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Switzerland's health authority has been granted approval to establish the first legal adult-use cannabis dispensaries in Europe amid a pilot project.
Germany-based cannabis company Sanity Group and the Swiss Institute for Addiction and Health Research (ISGF) obtained this week the final approval from the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) to launch a cannabis pilot study in Basel-Landschaft (Baselland). This approval comes after receiving the green light from the Ethics Committee Northwest and Central Switzerland last year.
The study, known as the "Grashaus Projects," is scheduled to start later this year. Its primary goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the consequences of regulated cannabis availability. The knowledge gained from this study will play a pivotal role in shaping potential cannabis regulations in Switzerland.
Notably, Sanity Group is the only non-Swiss company participating in the Swiss pilot projects, which will start the distribution process by opening a store in Allschwil, with plans for another store in Liestal to follow.
In particular, the study will document participants' consumption patterns and assess their physical and mental health. It will involve up to 3,950 healthy adults residing in the canton of Basel-Landschaft. Adult-use cannabis consumers will have to undergo a medical suitability test and complete an initial online survey to be involved in the study. If they are successfully admitted to the study, they will be able to legally purchase cannabis at designated points of sale in the future, facilitated by a participation card.
In a press statement, Prof. Dr. Michael Schaub, the Scientific Director of ISGF who will be leading the study, mentioned that the knowledge acquired from this research could contribute to an informed discussion in the field of health policy. This discussion would revolve around the responsible use of cannabis and could provide a foundation for making decisions regarding long-term regulations.
"In addition, we want to investigate whether we can gain better access to high-risk users with, for example, mental health problems in order to refer them to appropriate cantonal care centers," he stated.
"Together with the ISGF, we are developing concepts for safe sales based on health protection, youth protection, and prevention. We expect interesting findings from the study – the results will be of international interest," stated Finn Hänsel, CEO of Sanity Group, in the same press release.
What is unique about this project is that, unlike other Swiss projects, dispensing will not take place via pharmacies or clubs but via stores as a point of sale, initially in the municipality of Allschwil.
According to the press release published by Sanity Group, the dispensary has been recently arranged, making it Europe's first legal store for people to buy cannabis in Allschwil. Another store in Liestal will open in the next few months, selling different cannabis products like flowers, extracts, hashish, edibles, and vape liquids.
All cannabis products will adhere to the quality standards specified by the Pilot Trials for the Controlled Dispensing of Non-Medical Cannabis (BetmPV) and the organic regulations in Switzerland. These products will be manufactured by the Swiss cultivation partner, SwissExtract.
"The entire value chain is united under one roof with us – cultivation, processing, and packaging take place exclusively in Switzerland; in addition, we document the production process from the plant seed to the end product. SwissExtract is a life's work for us, with sincerity towards people and the environment," said Stefan Strasser, CEO of SwissExtract, in a press statement.
The cost of cannabis flowers is expected to vary, ranging from CHF 8 to CHF 12 ($8.91 to $13.37), depending on the THC content.
The pilot study will begin in the fourth quarter of 2023 and run for five years.
The approval of the pilot study in Basel-Landschaft marks the sixth cannabis project recently launched in various cities across Switzerland.
Since last year, Switzerland has granted several cities, including Basel, Bern, Biel/Bienne, Lucerne, Geneva, and Zurich, the opportunity to start their cannabis pilot projects. Zurich, which has recently been reported to lack cannabis consumers, is currently seeking 400 eligible individuals to participate.
The results of these experimental projects may not be confined solely to Switzerland, which is a non-EU member state. They can also serve as valuable case studies for other European countries aiming to legalize adult-use cannabis within the European Union's legal framework, which currently prohibits the full legalization of the sale of adult-use cannabis.
This is something that Germany has experienced as it had to revise its initial plan to legalize the sale of adult-use cannabis following a red light from the EU Commission. Now, it is in the process of legalizing cannabis for personal use by allowing cultivation, possession, and the establishment of cannabis social clubs. In a later phase, it will begin an experimental project to allow restricted and controlled sales of cannabis products to assess the effects on public health and the population.
Similar experiments have also been designed in the Netherlands, where adult-use cannabis is not legal but is tolerated, and the government has recently granted permission to the municipalities of Breda and Tilburg to begin a pilot program in December.