Switzerland weighs relaxing marijuana ban

Switzerland, which permits low potency cannabis but bans most marijuana for recreational use, aims to allow pilot studies on ways to relax its laws, its government said on Wednesday.

It also proposed making it easier for people to access medical marijuana to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis or cancer.

Cannabis is now regularly used recreationally by about 200,000 people in Switzerland, the government said.

"Although current laws forbid its consumption and seek to punish it, this number is not declining," the government said. "At the same time, the black market is flourishing, and the safety of consumers cannot be guaranteed due to a lack of quality control."

Several cities and cantons in Switzerland are seeking to undertake studies to test different models for regulation, said the statement from the seven-member Federal Council, which serves as Switzerland's government. It recommended changes to laws to allow such pilot studies to proceed.

"The scientific pilot studies would be limited and restricted to specific areas," the government said. "Participant numbers would also be limited, and minors would be excluded."

A consultation on the pilot study proposal will run through Oct. 25 to take comment from interested parties.

Since 2011, Switzerland has allowed the sale of low potency cannabis, with minimal concentrations of the chemical that makes people high. Sales have taken off in recent years, bringing in tax revenue for the state. But some users say the "marijuana-light" simply isn't strong enough.

For medical marijuana use, Swiss law requires users to obtain an exemption from the federal health ministry. The government says this makes it difficult for the roughly 3,000 patients who now use the drug to get it.

It asked the Swiss Interior Ministry to come up with a proposal by next summer to streamline the process, and the Health Ministry to examine how to resolve insurance reimbursement issues for treatment with medical marijuana.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Peter Graff)