Switzerland: Court Ruling Sets New Precedent

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Switzerland Cannabis Law


A law student in Switzerland who had been alleged of being in possession of eight grams of cannabis had been summoned to appear in court for paying a fine. The surprising outcome: the Zurich District Court acquitted the student. Could this ruling set precedence for cannabis possession in Switzerland?

The defendant in question together with his attorney, who is a law student as well, took a close look at current Swiss law and believed that only the consumption of cannabis would be punishable, and that the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana for personal use should be exempt from punishment.

The relevant passages in the Swiss Narcotics Act (BetmG) state in Article 19a, paragraph 1 that

“Any person who wilfully consumes without authorisation narcotics or any person who commits an offence in terms of Article 19 for his or her own consumption is liable to a fine.”

In article 19b, paragraph 1, the the law says that

“Any person who prepares a negligible quantity of a narcotic for his or her own consumption or supplies it to a person over the age of 18 free of charge for the purpose of consuming the narcotic together at the same time does not commit an offence.”

WHAT DOESN’T CONSTITUTE AN OFFENSE CANNOT BE PUNISHABLE

While the above article 19b, paragraph 1 clearly states that the possession and sharing of smaller quantities of marijuana doesn’t constitute an offense, it was until recently common in Switzerland that those having been found in possession of even small quantities face fines of up to CHF 200 Swiss francs together with a randomly imposed “administration fee”.

The result of this was that even a small bag of weed could and still can easily amount to fines of up to CHF 800 francs.

After giving article 19 a closer look, the judge in Zurich now not only confirmed that the students had been right in their assessment but moreover acknowledged that those in possession of smaller quantities of up to 10 grams had been wrongly punished.

ACQUITTAL SINCE NO PUNISHABLE OFFENCE HAD BEEN COMMITTED

The Zurich judge argued that non-punishable offences should not be punished and acquitted the defendant. The presiding judge confirmed that the BetmG states the eight grams of cannabis had not been illegal and that no consumption offence had been committed.

WILL THE ZURICH VERDICT AFFECT SWISS DRUG POLICY?

The question now is whether this verdict could possibly affect Swiss drug policy altogether.

Peter Albrecht, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Law and former President of the Basel City Criminal Court, stated to the press that only the consumption is punishable and not the possession of small quantities of weed for personal consumption.

No one in Switzerland has yet taken legal action against fines for circulating small amounts of cannabis. One reason here is that although the mentioned “circulation free of charge” is not considered an offense in Swiss law, doing so obviously implies possession of a small quantity.

Cannabis advocates are now arguing that giving away small quantities of marijuana, say as a gift cannot be sufficiently considered as being a fineable offense, judging from the wording found in Swiss law.

Swiss police, however, don’t seem to see it that way. They have already said that they won’t be changing current practices and will continue to impose fines.

Zurich Verdict Switzerland Cannabis

SWISS LAW IS QUITE CLEAR

What’s remarkable here is that the formulation in the BetmG is quite clear and doesn’t leave room for any interpretation. This means that either the text of the law would need to be changed or that the authorities must stop to impose fines for what clearly doesn’t even constitute an offense.

It is not clear yet what the outcome here will be. A change in the BetmG as well as a change of Swiss practices imposing fines for possession, both options are on the table and are currently talked about.

COULD THIS VERDICT AFFECT CANNABIS CULTURE IN SWITZERLAND?

It is ironic if one realizes that it was an ordinary law student who found this loophole in Swiss cannabis law, a loophole that had been missed by anyone else including the Swiss authorities.

In regards to several proposed cannabis pilot projects in the nation, this loophole could well be significant and may well change things around.

For instance, right now consuming cannabis in coffee shops or certain Cannabis Social Clubs (CSCs) in Switzerland cannot be defined as an offence if possession and consumption of small amounts for personal consumption are not illegal. Public consumption, on the other hand, and circulation of large quantities would still remain criminal offenses, but the new ruling could open a clearer way for pilot projects like the CSC that opened last year in Bern.

The bottom line here being that consumption in these places could be entirely legal without the requirement for police to change their measures and without the requirement to completely legalize marijuana in Switzerland right away.

A this point, and despite or even because of this ruling in Zurich, cannabis enthusiasts in Switzerland are finding themselves in an unclear if not entirely confusing legal grey zone. Differently spoken, the Swiss can’t tell you right now what is legal and what isn’t.

There isn’t any question that Swiss cannabis law urgently requires a reform, if not to make sure that medicinal cannabis users can be cared for without any such legal uncertainty.

 

         
  Georg  

Written by: Georg
Based in Spain, Georg spends a lot of his time not only geeking out at his computer but in his garden as well. With a burning passion for growing cannabis and researching psychedelics, Georg is well versed in all things psychoactive.

 
 
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