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Switzerland launches new adult-use cannabis pilot and largest to date

The pilot in canton Zurich will include up to 7,500 participants and is the first to include a randomised control trial as part of the research.



Switzerland has launched its largest adult-use cannabis pilot, to date, following the publication of the first trial data earlier this month.

Officials in Switzerland announced a seventh pilot study into the sale of legal cannabis for adult-use in the district of canton Zürich on Monday 18 March. 

In the largest trial to date, up to 7,500 people are expected to take part in the study which will run for five years and see participants permitted to access regulated cannabis products. 

It follows a previous six pilot programmes which are now either underway or ready to begin in Basel, Zürich, Bern, Lucerne, Biel and Basel-Landschaft (Baselland).

Data on consumption behaviour, as well as the physical and mental health of the participants, is being collected as part of studies being conducted by partnering universities to monitor the effects on public health. 

For the first time, participants in two out of three groups will have legal access to regulated cannabis products from a limited number of distribution points, while a third will serve as a comparison group which will continue to source cannabis illegally. 

In Winterthur, Schlieren and Horgen, all towns located in canton Zürich, participants will be able to purchase cannabis in specialist shops and pharmacies from May 2024. Further points of sale in canton Zurich are planned in Adliswil, Wädenswil and Uster.

Cannabis consumers from a total of 34 municipalities will also be able to participate. While enrollment in the study has just gotten underway, a total of 3,000 people are already said to be on the waiting list. 

This study will focus on social and economic impacts of cannabis use, according to Andreas Beerli, head of research from the KOF Swiss Economic Institute at ETH Zürich, which is leading the study, along with The University of Zürich.

On its website, the Federal Office of Public Health, states: “The aim of the pilot trial in the canton of Zürich is to investigate the social and economic consequences of legalising recreational cannabis use in Switzerland.

“In addition, the effects of a self-regulation programme for the prevention of excessive cannabis use are to be studied. This involves a randomised controlled trial (RCT).”

First findings from the ZuriCan pilot 

The news comes following the publication of the first data collected through the ‘Züri Can’  pilot earlier this month, following its launch in March 2023.

Currently, 1,928 people out of a maximum of 2,100 are enrolled in the study and are eligible to purchase cannabis, with significantly more men (80.5%) than women (19.5%) taking part. 

Participants have an average age of 35, with those aged 28 to 32-years-old said to be most frequently represented.

Initially five different cannabis products with different THC/CBD contents and different genotypes were available. However, in December 2023, this expanded to nine products, including five flower and four hash.

According to the data, the majority of study participants consumed cannabis four times a week or more and approximately a quarter of the study participants had evidence of a cannabis use disorder before they began accessing regulated products.

“Regulated distribution of cannabis can create a framework that promotes lower-risk cannabis consumption,” the researchers state. 

“The sales staff at the reference points have been specially trained to provide advice and prevention so that individual, targeted advice is possible. Since study participants always buy their study cannabis from the same source, a closer relationship of trust can develop over time, in which problematic developments can also be identified and discussed.”

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