People in the cities of Zurich and Winterthur and the Canton St. Gallen can legally possess up to 10 grams of cannabis without fear of criminal prosecution. The Federal Court of Justice recently stated “the mere possession of minor amounts of drugs for consumer purposes” is not a priority, which supports the city court’s decision last year to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis.
“We will stop the prosecution of adults for the mere possession of a small amount of cannabis in the future, or not process them (the received police reports) at all,” said Katharina Graf, head of the Zurich City Court.
Public consumption, however, is still unlawful and will continue to be punishable by a fine of 100 Swiss francs, without opening a criminal case against the owner. Cities in Eastern Switzerland are also looking into implementing cannabis decriminalization policies.
“We have heard of it (the Federal court’s verdict) and started this week,” Florian Schneider from the cantonal police St. Gallen said regarding the official announcements by the two cities.
The Zurich police, on the other hand, announced that owners of small quantities will continue to be reported until further notice.
“We are aware of the judgment of the Federal Supreme Court and the decision of the municipal court. Whether this will lead to a change in our practice is still open,” Zurich police speaker Marco Cortesi said.
Regardless, these reports will no longer have any consequences for those affected. Whether the new regulation applies to minors under the age of 18 is still not clear, since the city court is only responsible for adults.
Sloppily Formulated Law
The reversal comes from two cases where individuals had been issued fines, which the federal court later deemed were inappropriate. In one case, a man in Basel was caught with 0.5 grams of marijuana and 0.1 grams of hashish. He was ordered to pay a 100-franc fine. Instead of paying the fine, he took the case to federal court. The federal court ruled in his favor, stating his was not a consumption-related offense and the fine had been wrongly inflicted as it was “clearly a non-criminal act of preparation.”
The high court supported their position from a 2016 ruling that a local student had been inappropriately fined for possession of eight grams of cannabis. The student had been accused and released by the District Court of Zurich, which he refused to pay, opting to instead appeal his case on the federal level — the first time the Act on the Narcotic Drugs Act had been deeply examined after its revision in 2013. Only the consumption of cannabis is an offense, but police had been issuing unlawful fines for possession as well.
Indeed, Article 19 of the Swiss Narcotic Act confirms that the mere possession of small quantities of cannabis products up to 10 grams had been wrongly fined since 2013. Article 19a, paragraph 1 of the act clearly states “anyone who deliberately consumes narcotics without authorization or who commits an offense within the meaning of Article 19 for his own consumption shall be punished with penance,” and “a person who prepares only a small amount of an anesthetic for his or her own consumption, or provides for the simultaneous and joint consumption of a person of more than 18 years free of charge, is not punishable.”
The Zurich City Court’s announcement this week is the first time a municipality has taken an official stance on decriminalization based on the high court’s directive.
In the Canton of Thurgau, the cessation has been customary for some time.
“In the Canton of Thurgau, the possession and acquisition of small quantities of cannabis up to 10 grams, are not punishable,” Hansruedi Graf, Swiss Federal Prosecutor in the Canton of Thurgau, said to a local radio station.
In a non-representative poll conducted by the Swiss “Tagesanzeiger” this week, 85.5 percent of those surveyed support impunity for possession of small quantities of cannabis. Since CBD-rich cannabis is sold legally, the Swiss police have difficulty distinguishing legal and illegal buds.
The current CBD boom has been responsible for an increasing understanding of cannabis and a change in Swiss perception on the value of Cannabis Sativa. While fewer than 37 percent voted for legalization in the 2008 national ballot, according to a recent representative poll, legalization now is supported by two-thirds of the Swiss population.
A New Federal Council* for Legalization
The election of Ignazio Cassis to a federal council also contributes to a more positive view on the cannabis industry among Swiss supporters. Cassis fought for the Hanfinitiative (Hemp Initiative) during his time as a National Council — the initiative was rejected by voters in 2008. Cassis is the first active legal advocate for cannabis in the Swiss government and has openly admitted to smoking cannabis as a candidate.
*Switzerland has no head of state, but is governed by seven equal members of the Swiss Federal Council.