On November 29, Swiss voters will have an historic opportunity to reject the international drug war. On that date, Swiss citizens will vote up or down on "Droleg", short for the Swiss words for Drug Legalization.
The proposal was submitted in 1993 by a group calling itself "Initiative for a Reasonable Drug Policy." By November, 1994, the group had turned in over 107,000 signatures, qualifying it for the ballot. The government, which has up to ten years to review an initiative, did so and placed it on the ballot.
The language of the initiative is direct. From its opening statement, "The consumption, possession and purchase of narcotics for personal use are exempt from punishment," and throughout its text, calling for the government to establish regulations and necessary licenses for a controlled market, and for the revocation of all international agreements and treaties which would prohibit the initiatives terms.
This is not the first time that Swiss voters have been asked to direct their nation's drug policies. Last year, Switzerland's voters rejected, by a margin of 71% to 29% an initiative which would have stopped the nation's progressive direction on drug policy in its tracks and reestablished a purely punitive regime.
Philip Coffin, a researcher with The Lindesmith Center, a New York-based drug policy think tank, told The Week Online that while the Swiss initiative would be a large and historic step, it would be even more so in a country like the US.
"I think that before a society would be ready to consider the total separation of the issue of substance use from the law enforcement model, that society would first have to experience a shift in paradigm regarding how it thinks about substance use itself. The Swiss are obviously light years ahead of Americans in terms of thinking about drug abuse as a health issue. They've had an excellent experience with opiate maintenance. They're preparing a proposal at the federal level to regulate the sale and possession of cannabis by adults. How deeply that paradigm shift has taken hold, we shall have to wait and see."
Supporters of the initiative acknowledge that if Switzerland were to go it alone in bucking the global drug war, care would have to be taken to avoid the problems of drug tourism that have plagued The Netherlands, where personal possession and use of drugs is tolerated, but not technically legal. They believe, however, that a regulated market would eliminate so many problems, including the ease of access that the black market affords to children, that the switch would be worth the work. The federal government, on the other hand, is officially opposed to the initiative, not because they are enamored with the drug war, but because the initiative "goes too far," and perhaps, in a nation that is already on the path toward legalized cannabis and medicalized narcotics, just a bit too quickly.
But the issue is now with the voters to decide, and even Droleg's supporters aren't expecting miracles. "We will consider anything above 35% to be a victory" said Francois Reusser, a Droleg organizer. "We have to get more than the 29% that voted for stricter laws last year. But we really don't know how it will turn out. We may win."
Droleg can be found online at http://www.droleg.ch -- follow the link written in English for an English version of the initiative language and other information.