Bernard Rappaz, owner of the Valchanze cannabis company in Martigny, Switzerland, jailed since November 14 after distributing medicinal cannabis to illness sufferers, is now on the 65th day of a hunger strike to protest his detention.
Although Valchanze is a well-established Swiss company producing a variety of cannabis products, Rappaz had dealt openly with Swiss authorities for years, and Switzerland is on the verge of legalizing cannabis consumption (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/154.html#swissdecrim), local authorities resorted to US-style SWAT team tactics in arresting and charging Rappaz, according to his supporters.
"The police came in like gangbusters," said Boris Ryser of the Swiss Cannabis Consumers Association (http://www.multimania.com/fdcc/homepage.htm). "They woke him up in the morning, coming in with weapons drawn and TV cameras, they even filmed Bernard's arrest in his bedroom," Ryser told DRCNet.
"They are treating him and the 20 growers who worked for him like they were mafiosi," said Ryser. "This is the same problem anywhere that cannabis is prohibited -- the honest growers have problems, while the real mafiosi prosper."
In addition to charging and jailing Rappaz, local Swiss authorities have frozen the company's assets, threatening to drive Rappaz and Valchanzre into bankruptcy. Local police also carried away 20 truckloads of high-THC cannabis, an estimated 50 tons, according to Ryser.
A spokeswoman for the Swiss embassy in Washington, DC, told DRCNet the Swiss government had no comment on the Rappaz case. "We don't generally comment on pending legal matters," she said. "We let the courts rule, that is our comment."
But Rappaz and his supporters are not waiting. Rappaz began his hunger strike almost immediately upon his arrest and refuses to stop despite the urgings of his worried comrades. "Bernard has lost 30 or 40 pounds already," said Ryser, "and we are doing all we can to persuade him to stop. It is too dangerous, he is too old." But if Rappaz is too old to continue, he is too principled to stop. "He believes very strongly in this," said Ryser.
While imploring Rappaz to break his fast, supporters have also organized global solidarity actions. "We have a chain of people doing solidarity fasts in Australia, Switzerland, France, and Belgium," said Ryser, "and we have organized a new group, Cannabis International Coordination, to call for an immediate, global end to cannabis prohibition. We will be going to Vienna [home of the UN's Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention] and Brussels [seat of the European Union] to demand these changes." A petition demanding freedom for Rappaz is also online at the FCCH web site.
Why now, when the country is on the verge of legalization? "Switzerland has been very tolerant for the past eight years," offered Ryser. "We have more than 400 hemp shops selling mainly smokable cannabis. But now, as we are about to regulate cannabis, the retrograde prohibitionist right wing is taking its last shot. The people are with us, 90% of the politicians are with us, but one right-wing magistrate ordered this arrest. We are a democracy, and the police are paid by the people. People want to know why this is happening. Why is cannabis illegal, why is Bernard in jail? This must change."
For US residents who would like to relay their thoughts on the Rappaz matter to Swiss authorities, the phone number of the Swiss Embassy in Washington is (202) 745-7900.