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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Europe and Central Asia


I. Summary

Switzerland is not a significant producer of narcotics, but has significant drug consumption problems and is a transit point for narcotics enroute to other European countries and occasionally in lesser amounts to the United States. Foreigners tend to dominate the illegal drug trafficking market. Switzerland continues progressive treatment programs aimed at hard-core addicts. In Autumn 1997, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected an abstinence-based initiative which would have significantly changed the current official drug policy. Swiss narcotics policy thus continues to rest on four pillars: prevention, therapy and rehabilitation, harm reduction, law enforcement and control. The Swiss have always considered law enforcement and prevention the core of their drug policy. Switzerland has taken firm measures to combat money laundering and cooperates with US officials and others toward this end. Swiss authorities continue to cooperate with international efforts to control the export of precursor chemicals.

II. Status of Country

The Swiss government condemns the use of narcotics. Its current drug policy consists of prevention, therapy and rehabilitation, harm reduction, law enforcement and control.

The federal and cantonal governments spend significant resources to prevent drug abuse through informational campaigns and training of social workers. Current anti-drug campaigns target primarily the young, considered by officials to be the most likely members of society to experiment with drugs.

The supply and transit of illicit drugs in Switzerland remains abundant and distribution over recent years has been largely controlled by foreigners. In fact, more than four-fifths of those arrested for narcotics law violations in 1996 were foreigners, according to Swiss police statistics. In the past, Switzerland has been an attractive money laundering target for drug cartels due to the secrecy of Swiss financial institutions and the absence of exchange controls. Changes in Swiss laws, however, combined with the actions of Swiss officials, have served to make money laundering more difficult and have led to significant seizures of drug-related assets.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

On September 28, 1997, Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected a much-publicized initiative called "Youth Without Drugs." This abstinence-based initiative did not exclusively concern the limited and controversial Swiss heroin distribution program aimed at hard-core addicts, but it would have ended that program and restricted the range of drug treatments otherwise available to addicts.

Another people's initiative entitled "Towards a Reasonable Drug Policy," which will not come to a vote before fall 1998, consists of the following six elements: prevention; allowing the development of new methods of therapy; medically-controlled delivery of narcotics to hard-core users and provision of subsistence needs; legalization of possession and use of small amounts of narcotics for personal use; efforts to fight drug crimes; and a unified and coordinated drug policy.

Cultivation and Production. The USG has no evidence of any significant cultivation or production of illicit drugs in Switzerland.

Drug Flow/Transit. Seizures of amphetamines, LSD and other hallucinogens rose in 1996, the last year for which statistics are available. The amount of heroin seized in Switzerland in 1996 is almost double the amount seized in 1995. Two significant seizures were made during 1996 which bolstered the figures: 1) an investigation in Zurich resulted in the seizure of 53 kilograms of heroin and the arrest of Albanians, Turks and Czechs; and 2) an investigation in Fribourg, Switzerland resulted in a seizure of 65 kilograms of heroin and the arrest of former Yugoslav nationals. Even without these two large confiscations, police would still have exceeded a 20-year record high for heroin seizures.

Cannabis availability in Switzerland rose dramatically in 1996. A single marijuana seizure of 2.6 tons and numberous cannabis seizures brought the total to 4.2 tons. This was the largest amount of cannabis seized in Switzerland in 21 years. The overall number of drug-related deaths decreased from 361 in 1995 to 312 in 1996.

Corruption. As a matter of policy, the Government of Switzerland does not encourage or facilitate the illicit production or distribution of drugs, other controlled substances or the laundering of drug money.

Law Enforcement Efforts. In law enforcement, cantonal and local police have a substantial degree of autonomy. This federal system in the past has resulted in various degrees of tolerance for drug use. In particular, some German-speaking cantons tolerated open air drug markets. The last such drug market in Zurich, the Letten, was shut down in the Winter of 1995 due to strong pressure from community groups.

Cantonal magistrates have the authority to trace, freeze, and eventually confiscate assets. They take action whenever they are convinced that the wealth was derived from criminal activity. Again, there are no special measures for narcotics trafficking. The amount of assets forfeited or seized is approximately $450 million since 1990. The degree of aggressiveness displayed by cantonal authorities varies by canton. Resources dedicated to tracking and seizing assets also vary among the cantons.

Agreements and Treaties. Switzerland has signed but not yet ratified the 1988 UN Drug Convention. However, Switzerland is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Swiss Federal Council has declared its intention to seek ratification of the agreement by Parliament in 1998, but it is currently awaiting the results of a popular initiative, which would lead to a more liberal drug policy. The adoption of this initiative may well be incompatible with the 1988 UN Drug Convention. The Federal Council has also indicated that it might attach two reservations to the ratification of the 1988 UN Drug Convention, which would allow for a more liberal Swiss policy regarding individual consumption of drugs and give Swiss courts more discretion in sentencing.

Swiss authorities cooperate actively with US law enforcement agencies in accordance with the existing Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). They insist that formal requirements of legal cooperation be fulfilled; however, cantonal officials will act to freeze funds, based on their own initiative, if probable cause is established through police channels. When that is done, Swiss authorities move quickly and effectively. The USG shares information with Swiss authorities, and they regularly act on such information.

Swiss authorities have broad support for efforts to trace and seize criminal wealth. The banks have accepted these efforts. There is no record of traffickers undertaking retaliatory actions related to money laundering investigations, Swiss government cooperation with the US government, or seizure of assets.

Demand Reduction. Switzerland has always been at the forefront of drug treatment programs, having pioneered methadone treatment in the late 1970's and adopted among the first needle exchange programs in the 1980's to combat the spread of the HIV virus. Switzerland launched a controversial new drug rehabilitation program in 1994, the final report for which was released in July 1997. The program involved the medically controlled delivery of narcotics (mainly heroin) to hard-core users. It was an attempt to deal with many hard-core addicts for whom traditional treatment programs have failed. The program had three main goals: stabilization of the health of addicts; improvement in their social conditions (work and social network); and a reduction in criminal behavior. It sought to deal with the underlying social, psychological and other problems associated with drug abuse.

The final report provided a very positive assessment of the program, citing significant improvements in the social and health conditions of the hard-core addicts involved, as well as a sharp drop in criminal activity. The report also calculated a cost-benefit ratio of 1 to 2. Based on these results, Swiss health officials have recommended continuing the program for a select group of addicts.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. US officials continue to receive excellent cooperation from their Swiss counterparts in legal and law enforcement efforts to counternarcotics trafficking and money laundering. In particular, there have been several successful cooperative operations against money laundering in which the Swiss have seized bank accounts and shared the assets with the USG.

US and Swiss authorities have cooperated closely in many important cases. Switzerland is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and has moved to implement effectively FATF recommendations.

The Road Ahead. Officials have been working on new, comprehensive narcotics legislation which would expand on the current narcotics decree, valid until the end of 1998. The new legislation will likely continue to include the four pillars of Switzerland's narcotics policy as noted earlier in this report. In addition, the new legislation would contain the legal basis for the heroin distribution program as a therapy forum.


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