December 1, 2008

Swiss Say Yes To Heroin, No To Marijuana

Voters in Switzerland on Sunday decided to back a comprehensive legalized heroin program that will allow addicts to obtain the drug with a prescription.

The program was initiated in 1994, and since then has helped reduce crime and keep heroin users from shooting up openly in public places. The nearly 1,300 selected addicts, who have been unhelped by other therapies, visit one of the centers twice a day to receive the carefully measured dose of heroin produced by a government-approved laboratory.

The system has been criticized by U.S. and U.N. narcotics boards while inspiring other countries such as Australia and Canada to consider similar initiatives.

Britain has allowed individual doctors to prescribe heroin since the 1920s, but it has been running trials similar to the Swiss approach in recent years. Belgium, Germany, Spain and Canada have been running trial programs too.

"The people have confirmed that the conditions of the 90s, with open drug scenes in all towns, must belong to the past," the Social Democrats said in a statement.

Meanwhile, as 68 percent voted in favor of the prescription program, Swiss voter decided to vote against the decriminalization of marijuana.

Jo Lang, a Green Party member of parliament from the central city of Zug, said he was disappointed in the failure of the marijuana measure because it means 600,000 people in Switzerland will be treated as criminals because they use cannabis.

"People have died from alcohol and heroin, but not from cannabis," Lang said.

The new legal framework will favor the drug mafia and will lead to new, open drug scenes and make the jobs of the police and justice departments even more difficult," said the SVP in a statement.

"Several thousand drug addicts are not capable of working anymore and live off social help and disability insurance."

Sabina Geissbuehler-Strupler of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, which led the campaign against the heroin program, said she was disappointed in the vote.

"That is only damage limitation," she said. "Ninety-five percent of the addicts are not healed from the addiction."