Swiss voters will go to the polls November 30 to decide whether to approve marijuana decriminalization and the government's ongoing "four pillars" drug strategy, which includes the prescription of heroin to hard-core addicts. A Swiss Broadcasting Corporation poll late last month showed the decriminalization effort in a virtual dead heat, leading 45% to 42%, with 13% undecided, while the referendum on the broader strategy appears headed to easy victory, with 63% in favor, 20% opposed, and 17% undecided.
The referendum on marijuana policy envisages its legalization for personal use, with its cultivation and sale being regulated by the state. It comes a decade after Swiss voters narrowly rejected a similar proposal. An attempt to decriminalize through parliament failed in 2004.
While the vote on decriminalization looks to be close, the effort is supported by a 1999 government advisory committee report and the governing coalition, and it is picking up some unexpected allies. Regulation would protect young people, argued the Social Democrats. Somewhat surprisingly, the effort is also supported by the center-right or libertarian Radical Party and the respected daily Neue Zurcher Zeitung, which described both the decrim effort and the amended drug law as steps in the right direction.
"A policy which is only based on abstinence, bans and repression ultimately leads to more spending on welfare. It also is against the spirit of liberalism and leaves no room for people to take responsibility for themselves," the newspaper editorialized.
But not everyone is jumping on the decrim bandwagon. The rightist Swiss People's Party remains staunchly opposed. "Switzerland would become the drug Mecca of Europe," said People's Party parliamentarian Andrea Geissbühler.
The government's four-pillars drug strategy appears much less controversial, especially after a decade of pilot heroin prescription programs that have proven effective. Even the grassroots of the rightist parties approve, according to the poll.
"The number of drug-related deaths per year dropped from 400 at the beginning of the 1990s to 152 last year," said Felix Gutzwiller, a Zurich Radical Party senator, adding that each year some 200 addicts graduate from heroin maintenance to methadone maintenance. "It is telling that drugs issues are no longer top of the list of public concerns, unlike 20 years ago," he said.