SWITZERLAND: From October 1, an adult caught smoking cannabis in Switzerland can escape formal legal proceedings by simply paying a fine. Reactions to the relaxed law, which brings the Swiss in line with other western nations, are divided.Thick sweet-smelling smoke spirals slowly upwards from a secluded courtyard in the Les Grottes neighbourhood not far from Geneva railway station.
“Sure this change is a good thing,” says *Dani, a young cannabis smoker. “I’ve been caught by the police before and I had five grams on me – they thought I was a dealer. I know lots of people who’ve had similar problems.”
Growing, consuming and dealing cannabis are all forbidden in Switzerland. But from Tuesday, like a simple traffic offence, anyone over 18 caught in possession of up to ten grams of cannabis will receive a CHF100 ($110) fine and not have it put on their criminal record.
Supporters of the revision, which was approved by parliament a year ago, argue that liberalizing the legislation and shifting from criminal offense to misdemeanor is a small but realistic approach to cannabis consumption.
The change brings Switzerland in line with other European countries that tolerate dope smoking in small amounts (see map). Up to 500,000 people in Switzerland, which has a population of eight million, are believed to be occasional cannabis smokers, with officials noting a downward trend over the past decade.
Dani is not totally happy, however. “Quite frankly I think it should have been legalized and controlled by the state. At least then there would be a lot less delinquency.”