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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 20 - Public Policy In Other Countries - Switzerland

The legal framework

Narcotics legislation in Switzerland has, as is the case in many other countries, been closely tied to the evolution of international conventions. For instance, the 1924 Narcotics Act was implemented to enable Switzerland to fulfil the commitments it had made by signing the International Opium Convention of 1912. This law prohibited certain narcotics such as opium, coca leaves, morphine, heroin, cocaine and their derivatives. As a result of Switzerland's signing other conventions and of experience gained from enforcing the 1924 Act, the federal Narcotics Act was totally revamped and a new law adopted on October 3, 1951. This legislation prohibited the growing, manufacture, sale, distribution and possession of opiates, coca derivatives and cannabis. The purpose of the Act was, on the one hand, to regulate the use of narcotics for medical purposes and, on the other hand, to fight against both the abuse and illicit trafficking of narcotics. The Act was amended slightly in 1970 when Switzerland signed the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

Indeed, up until the 1960s, the Act was primarily a response to Switzerland’s commitments under international conventions because narcotic use was relatively marginal and there was not any real narcotics abuse problem per se to warrant specialized legislation. Moreover, the Federal Council had recognized as early as 1951 that drug addiction was a serious pathology that should not be prosecuted as a crime or an offence. When drug-related problems emerged in the early 1970s, the Act was revised in 1975 to provide for medico-social and assistance measures for drug addicts, differentiated punishment for drug use and tougher criminal provisions for illegal drug trafficking.[1][155]

Following Switzerland’s accession to the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the 1972 amendment to the Single Convention and the adoption of the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Switzerland has not yet ratified this convention), the Narcotics Act was revised in 1996 to provide for the control of narcotic raw materials. Since then, dependence-producing substances and preparations with morphine-, cocaine- or cannabis-like effects have been considered narcotics under this legislation (Narcotics Act, s. 1).[2][156] The list of substances is currently compiled by the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products.[3][157]

With respect to the production, distribution, acquisition and use of narcotics, the current legislation provides that narcotics and psychotropic substances cannot be cultivated, manufactured, prepared or sold without cantonal authorization, in accordance with conditions set by the Federal Council (Narcotics Act, s. 4). In addition, a special permit from the Federal Office of Public Health is required for the importation or exportation of controlled narcotics (Narcotics Act, s. 5). Furthermore, under section 8 of the Narcotics Act, the following narcotics cannot be cultivated, imported, manufactured or sold: smoking opium, heroin, hallucinogens (such as LSD) and hemp for the extraction of narcotics or hash. Section 8 also sets out the conditions governing the treatment of addicts with medical prescription of certain narcotics.

The current legislation also contains criminal provisions that apply to: anyone who unlawfully cultivates, manufactures, extracts, processes or prepares narcotics; anyone who, unless authorized, stores, ships, transports, imports, exports, provides, distributes, sells, etc., or buys, holds, possesses or otherwise acquires narcotics; and anyone who finances illicit traffic in narcotics, acts as an intermediary or encourages consumption (Narcotics Act, s. 19). Section 19 offenders are liable to imprisonment or a fine depending on the seriousness, according to the Narcotics Act, of the act committed. The intentional consumption of narcotics or the commission of a section 19 offence for personal use is punishable by detention or a fine (Narcotics Act, s. 19a). For petty offences, the appropriate authority may stay the proceedings or waive punishment and may issue a reprimand (Narcotics Act, s. 19a(2)). However, preparing narcotics for personal use or for shared use with others at no charge is not punishable where the quantities involved are minimal (Narcotics Act, s. 19b). Finally, anyone who persuades or attempts to persuade someone to use narcotics is also punishable by detention or a fine (Narcotics Act, s. 19c).


[1][155]  Swiss Federal Council, Message concernant la révision de la loi sur les stupéfiants, March 9, 2001.

[2][156]  Loi fédérale sur les stupéfiants et les substances psychotropes, October 3, 1951 (as of November 27, 2001) available on line at http://www.admin.ch/ch/f/rs/812_121/index.html#fn1.

[3][157]  New name of the therapeutic products agency, in effect since January 1, 2002.

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