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Switzerland Considers Legalising Cocaine for Recreational Use in World First

Keeping with the country’s history of cutting-edge drug reform, the city of Bern is considering a pilot scheme to tackle the cocaine crisis.

Bern, Switzerland considers running a pilot scheme for cocaine.
The Swiss capital Bern is considering a pilot program to legalize the sale of cocaine. This potentially ground-breaking drug reform was pioneered by Switzerland's Alternative Left Party, also known as La Gauche. Credit: Shutterstock/kavalenkava

As the War on Drugs proves ineffective at curbing illegal drug use, Swiss politicians are considering a new approach to improving public health.

If approved, this pilot scheme will make Bern the first city in the country to legalize cocaine.

The idea was co-sponsored by Bern councilwoman Eva Chen, a member of the Alternative Left party, otherwise known as La Gauche.

“The war on drugs has failed, and we have to look at new ideas,” Chen said in an interview with Reuters. “Control and legalization can do better than mere repression.”

How bad is the situation?

As it stands, Chen has a point, as the laws currently prohibiting the sale and cultivation of cocaine have not prevented Switzerland from becoming one of the top cocaine consumers in Europe.

In a 2022 study conducted by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, it was found that the Swiss cities of Basel, Geneva and Zurich were among the top 10 in Europe regarding cocaine use.

This was discovered by analyzing the concentration of the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine, or BE, within the water supply of various cities across Europe.

The study also found that in all three aforementioned cities, the concentration of BE increased from 2021 to 2022, indicating a rise in usage from the previous year.

To make matters worse, cocaine prices have seen a sharp drop in recent years, a consequence of overproduction and the rise in popularity of alternatives such as fentanyl.

According to Frank Zobel, deputy director of Addiction Switzerland, the drug is so cheap and available that “You can get a dose of cocaine for about 10 francs these days, not much more than the price for a beer.”

Past reforms

This is not the first time Switzerland has led the way through its drug reforms. In fact, Switzerland was the first country to legalize prescription heroin in 1994.

According to North Carolina Health News in 2019, the Swiss government’s heroin-assisted treatment program was so successful that drug overdose deaths decreased by 64 percent, HIV infections by 84 percent, and home thefts by 98 percent.

Assuming this potential cocaine scheme emulates the HAT program, participants will probably have access to medical-grade cocaine, allowing them a safer product with greater accessibility than what dealers can offer.

“Prohibition only makes things worse. You create segregated markets where you have no possibility to control,” said Thilo Beck, the psychiatrist in charge of Zurich’s HAT program.

What’s next on the agenda?

While the Swiss parliament seems supportive of the scheme, the main hurdle this proposal faces is from the city government.

“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.

If the city can be convinced successfully, parliament will then have to amend the law to allow for cocaine usage before commencing with the scheme.

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

Written By

Southern California, born and bred. I earned my bachelor's from Cal Poly Pomona, but I first got my feet wet at Citrus College after graduating from Bonita High School. I love learning about the world and sharing my findings. When I'm not doing that, I'm either chipping away at my gaming backlog or catching up on my reading.

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