Local government officials in the Swiss capital of Bern are discussing the possibility of launching a pilot program to study the effects of legal cocaine sales on the general public.
According to Reuters, legislators in the Bern Parliament have proposed the idea as a potential solution to increased cocaine usage in a country already infamous for some of the highest levels of cocaine use in Europe. The discussion began just weeks after a select few Swiss cities, Bern included, launched a similar pilot program to analyze the effects of legal adult-use cannabis sales, the first of its kind in Europe.
“The war on drugs has failed, and we have to look at new ideas,” said Eva Chen, a member of the Bern council from the Alternative Left Party who co-sponsored the proposal. “Control and legalization can do better than mere repression.”
Legislators in support of the idea proposed that due to falling prices of cocaine and rising levels of use, especially in Switzerland, the most common sense solution would be to regulate and control the flow, distribution and purity of the supply rather than continue to fight the uphill battles of prohibition policies.
“We have a lot of cocaine in Switzerland right now, at the cheapest prices and the highest quality we have ever seen,” said Frank Zobel, deputy director at Addiction Switzerland. “You can get a dose of cocaine for about 10 francs these days, not much more than the price for a beer.”
The measure has already passed the Bern Parliament but still needs approval from the city government before a program can be officially implemented. The measure would also require a legislative change at the national level, so there are still many hurdles to overcome before Bern residents can expect to walk into a cocaine store without fear of legal repercussions. This is at least part of the reason why the proposal is for a pilot program/study rather than direct legalization.
“We are still far away from potential legalization, but we should look at new approaches,” Chen said to Reuters. “That is why we are calling for a scientifically supervised pilot scheme trial.”
This program would be the first of its kind in the world at large where cocaine remains largely illegal for any purpose in a majority of Earth’s sovereign nations. There are some notable exceptions. In Mexico, for instance, it is legal to carry up to a half-gram of cocaine for personal use. In some South American countries low-level possession and cultivation of a small number of coca plants is legal. Many countries have decriminalized personal possession of cocaine and in the United States there are some states like Oregon which have decriminalized as well. In many countries cocaine can also be prescribed for medical purposes, though the rates or prescription are likely very low because comparable medicines exist with far lower rates of abuse.
Nowhere on God’s Green Earth, however, is cocaine legal to be sold under the guise of adult-use. Swiss legislators hope to change that in the name of personal safety and harm reduction, to say nothing of the economic incentives that must exist for texable cocaine sales.
“Cocaine can be life-threatening for both first-time and long-term users. The consequences of an overdose, but also individual intolerance to even the smallest amounts, can lead to death,” the Bern government said.
The issue remains hotly contested both around the world and among addiction experts in Switzerland and not all are in favor of legalization. Boris Quednow, group leader of the University of Zurich’s Centre for Psychiatric Research told Reuters the issue differed from alcohol
“Cocaine is one of the most strongly addictive substances known,” Quednow said.
Those in favor of legalization have expressed that common sense measures need to happen because of prohibition’s abject failure to keep cocaine out of Swiss cities, not to mention everywhere else.
“Cocaine isn’t healthy – but the reality is that people use it,” said Thilo Beck, from the Arud Zentrum for Addiction Medicine to Reuters. “We can’t change that, so we should try to ensure people use it in the safest, least damaging way.”
Before anyone gets all gung-ho about emigrating to Switzerland, these proposed changes could take years before they go into effect. National law would need to be amended, as aforementioned, and that process largely depends on the success of the adult-use cannabis pilot program currently underway. Many other measures would also need to be taken before any sort of launch date or approval process could be considered. Quality control measures, supply chain concerns and harm reduction practices to name a few would all need to be ironed out to stand up to full Swiss legislative scrutiny.