Study of Regulated Cannabis Sales in Basel-Stadt Pharmacies

The cultivation, import, and sale of cannabis are prohibited in Switzerland. Nevertheless, cannabis use is widespread, user safety is uncertain, and the black market is thriving. In 2021, an amendment of the Narcotics Act created the legal basis for pilot trials on the regulated sale of cannabis for recreational purposes in Switzerland. The pilot project “WEED CARE—study on regulated cannabis sales in Basel pharmacies” will start this fall. The joint study by the Basel-Stadt Health Department, the University Psychiatric Clinics, and the University of Basel will examine the effects of regulated cannabis sales on consumption behavior and the health of cannabis users compared to the status quo in which cannabis is illegally available.

As part of the study, various measures are being tested that are intended to promote health, the protection of minors, and public safety. On the one hand, pharmacies will sell verified cannabis products that are free of impurities and synthetic cannabinoids with a defined THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content. On the other hand, the study participants will be provided with information on lower-risk forms of consumption or products. In cases of problematic consumption or conspicuous behavior, the sales staff in the pharmacy or the physician monitoring the study will provide support. These framework conditions are intended to reduce risks associated with cannabis consumption as much as possible and to promote the responsible use of cannabis.

So far, little scientific evidence is available on the effects of the different regulatory approaches on consumption and health. This study therefore represents a unique opportunity to test the effects of regulated cannabis sales on a small scale, thereby gaining in-depth insights into different regulatory approaches. In addition to Basel-Stadt, other Swiss cities and cantons are planning scientific pilot studies with cannabis that will focus on different issues. The scientific knowledge gained from these studies will provide a basis for discussions for a future responsible cannabis policy. 

During the two-and-a-half-year study in Basel, study participants can obtain cannabis products from nine pharmacies spread across the city. The six products (four products in the form of dried cannabis flowers and two hashish products), each with a different THC and CBD content, are manufactured under high quality standards by the Swiss supplier Pure Production in Zeiningen. They will be sold at fixed prices that are based on the THC content, and there are limits to the amounts that can be purchased to ensure compliance with legal limits. Throughout the study, participants will be regularly asked about their cannabis consumption behavior and their physical and mental health, among other things.

This study will start on September 15, 2022, and will run until the end of March 2025; around 370 people can take part. To be able to participate, interested individuals must meet the following requirements: 1) a minimum age of 18 years, 2) existing cannabis use, 3) residence in canton Basel-Stadt, and 4) basic knowledge of German. As of August 18, interested eligible individuals can find out more about the study and register for it on the (German only) study website.