Europe: Swiss Vote to Make Heroin Prescription Permanent, But Reject Marijuana Legalization

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #563)
Politics & Advocacy

Voters in Switzerland Sunday gave overwhelming approval to a proposal to make the country's pioneering heroin prescription program legal, but at the same time rejected an initiative that would have legalized and regulated the use and sale of marijuana. The heroin program won with 69% of the vote, while the marijuana initiative got only 37% support.

[inline:swisscannabis.jpg align=right caption="Swiss cannabis (marijuana) field (picture from"]Begun in 1994, the Swiss heroin prescription program has been proven to reduce crime among participants and improve the health and daily lives of addicts. It is currently offered in 23 centers across the country, where users who have not responded to other therapies inject carefully measured doses of heroin under medical supervision. The program also provides access to psychiatrists and social workers in its bid to help users function in society.

Making heroin prescription permanent was approved by parliament in March. But conservative forces balked at that decision and forced a national referendum.

The United States and the UN's International Narcotics Control Board have criticized the program as potentially fueling drug abuse, but other governments have started or are considering their own programs modeled on the system. The Netherlands has been offering prescribed heroin since 2006, with nearly 600 patients in the program, and in May of this year, Denmark approved a law making heroin prescribing a permanent program. Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Spain are also carrying out heroin prescription trials, and one just finished up in Canada.

While Swiss voters were okay with providing heroin to addicts, they were not okay with allowing pot-smokers to go unmolested. The Hemp Initiative went down in flames, despite the wide acceptance of marijuana use in the country. Some 44% of Swiss 13-to-29-year-olds have smoked pot at least once, and 9% said they smoke almost daily.

The Hemp Initiative would have decriminalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use. It made the ballot after more than 100,000 Swiss signed petitions to place it before the voters.

But the initiative incited an organized opposition, which included part of the governing coalition. Despite the seeming paradox of approving the distribution of heroin while barring the use of marijuana, the Swiss seemed concerned that relaxing the marijuana laws would increase drug tourism and encourage drug use.

"That could lead to a situation where you have some sort of cannabis tourism in Switzerland because something that is illegal in the EU would be legal in Switzerland," government spokesman Oswald Sigg told the Associated Press.

"We would have to fear Switzerland becoming a European drug hub," Hans Fehr, a People's Party lawmaker, told the AP. "There'll be more consumers, unforeseeable, costs and a wider drug trade."

Olivier Borer, 35, a musician from Solothurn, told the AP he welcomed the vote's outcome because the state needed to help heroin addicts, but not encourage pot smoking. "I think it's very important to help these people, but not to facilitate the using of drugs. You can just see in the Netherlands how it's going. People just go there to smoke," Borer said.

But Jo Lang, a Green Party member of parliament said the marijuana vote result was disappointing because it meant 600,000 Swiss pot smokers will continue to be treated as criminals. "People have died from alcohol and heroin, but not from cannabis," Lang said.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

they took away their guns in the old world and gave them heroin; so you figure it out...Americans, DO YOU WANT TO BE A SLAVE????

Fri, 12/05/2008 - 6:05pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The comment from the previous poster makes little sense. In Switzerland every male citizen is required to serve a certain amount of time in the military. Everyone who has completed this service is allowed to keep their service firearm, even after after leaving the service, in their home. There are European states where possession of weapons is completely illegal, but Switzerland is not one of those countries. Furthermore, only people who can prove they are addicted to heroin can get into these types of programs.

Sun, 12/07/2008 - 2:16pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Switzerland is the exception to the rule in the old world. There is no reason they can't take away their guns, is there...?

Sun, 12/07/2008 - 5:21pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The United States of America is a pluralistic society which USED be free. Switzerland onthe other hand, is NOT very pluralistic, and therefore doesn't suffer from the same kind of social frictions. Perhaps I'm being obtuse here, but why in the HELL would the Swiss choose to indulge in heroin to ease emotional pain...? Maybe the readers can help me out; are living conditions so bad there that they REALLY need the escape...?

Sun, 12/07/2008 - 5:33pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

cannabis is the universal drug of choice i thought! not to mention all natural and you cant overdose!!!!!!!!! so why the fuck can they justify making heroin legal!!! the crazy thing is it was the swiss people who decided this!!!! idk about anyone else but i think if we had clinics to smoke pot verse shooting up heroin you wont need doctors on sight to council people on how to function in society!!!!

Mon, 12/08/2008 - 10:34am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

So... they are inabling the HEROINE addicts?
Hmm someone has dirty hands in the pockets of those clinics. Wonder how much of a kick back they are getting from all the heroine RX's.

Tue, 12/09/2008 - 5:05pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

first of all, learn how to spell. it's spelled HEROIN! second of all, they're not ENABLING heroin addicts. there would be addicts even if this program did not exist! and unless you've been addicted, then you have NO idea how necessary a program like this is! if we can decrease the spread of illness caused by the multiple infections and dirty needles being thrown out on the streets and the o'ds from the inconsistencies of street drugs, then you'd be crazy NOT to do it!

i DON'T agree with the fact that weed is not being legalized, though. we should legalize it ALL! stop the insanity that is prohibition! haven't we learned anything?!?

Wed, 12/10/2008 - 1:38pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

All that I ask of any drug user, or drinker for that matter, is that they try to behave themselves in a civil manner. It has been my personal experience that some use substance as a vehicle to act out their issues.

If we ("We the People") decide that the number of those substance users are causing too much social disorder, we WILL seej ti put an end to it! If the Federal government doesn't do entirely like they did with the alcohol in 1919.

Wed, 12/10/2008 - 9:32pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey, i'm swiss and i totally voted yes, tried to get involved mailing the association, here's how things went, NO ONE got back to me, there was very little advertising, almost none to be honest... seen as it is, it was a great result, 37% of the population voted yes even if the "no" advertising and the prejudice were there, with almost nothing to back them up... so it wasn't that bad... next time some guys of that association should learn that getting enough signs and make it go to vote is not a victory, you have to back up an initiative with fliers, tv ads and so on.

Thu, 05/14/2009 - 7:31pm Permalink

Add new comment

Source URL: