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Switzerland – The Highest Place in Europe

Switzerland

The Highest Place in Europe

Switzerland, land of the high Alps, cheese with holes and wildly expensive timepieces. What is less well-known, however, is that Switzerland has a rich history and subculture of cannabis and hemp use.

I took a short trip to Zurich to find out what the scene is like in one of Switzerland’s largest and most vibrant cities. I also arranged to visit Lucerne, a small city one hour from Zurich that sits at the edge of a vast glacial lake, surrounded by Alpine peaks of staggering beauty.

My aim is to discover what Switzerland has to offer to today’s discerning cannabis tourist, and hopefully to get higher than I’ve ever been before – by medicating at the top of Mount Titlis, a stunning 10,000 foot peak just outside Lucerne.

Switzerland doesn’t actually make the cut for the highest elevation in Europe. That prize goes to Mount Elbrus in Russia, at a staggering 18,506 feet! Nor does Switzerland hold the crown for the highest rate of cannabis consumption – that’s Iceland, with a massive 18.3% prevalence. But given that you can’t climb as high in Iceland, and getting high in the other sense can land you in some serious trouble in Russia, Switzerland surely deserves the compromise prize.

In Zurich, I have arranged to meet Marco Cadisch, owner of Highlife Media, a cannabis-focused news agency, and part-owner of SwissXtracts, a company specializing in 99.6% CBD crystals. SwissXtracts is a joint venture with Bio Can, a prominent Swiss producer and researcher of industrial and medicinal cannabis strains.

Cadisch fills me in on the necessary details. First off, I ask him if it will be possible to medicate up a mountain – could it land me in trouble? If so, how much? He gives me a placid, Swiss smile and tells me, “I don’t think it would be much of a problem. We’re quite liberal here so I don’t think anyone would mind.” In fact, the worst that could happen is that an individual caught smoking cannabis would be given a 100 CHF fine. I’m prepared to take that risk just for the experience!

My aim is to discover what Switzerland has to offer to today’s discerning cannabis tourist, and hopefully to get higher than I’ve ever been before – by medicating at the top of Mount Titlis, a stunning 10,000 foot peak just outside Lucerne.

We discuss the Swiss scene in a little more detail, and Cadisch describes how the medicinal scene is beginning to take shape.

Over the last few decades, cannabis policy in Switzerland has shifted several times. During the 1990s, a legal loophole that did not specify upper limits for THC in hemp meant that growing high-THC strains was effectively legal. In the peak years, hundreds of head shops sold packets of cannabis ostensibly to be used as “scent pillows,” tea or pot-pourri.

This loophole has been stitched up, but cannabis is still widely available and there are plenty of growers in Switzerland. This makes cannabis relatively cheap at the retail level compared to wholesale. In general, a kilo of cannabis goes for around 7500 CHF, while a gram costs 10 CHF at retail level.

Compare that to the UK, where a kilo costs around £6500 and a gram retails at up to £15 – a country with much harsher laws for growers, where profit margins are therefore higher. In Switzerland, jail time for small grows is practically unheard of, and it’s now decriminalized to possess up to 10g for any adult.

Furthermore, it’s still legal to cultivate strains with up to 1% THC – far higher than the 0.2-0.3 percent limit imposed by much of the world. Now, the Swiss are producing high-quality, low-THC strains with up to 17 percent CBD, and selling them as legal tobacco alternatives in head shops and tobacconists! As well as this, the market in CBD extracts and crystals in starting to take shape, and Switzerland is putting itself on the map as a ‘centre’ of research.

For the high-CBD, low-THC cannabis available in headshops, it’s not necessary to have a prescription. However, those that need high-THC cannabis have just one physician, Doctor Fankhauser, who has permission to prescribe it. But high-quality cannabis is widely available, and potential patients can grow their own for relatively cheap.

Before we part ways, Cadisch presents me with a 10g pouch of CPure, Bio Can’s proprietary brand of high-CBD, low-THC “Fedtonic” cannabis. The Fedtonic strain is a cross between Fedora hemp and Cannatonic, a 1:1-2 THC:CBD strain produced by Spanish seed bank Resin Seeds. Later, when sampling it, I’m pleasantly surprised by its Cheese-like aroma and subtle flavor.

In one Zurich head shop I found during my wanderings, the assistant informed me that the CPure was out of stock – but then she offered me an alternative, in a plain, unlabeled package, with none of the official appearance of the CPure packets. Unfortunately language barriers prevented us from conversing in great detail, but I got the impression that the product she was offering was produced “in-house” or very close to home!

With Zurich checked off my list, I’m keen to get to Lucerne, where I’ll be staying in a fairytale castle on a hill overlooking the city, and going on a tour up the beautiful Mount Titlis the following day.

switzerland
Over the last few decades, Cannabis policy in Switzerland has shifted several times.

In Lucerne, I barely have time to find an overpriced meal before every food purveyor shuts down for the night. It’s Saturday night and 11pm; clearly it’s not a 24hour city. At least the hotel is warm and inviting, having plenty of Swiss beer and peanuts in the refrigerator. With temperatures outside dropping down to 27°F, I decide that once I’m in, I’m not venturing back out.

The next day dawns bright and clear, and I make my way to the meeting point to join the tour group. It’s a mixed bunch of families, couples and gap year students. I make a few friends, but I’m keen to get off on my own and explore. As soon as we’re up the mountain, whisked up by a series of cable cars and a rotating gondola, I slip off and do my own thing.

As Marco Cadisch promised, I have no problem discreetly medicating. At the summit of Mount Titlis I see a few dozen skiers and hikers, but it’s far from crowded. The snow is too wet and thin for this time of year – another sign that climate change is continuing apace, as this trend has been developing over the decades.

Mount Titlis lays claim to Europe’s highest suspension bridge – a delicate 500 foot span crossing the Titlis glacier at an elevation of 10,000 feet (the absolute summit of the mountain sits as 10,630 feet). A session of vaping and photography looking down upon the glacier made for a very rewarding experience!

Another serene and beautiful place, perfect to enjoy a few minutes of cannabinoids and contemplation, was the glacier cave – a stunning walkway carved 65 feet below the surface of the glacier, lit by an ethereal bluish glow. Very few people came through during my time there, and the feeling of stillness and tranquility was incomparable!

All-in-all, Switzerland is a wonderful place to enjoy a cannabis-friendly holiday, as long as the astronomically high prices don’t put you off.

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