- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

BERN, Switzerland | A pioneering Swiss program to give addicts government-authorized heroin was approved overwhelmingly Sunday by voters who simultaneously rejected the decriminalization of marijuana.

Sixty-eight percent of voters approved making the heroin program permanent. The effort has been credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts since it began 14 years ago.

Only 36.8 percent of voters favored the marijuana initiative.

Olivier Borer, 35, a musician from the northern town of Solothurn, said he welcomed the outcome in part because state action was required to help heroin addicts, but he said legalizing marijuana was a bad idea.

“I think it’s very important to help these people, but not to facilitate the using of drugs. You can just see in the Netherlands how it’s going. People just go there to smoke,” Mr. Borer said.

Parliament approved the heroin measure in a revision of Switzerland’s narcotics law in March, but conservatives challenged the decision and forced a national referendum under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

The heroin program has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users shooting up openly in parks that marred Swiss cities in the 1980s and 1990s, supporters say.

The United States and the U.N. narcotics board have warned that the program could fuel drug abuse, but other governments have started or are considering their own programs modeled on the system.

The marijuana issue was based on a separate citizens initiative to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana and grow the plant for personal use.

Jo Lang, a Green Party member of parliament from the central city of Zug, said he was disappointed in the failure of the marijuana measure because it means 600,000 people in Switzerland will be treated as criminals because they use cannabis.

“People have died from alcohol and heroin, but not from cannabis,” Mr. Lang said.

The government, which opposes the marijuana proposal, said it feared that liberalizing marijuana could cause problems with neighboring countries.

“This could lead to a situation where you have some sort of cannabis tourism in Switzerland because something that is illegal in the EU would be legal in Switzerland,” government spokesman Oswald Sigg told the Associated Press.

The heroin program is offered in 23 discreet centers across Switzerland, which offer a range of support to nearly 1,300 addicts who haven’t been helped by other therapies. Under careful supervision, they inject doses carefully measured to satisfy their cravings but not enough to cause a big high.

The aim is to help the addicts learn how to function in society, with counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.

Sabina Geissbuehler-Strupler of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which led the campaign against the heroin program, said she was disappointed in the vote.

“That is only damage limitation,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of the addicts are not healed from the addiction.”

Health insurance pays for the bulk of the program, which costs $22 million a year. All residents in Switzerland are required to have health insurance, with the government paying insurance premiums for those who cannot afford it.

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