Swiss capital Bern considers legal cocaine project


ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s capital is examining a pilot scheme to allow the sale of cocaine for recreational use – a radical approach to the war on drugs that is not thought to have been tried elsewhere.

Parliament in Bern has supported the idea, which still needs to overcome opposition from the city government and will also require a change in national law.

Drugs policy around the world is evolving, with the U.S. state of Oregon, for example, decriminalising possession of small amounts of cocaine in 2021 in favour of drug treatment.

Many European countries, including Spain, Italy and Portugal, no longer have prison sentences for possession of drugs including cocaine, although nowhere has gone as far as the proposal under discussion in Bern.

Switzerland is re-examining its stance on the drug after some politicians and experts criticised complete bans as ineffective, with the proposal – currently in its early stages – following trials now under way to permit the legal sale of cannabis.

“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 legalisation can do better than mere repression.”


Wealthy Switzerland has one of the highest levels of cocaine use in Europe, according to the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites measured in waste water, with Zurich, Basel and Geneva all featuring in the top 10 cities in Europe.

Swiss cities, including Bern, are also showing increasing usage, while prices of cocaine have halved in the last five years, according to Addiction Switzerland, a non-governmental organisation.

“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.”

Bern’s education, social affairs and sport directorate is preparing a report on a possible cocaine trial, although this does not mean it will definitely take place.

“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.

Bern parliament member Chen said it was too early to say how a pilot scheme would develop, including where the drug would be sold or how it would be sourced.

“We are still far away from potential legalisation, but we should look at new approaches,” Chen said. “That is why we are calling for a scientifically supervised pilot scheme trial.”


For a trial to take place, parliament would have to amend the law banning the recreational use of the drug.

The decision could come in a matter of years, or earlier if the current cannabis schemes – where the drug is on sale at pharmacies – show successful results, political experts said.

Any legalisation would be accompanied by quality controls and information campaigns, Chen said, with the approach also reducing a lucrative criminal market.

Experts are divided, with even those in favour of the trial concerned about the potential dangers.

“Cocaine is one of the most strongly addictive substances known,” said Boris Quednow, group leader of the University of Zurich’s Centre for Psychiatric Research.

He said its risks were in a completely different league to alcohol or cannabis, citing links to heart damage, strokes, depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, Thilo Beck, from the Arud Zentrum for Addiction Medicine, the largest centre for addiction medicine in Switzerland, said it was time for a more “grown up” policy towards cocaine.

“Cocaine isn’t healthy – but the reality is that people use it,” said Beck. “We can’t change that, so we should try to ensure people use it in the safest, least damaging way.”

Leo, a cocaine user from Geneva, said legalising the drug would make treatment easier, as well as reduce violence and crime linked to supply. It would also make it easier to control the quality of the drugs on sale.

“Prohibiting drugs doesn’t give good results in terms of health policies and prevention,” Leo told Reuters. “On the contrary, it looks like countries who chose to legalize it or to depenalize drugs, have better results in terms of prevention and global health policies.

“Switzerland has been courageous in its policies with other drugs, so I think the next stage should be the legalisation of cocaine.”

(Reporting by John Revill, additional reporting by Cecile Mantovani; Editing by Nick Macfie and Christina Fincher)

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Date de Publication : 2023-12-20 10:11:00

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