Switzerland has been relatively progressive on cannabis, including the legalization of cannabis with no more than 1% THC, one of the reasons the International Cannabis Business Conference teamed up with CannaTrade to hold a conference in Zurich this year. However, the Swiss medical program has been far too restrictive, forcing patients to get special authorization from the Federal Office of Public Health. Even with that approval, patients could only get cannabis tinctures and oil, not flower, from a very limited number of dispensaries. Currently, only about 3,000 authorizations have been granted.

Under a new proposal from Switzerland’s Federal Council (the collective head of state of the nation), medical cannabis will be fully legalized, allowing patients to directly get approval from their doctor. The proposal would “lift the ban on the circulation of medical cannabis in the law on narcotic,” making the “cultivation, processing and trade of medical cannabis…possible within the framework of the control system provided by Swissmedic.” All of the details of the program, including reimbursement through health insurance, will still need to be ironed out.

Reuters reported:

The Swiss government aims to make it easier for patients to get medical marijuana, proposing on Wednesday to allow prescriptions for cannabis to treat people suffering from cancer or other serious conditions.

The proposal, separate from a Swiss government push to allow some cities to experiment with recreational marijuana, would replace the current system, in which those seeking medical cannabis must apply for an exception from the Federal Health Office to get what is otherwise an illegal drug.

Marijuana is sometimes used to help cancer patients manage chronic pain, to help boost their appetites, and to reduce spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.

This is a great step forward for the Swiss cannabis community and folks need to make their voices heard, as the program needs to work for patients and set the stage to fully legalize cannabis for all adults. There is a public comment period that runs until the middle of October. It would be great if the Swiss government allowed patients to cultivate their own plants, or designate someone to grow for them, so they aren’t dependent upon pharmacies and can grow strains that best suit them. Best of luck to Swiss patients and advocates, we look forward to checking upon the progress of the program when the International Cannabis Business Conference returns to Switzerland in 2020.

Before the International Cannabis Business Conference heads back to Europe, we have a couple of stops in North America first. Next up: Vancouver, Canada, this September 15-16. Purchase discounted, early bird tickets by August 21st to save. 

The entire statement announcing the proposed medical cannabis expansion by the Swiss Federal Council:

Easy access to medical cannabis: opening of the consultation

Bern, 26.06.2019 – The Federal Council wants to facilitate access to medical cannabis treatments. At its meeting on June 26, 2019, it put into consultation a draft amendment to the Narcotics Act (LStup). The latter provides that patients can be prescribed cannabis treatments directly by the doctor, without having to ask for an exceptional authorization from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). On the other hand, nothing changes for non-medical cannabis, which continues to be banned.

The use of medical cannabis has risen sharply in recent years. Thousands of patients use it for example in case of cancer or multiple sclerosis. At present, patients who wish to receive a cannabis treatment containing more than 1% THC must in most cases apply for an exceptional authorization from the FOPH. This procedure complicates access to treatment, delays the start of therapy and is no longer adequate given the growing number of requests. In 2018, the FOPH has issued nearly 3,000 authorizations.

Prescription directly by the doctor

The project allows the doctor to prescribe cannabis treatments directly. To do this, it is planned to lift the ban on the circulation of medical cannabis in the law on narcotics. The cultivation, processing and trade of medical cannabis will therefore be possible within the framework of the control system provided by Swissmedic. In contrast, non-medical cannabis continues to be banned.

The cannabis-based treatments that can be prescribed in Switzerland are either medicines authorized by Swissmedic, or master preparations developed in pharmacy, and are usually taken orally.

Medical cannabis is used in several indications. It helps, for example, to relieve chronic pain and stimulate the appetite of patients suffering from cancer. It is also used to reduce spasticity in multiple sclerosis.

Mandatory refund review

The question of reimbursement of cannabis treatments through compulsory health insurance will be analyzed separately and is not part of the project put in consultation.

At present, the treatments can only be reimbursed on a case by case basis, after an examination carried out by the patient’s health insurance according to specific criteria. One of the conditions for reimbursement is that other treatment options have failed.

The main obstacle to automatic reimbursement lies in the fact that the scientific evidence on the efficacy of medical cannabis is still insufficient and the conclusions of existing studies partly contradictory. This proof of efficiency is one of the essential conditions laid down by the law on health insurance. At present, doctors are certainly seeing positive signs in clinical practice, but large-scale studies are still lacking.

To clarify the situation, the FOPH will launch an evaluation project (Health Technology Assessment). It will have to show whether the effectiveness of cannabis treatments can be sufficiently proven to allow a mandatory reimbursement and if so for what indications.


Address for sending questions

Federal Office of Public Health, Communication +41 58 462 95 05, media@bag.admin.ch