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World - Europe

Swiss reject proposal to legalize drugs

The plan would have made Switzerland the only country to legalize drugs
CNN's David Clinch reports on the referendum
Windows Media 28K 56K
November 29, 1998
Web posted at: 1:49 p.m. EST (1849 GMT)

In this story:

ZURICH, Switzerland (CNN) -- Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a sweeping proposal to legalize narcotics, including everything from marijuana to heroin.

Backers of the controversial proposal said it would eliminate the drug mafia, while critics declared it would isolate Switzerland as a drug haven.

The bold initiative fell short when it failed to carry a majority of Swiss states, the Swiss SDA news agency reported.

An exit poll by Swiss state broadcaster DRS found voters were against the ambitious plan by 3-1.

The plan would have made Switzerland the only country where anyone age 18 or older could buy narcotics of their choice, including heroin, from state-run outlets or pharmacies after consultation with a physician.

The proposal had been widely expected to fail, as do most policy ideas put up by citizens for a national referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy.

Judge: Current law 'counterproductive'

But supporters hoped that a sizable minority in favor of the plan could push Swiss legislators to further relax a drug policy that is already among the most liberal in Europe.

They say drug prohibition has failed to stop the supply, instead creating a black market with no health standards and high prices that force addicts into stealing or prostitution to buy drugs.

Launched by a committee of drug experts, doctors and lawyers, the referendum proposal was backed by leftist politicians and youth chapters of conservative parties in the Swiss government center-right coalition.

"Based on my long-suffering experience as a judge, I must acknowledge that the treatment of narcotics delinquency by the criminal justice system has obviously been a gigantic and very expensive waste of effort," Peter Albrecht, a Basle judge and professor, wrote in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung.

"The existing law is really counterproductive because it hinders the protection of public health and creates an enormous amount of procurement crime (for buying drugs)," he said.

Posters for and against the initiative line the streets  

Critics of the initiative said Switzerland is already doing well with its policy of providing heroin for severe addicts and expanding addiction treatment programs.

Critics feared becoming drug hub

"Switzerland would become a storage and transit country for drug dealers," Valentin Roschacher, chief investigator at the Federal Office of Police Affairs, said last week.

"The backers of this initiative say let's liberalize drug consumption, then the drug mafia will disappear as there would be no more market," said Jean Ziegler, a member of the Swiss Parliament. "Secondly, they say that it will be easier to control the quality of heroin and cocaine. I think these are illusions."

Initial results from another referendum on Sunday's ballot showed voters seemed set to approve spending nearly $22 billion to build a network of tunnels through the Alps.

The project, to be completed over 20 years, would ease rail traffic and help clinch passage of bilateral economic accords with the European Union.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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