In Switzerland, it has been possible to buy « cannabis » since 2016. Last month Belgium and Italy followed its example by authorizing the sale of CBD. Our journalist went to Switzerland in order to better understand this new business.
When you arrive in Geneva by train, right after customs, you have to take an exit that leads to a shopping mall. You’ll find an escalator that will lead you to the small train station mall. This shopping center looks like an airport terminal’s duty free, without the planes nor the duty free. There you can find bureaux de change and shops that sell perfumes, alcohol, chocolate and tons of watches. We are in April, I go willy-nilly through this small shopping center, looking for a wine bottle for my brother who is having me over for a few days. He is coming to fetch me with his car, and I have about five minutes to find my liquid gift. I have just walked fifty meters and gone past four stores when, between a Western Union and a Sephora, right in front of me, appears a shining sign lit with a shameless Marijuana leaf. The store, with its explicit name and an inviting tagline (Mary Jane « finest Swiss cannabis »), is open. Suddenly cheered up, I go straight into this dream store. Under the neon lights and past my amazed eyes, there are jars of Lemon Haze, Master Kush, Northern Light, White Widow, etc. « I love Geneva » grinders, Edelweiss ornate bongs, ready-made organic joints, chocolate bars with a big Ganja leaf on them… This country is once and for all full of resources as well as well-kept secrets. Feeling like a kid buying cigarettes for the first time, I head shyly toward the only employee there.
« – Hello… Is this really cannabis ?
– Yes it is, legal cannabis obviously.
– Yes, legal cannabis obviously. » I find myself repeating as a complete moron. The good-looking red-haired girl opens a Lemon Haze jar that I indicate to her. No mistake, it’s weed. The buds are compacts, well cut and without seeds. Regarding the smell and the taste: it’s not as good as in Amsterdam, but totally suitable. Although I am in a fevered hurry, I still buy 25 grams total (White Widow 10g, Silver Haze 10g, Kush 5g). The bill is expensive : 240 CHF which is about 230 euros. I thank the girl as if some kind of miracle has happened to me and cruise to the exit, feeling over the moon.
You bought Tourtel !
About five minutes after I arrive at my brother’s apartment in Geneva, I proudly take out the precious material I just acquired – I was soon to learn how delusional I was. My brother bursts out laughing. « Bro ! You just bought Tourtel, there’s no THC in your weed. It’s just hay. Do you want a carrot juice to go with it ? »
Explanations : In Switzerland, all cannabis with a THC content over 1% is considered a narcotic. Therefore, according to the Swiss federal law regarding narcotics (RS 812.121), cannabis possession, growing, processing and selling are strictly forbidden and considered as a criminal offense, liable to three years imprisonment and/or a fine. On the other hand, growing and distributing cannabis containing less than 1% THC has been authorized since 2011. This untapped legal opportunity has been taken by the start-up company Bio Can AG which obtained the commercial licence for a « hemp tobacco substitute », provided that the cannabis sold wouldn’t contain more than 1% of THC. Their success was immediate and raised a lot of enthusiasm, to the extent that there is nowadays about 420 companies producing and distributing legal cannabis in the country.
This legal windfall is quite different from France’s regulations, where the sale of those type of products are forbidden when their THC rate exceeds 0.2%. This 0.8% difference is a game changer : growing a weed that is under 0.2% THC is way too expensive to be profitable. When I read the label of one of the bags I bought more precisely, I finally find : « CBD 18%, THC 0.5% ». It is known that in Switzerland, you shouldn’t try to hurry things.
The Kiss Cool effect
But I wondered how Swiss people managed to sell that much hay at the best ganja’s rate. I had no other choice at this stage but to make up my own mind by testing this green material myself. My brother made a L joint out of it and we started smoking it with consideration.
Indeed, we didn’t notice any psychoactive effect. Nothing close to any perception or thinking alteration. However, we felt some pleasant muscle relaxation. It was a bit like we had just had a long walk outside or as if we had just had a sauna. This nice relaxing effect can be attributed to a simple cause : whereas there is almost no THC in this weed, there is on the other hand a high rate of cannabinol (CBD). Cannabinol is an alkaloid which has numerous properties, but which provides no high. This weed’s ratio was highly superior to other classical weeds, grown outdoors or in professional greenhouses. Its rate goes between 8 and 35% in Switzerland, whereas it is 0.5 to 12% in Dutch Ganja. CBD is the second noteworthy alkaloid in cannabis (behind THC), and has proven anti-inflammatoriy, painkilling, relaxing and antioxidant effects. Those properties are perfectly suitable for quite a decent part of the Swiss population: senior citizens.
Despite what you might expected on this matter, legal cannabis is not a success with party-teens or mid-forty’s, but thanks to a generation born between 1950 and 1960. This is to say baby- boomers who nowadays are between 60 and 90 years old and are representing more than half of legal cannabis consumers. Those soft-weed enthusiasts value CBD for its relaxing effects on long-term health issues. Those effects allow them to reduce or avoid taking other types of meds such as opioids, benzodiazepines (sedatives), sleeping-pills, (steroidal or nonsteroidal) anti- inflammatory drugs or antidepressants. For example, 60% of Kahna Queen’s customers are over 60 year old, thanks to the explanations and advice given by the store’s employees, although many drugstores in Switzerland are also selling legal cannabis. This dialogue allows the stoner’s image to expand over the idea of some loser confined to his couch, only living on state benefits. The legal-cannabis sellers also provide information about oils, chocolate bars, cookies, moisturizers or CBD infusions. Those precise infusions represents 15% of legal cannabis sales. This trend is confirmed by the Swiss Weed store, for which smokable CBD only represents 34% of its global sales. Grandpa’s camomille has become seriously out of fashion.
Is CBD THC’s Trojan horse ?
On the Green matter, many people think that this success may help with french legislation on psycho-active Weed (which is deemed « recreational » there), all the more because THC is increasingly acknowledged for its medical virtues. For the Swiss, this hold represents a business which has earned over one billion euros in Switzerland alone. To this day, the Swiss produce a surplus that allows suppliers to export their neutral Ganja to Belgium, Greece and Italy. This prosperous initiative, beyond the windfall it represents for many entrepreneurs, may promote CBD’s effects on the European scene and make cannabis consumption in a joint sound less diabolical.
Odds are, according to many people, that this legal softening may evolve in favour of legalization in Holland no later than 2022. Comparing most country’s politics on the continent regarding cannabis, the Swiss are not applying any sluggish regulations here, but rather serving as an example, given that last month Belgium and Italy authorized the sale of natural cannabis. As for me, I went back to Paname [Paris] broke (Swiss is quite a money hole), but happy. I had learned a lot, and because of, or thanks to – my lack of THC intake, those memories stayed close.