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Panel says Switzerland needs new drugs policy

Swissinfo.org, 24th May 2005

Switzerland should adopt a more coherent and credible drugs policy that includes alcohol and tobacco as well as illegal drugs, says a government commission.

In a report published on Monday, the federal commission on drugs called on the government to prepare the ground for a new strategy “that takes into account all psychoactive substances”.

“We need to get away from making moral judgements on drugs and behaviour and opt for more pragmatism,” said the commission’s president Franscois van der Linde.

The commission said it was time to apply the so-called “four pillar” approach of prevention, therapy, harm reduction and law enforcement to all drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.

The concept of a fourfold approach to the reduction of drug-related problems was developed in the early 1990s.

According to the commission, legislation needs to be harmonised in order in the first instance to define which substances should be freely available to the public and which should be banned.

This would also ensure that substances with similar side effects are not treated differently in law, as is currently the case, it said.

Last year parliament rejected a government proposal to decriminalise cannabis - the second time it had voted against a more liberal drugs policy. The existing drugs law dates back to 1975.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin welcomed the publication of the report and its ten recommendations.

He praised “the innovative approach taken by the authors of the report, who believe that it is better to combat addiction on a broad front rather than focus solely on the fight against drugs, whether they be illegal drugs, tobacco, alcohol or medication”.

According to a recent United Nations study, consumption of cannabis, amphetamines and cocaine is increasing in Switzerland. Around a third of the adult population smoke - the highest rate in Europe.

Binge drinking
Earlier this month the Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Addiction warned that almost a million people in Switzerland drank too much alcohol at least once a fortnight.

Michel Graf, director of the institute, welcomed the commission’s recommendation that alcohol and tobacco should be treated in the same way as illegal drugs.

“This is very good news. It is an approach that has been adopted for some time in the field of prevention,” he told swissinfo.

“This is politically very courageous and dares to break a taboo. It recognises that alcohol and tobacco are psychoactive substances like cannabis and other drugs.”

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