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Approximately 24 per cent of Swiss youth have smoked cannabis Approximately 24 per cent of Swiss youth have smoked cannabis Stanimir G Stoev
21 Jun
Switzerland’s youth have the second- highest cannabis consumption in the world, according to UNICEF

Since cannabis was effectively decriminalised two years ago, drug cultivation in Switzerland has soared. The country’s drug laws have swung between permissiveness and conservatism over the last two decades and the result is an ambiguous situation where possession of certain drugs – such as cannabis – is semi-decriminalised.

An adult caught with more than ten grams of cannabis can expect a CHF100 (around £70) on-the-spot fine. However, there are also proposals to legalise the drug when smoked in cannabis clubs, similar to those seen in Amsterdam. The legislation has to negotiate Switzerland’s ultra democratic political process though, and that means many chances to delay and alter the legislation.

While the politicians argue over strategy, Switzerland’s youth are increasingly enthusiastic about cannabis. Around 24 per cent have tried the drug, according to the most recent UNICEF report. This makes Switzerland’s young people the most likely to take the drug in Europe and the second most likely in the world after Canada.

‘About 50 per cent of all visitors to an outpatient treatment clinic in 2013 because of illegal drugs had a problem with cannabis,’ says Herbert Leherr, a Swiss doctor who specialises in addiction medicine. ‘In 1997 it was only 5.8 per cent. The majority of the cannabis consumers who get help are young men. About 60 per cent of them are under 20 years old.’

Leherr recently led a study into addiction to cannabis in the country. The study found that problematic cannabis use occurs mainly in the 15 to 34 age bracket, with those aged 20 to 24 showing the highest numbers. Geographically, French-speaking western Switzerland sees higher cannabis use than the German-speaking central and eastern regions. Meanwhile, consumption is predictably highest in urban areas, although problematic consumption is highest in the countryside.

‘Normally cannabis consumption is not problem for most people,’ says Leherr. ‘It is a temporary phenomenon. Young adults with other psychiatric problems or who are without work though have became the most vulnerable.’

This article was published in the June 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

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