Switzerland moves toward broader medical cannabis access

The Swiss National Council – the country’s lower house – this week approved a Federal Council proposal to amend the narcotics law and make it easier for patients to access medical cannabis.

The amendment still needs the approval of the other legislative house, the Council of States.

It is uncertain when the upper house will take up the amendment.

If approved, the proposal would broaden access to medical cannabis in Switzerland as patients with a prescription would no longer need “exceptional authorization” from the country’s Federal Office of Public Health.

In other words, the final decision whether a patient gets access to medical cannabis would be made by a physician instead of a government official.

Such a move could significantly expand the potential market if the proposal is implemented.

The government would still monitor and regulate the program.

During the debate, lawmakers noted that the Office of Public Health is authorizing about 3,000 patients per year to use medical cannabis, with authorizations being valid for one year.

Jörg Mäder from the Green Liberal Party criticized the current situation as “expensive and time-consuming” for patients, leading to many consumers relying on the illicit market instead of the legal pathway.

The following proposals to introduce modifications were rejected:

  • Allowing patients to grow at home.
  • Prohibiting smoking as a route of administration.
  • Mandating that patients carry the prescription with them in case they need to justify being a patient to authorities.

The issue of health-care coverage for medical cannabis was raised during the lower-house debate, but it is uncertain what, if any, reimbursement would be provided to patients in the future.

Arguing in favor of looser rules, Mäder mentioned the recent move by the United Nations Commission of Narcotic Drugs (CND) to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention.

The decision implicitly acknowledged the therapeutic utility of cannabis and that the drug is not as dangerous as once believed. 

Before the U.N. vote, Marijuana Business Daily reported that a positive decision could encourage policymakers to “broaden already-established regulations,” which is exactly what transpired in the Swiss lower house.

Alfredo Pascual can be reached at alfredop@mjbizdaily.com