Patients in Switzerland can currently get a prescription for medical cannabis, but it isn’t easy. The Swiss government wants to change that, laying out a proposal on Wednesday that would eliminate a major barrier for those with cancer and other serious diagnoses to use cannabis to treat their illness.
The proposal would mark a significant change to how Switzerland currently handles medicinal cannabis. Under the present system, patients who would like to use cannabis for treatment are required to apply for an exception with the Federal Health Office; the proposal would allow physicians to directly prescribe marijuana to patients.
A number of countries in Europe have recently legalized medical cannabis. Lawmakers in Portugal approved such a measure earlier this month, while Great Britain did the same last summer. In the U.S., 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of medical cannabis.
Still, medical marijuana has been made available to a number of Swiss patients. The government there granted 3,000 exceptions for those seeking the treatment in 2018. In a statement, the Swiss cabinet said that, along with empowering doctors to dole out such prescriptions to patients directly, the proposal would also allow for “[g]rowing and processing medical cannabis as well as its sale” under a system regulated by Swissmedic, a regulatory agency.
There are, however, some remaining kinks to iron out that could stall the proposal’s implementation. The Swiss government said that determining how insurers will be reimbursed will be handled separately from the proposal. And the “biggest obstacle to automatic reimbursement,” according to the government, “is that the scientific evidence of efficacy is not yet sufficient and the conclusions of existing studies are sometimes contradictory.”
Such is a recurring dilemma for advocates of both recreational and medicinal marijuana, as legalization efforts have outpaced the amount of credible research into pot’s effects. It’s what prompted a major investor in Canada’s cannabis industry to donate $9 million to both Harvard and MIT to research the effects of marijuana on the brain and behavior. And it’s what’s driven the National Football League, long hostile to marijuana use among its players, to launch a study on the efficacy of medical cannabis as a treatment for pain.
To that end, the Swiss government said that it will launch a study into whether marijuana is indeed an effective remedy. Cannabis has long been used by patients with cancer as a way to relieve pain and bolster appetite, among other benefits.
But Swiss residents may ultimately not even need a prescription to procure some pot. Along with Wednesday’s proposal to ease restrictions on medical cannabis, the government is considering ending its outright ban on marijuana, as some officials have advocated for certain Swiss cities to experiment with laws allowing for recreational use.