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November 2008
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A suggestion for Switzerland

So voters in Switzerland voted overwhelmingly today to formalize their excellent heroin prescription program, where they really lead the world in reducing crime and the ravages of addiction through implementing actual… ideas.
But, unfortunately, the cannabis decriminalization initiative failed. And it seems pretty clear why: cannabis tourism.

While the Swiss Government backed the heroin initiative, it opposed the call for marijuana legalisation because it feared that it could cause drugs tourism to Switzerland of the kind that is causing public disorder problems in border towns in the Netherlands. Oswald Sigg, a government spokesman, said: ‹This 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.Š

This is a real problem that will plague legitimate marijuana legalization opportunities in states and countries that are surrounded by repressive governments. The fear is that everyone will flock there, not to ski, or visit museums, or buy horribly overpriced trinkets, but to smoke pot. Now, personally, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing, but tourism boards hate it (except, perhaps, in the Republic of Cheetos®).
So here’s my suggestion for the next initiative in Switzerland. Make it legal only for residents. You already have national id cards, so it would be easy. (I’m not a fan of national id cards, but if you already have it, why not have it be good for something… useful?) Then you could easily dispel the pot tourism concerns — after all, it’s illegal for foreigners. Then, if the government wanted to be really sneaky, they could simply turn a blind eye to non-native tokers, except when they wanted to get rid of some obnoxious foreigner.
Now, apparently, the cannabis organizers in Switzerland are already thinking about using id cards…

The cannabis supporters lost out but immediately came up with another suggestion – special microchipped identity cards for cannabis smokers, rationing their intake, cutting out criminal dealers.

… but they’re not thinking big enough — stop pot tourism! (and make everyone else so jealous that they have to pass their own cannabis decriminalization plans)

A petition

Students for Sensible Drug Policy have established a petition on Facebook that they wish to deliver to President-Elect Obama The petition request is reasonable (and certainly not overly ambitious):

When you called the War on Drugs an “utter failure” in 2004, you were right. A 2008 Zogby poll found that 3 out of 4 of […]

Switzerland voting on marijuana decriminalization and heroin prescription today

Several readers have passed on the information about Switzerland, and with the holidays, I haven’t gotten around to posting about it until now.
Marijuana Smokers in Switzerland Pin Hopes on Support of Voters

The ‹Hemp InitiativeŠ would free the Swiss to use and grow cannabis for their own use, putting the country on a par with the Netherlands, which has the most liberal drug laws in Europe. Switzerland‰s ruling coalition parties are split over the plan, with opponents including the Swiss People‰s Party fearing such a law would spark cannabis tourism. About half of the country‰s voters oppose the proposal.

Naturally, the opponents are using the fear tactic:

Backed by the Free Democrats and the Social Democrats, two of the ruling parties, the initiative‰s supporters have been handing out free copies of the ‹Hemp JournalŠ on the streets of Zurich and Bern. Opponents are countering with a newspaper campaign featuring a syringe, a joint and a call for voters to keep their ‹hands offŠ drugs.

A syringe?

So far, those tactics are winning out. A minority of the 1,209 voters, 38 percent, surveyed by the Bern-based GfS research institute between Nov. 10-16 back the ‹Hemp Initiative,Š with some 50 percent opposing the proposal.

A reader from Switzerland writes:

This is not the first time the issue of cannabis legalization has been on the table, and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if it’s rejected once again. Sadly, many people in favor of legalization will not cast their vote, even if they could vote by mail and there is no need to register or similar things. The ballot paper is automatically sent to all Swiss over 18 and in some regions, you even get a pre-paid envelope for sending it back! As everywhere else, the young are lazy and uninterested..

While the marijuana initiative seems likely to fail, another one is expected to pass: giving away heroin for free.
Well, actually, it’s a vote on putting a heroin distribution program on a permanent legal footing.

Patients show up each day to receive their treatment in small doses handed through a small window.
Then they gather around a table to shoot up, part of a pioneering Swiss program to curb drug abuse by providing addicts a clean, safe place to take heroin produced by a government-approved laboratory.

This is a powerful program that works, and so naturally the U.S. and U.N. has roundly condemned it.

Crimes committed by heroin addicts have dropped 60 percent since the program began in 1994, according to the Federal Office of Public Health says.
And, Zullino said, patients reduce consumption of other narcotics once they start the heroin program and suffer less from psychiatric disorders.
But, he added, “the idea has never been to liberalize heroin. It’s considered a medicine and used as such.”

Best of luck to Swiss voters today.

[Thanks Antonio, Tom, Mats]

Update: Early voting results are showing up as expected. The heroin program is winning easily at 69 percent, and the cannabis initiative is going down to heavy defeat.