01.07.2011 The long road to a Law on Narcotics fit for today’s needs

Swiss drug policy. The revised Law on Narcotics (BetmG) and the respective ordinances are due to come into effect on 1 July 2011, finally providing a legal framework for the Swiss drug policy’s «fourfold» or» four-pillar» model that has been successfully implemented over the last twenty years.

Pictures The long road to a Law on Narcotics fit for today’s needs


The current law on narcotics has been revised only once, in 1975, since coming into force in 1951. The purpose of that revision was to broaden the purely repressive drug policy to include prevention and treatment. But the misery and squalor of the open drug scenes and the emergence of HIV and AIDS soon necessitated a further realignment of the drug policy. In practice this resulted in the development of the successful and internationally acknowledged fourfold model, in which harm reduction was added to the existing pillars of law enforcement, prevention and treatment. This model has been largely responsible for stopping the rise in drug-related crime, reducing healthcare costs and improving the health of dependent drug users. It was first described by the Federal Council in 1991 in its First Package  of Measures to Reduce drug-related Problems and then again in 1996 in the report of an expert commission. The Swiss electorate approved the fourfold model by clearly rejecting two popular initiatives, for a more restrictive drug policy (1993, «Youth without drugs») and a more liberal approach (1994, «For a reasonable drug policy – Droleg») respectively.

Success the second time round
The planned partial revision of the law on narcotics  in 2001 aimed- among others - to create a legal framework for the fourfold model and the heroin-assisted treatment. With regard to cannabis, consumption was to be decriminalised and practicable regulations introduced to govern cultivation, processing and trade. In 2004, this partial revision failed to obtain the approval of Parliament, which rejected the introduction of the more liberal regime it entailed. The current partial revision of the law on narcotics  includes the main features of the 2001 draft. Parliament approved the bill on 20 March 2008. The decision was contested in a nationwide referendum. But the partial revision was approved by a majority of over 68% of votes, and now the revised law on narcotics and  its respective ordinances are due to come into effect on 1 July 2011.

Drawing up and anchoring the fourfold policy
One of the goals of the revision of the law on narcotics was to legally anchoring the fourfold policy. Some other  important new features of the revised law on narcotics:
– the legal base  for public offices and other professionals working in the field of addiction to report existing or impending addiction-related problems, particularly concerning children and adolescents, in order to ensuring the earliest possible identification of problems followed by intervention (Art. 3c).

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