questionnaire will ask participants about their cannabis consumption habits and the health effects of their cannabis use. 

Study Focuses On the Impacts of Legalization in Zurich

The leaders of the study say that the goal of the pilot program is to determine the conditions under which cannabis legalization in Switzerland can be compatible with “promoting individual and public health and safety,” according to a report from CNBC. Data collected from the trial will be released on a rolling basis beginning next year.

“The idea is to get robust real world evidence that serves policymaking for new [national] regulation on cannabis,” Burri said

Researchers conducting the study will compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of different cannabis products and supply sources. The study will also assess the current illicit cannabis market in Zurich, with the research focusing on maintaining public health, ensuring public safety and protecting young people from the risks of cannabis use.

Zurich residents interested in participating in the cannabis legalization pilot study can register for the program online. Participants must be active cannabis users at least 18 years old. Pregnant women, professional drivers and those with underlying health conditions are not eligible to participate in the research pilot. Study candidates who show signs of drug dependence or poor health due to drug use are also ineligible.

Public health studies have determined that about a third of adults in Switzerland have tried cannabis. Zurich, the alpine nation’s most populous city with about 420,000 residents, has about 13,000 regular cannabis users, according to research. 

In 2020, the Swiss federal parliament passed a so-called experimental article in the Narcotics Act, which allows studies to be carried out on the regulated sale of cannabis. On May 15, 2021, the amendment to the Narcotics Act went into effect, enabling pilot trials with the controlled sale of cannabis for recreational purposes.

The city of Basel was the first municipality in Switzerland to conduct a pilot study, launched last year with 400 participants. Other pilot studies planned for the Swiss cities of Bern, Lausanne, Geneva, Biel, Thun, Olten and Winterthur will be conducted in the upcoming months.

Malta is the only country in the European Union that has legalized recreational cannabis for personal use, although sales of adult-use cannabis have not been legalized on the tiny island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. Germany will likely be the next EU member to legalize recreational marijuana, with legislation expected from lawmakers soon. The Czech Republic has also announced plans to legalize cannabis for adults, although details of the plan have not yet been released.

Cannabis legalization plans that would allow cultivation for personal use have been proposed by officials in Luxembourg and Belgium. And last month, the Netherlands launched a pilot program for cannabis sales in the cities of Tilburg and Breda.

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