THE impending change to Switzerland’s medical cannabis laws could see the number of patients receiving treatment rise from 3,000 a year to over 100,000 by 2023.
In March this year Switzerland’s upper chamber – the Council of States – approved a proposal passed by the lower Swiss National Council to allow doctors in the country to prescribe medicinal cannabis.
The current system, in place since 2011, requires specialist doctors to refer potential patients to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) which can grant what is known as ‘exceptional authorization’ access.
This cumbersome system effectively has an upper limit of 3,000-plus patients at any one time due to the FOPH’s limited bandwith resulting from the bureaucracy required to manage it.
All Doctors To Prescribe
But, this is now set to change with new regulations – which will allow all doctors to prescribe – set to be in place in 2022.
Pure Holding AG is one of Switzerland’s leading cannabis genome experts, cultivators, processors and distributors. Speaking to BusinessCann its Chief Operating Officer Lino Cereghetti mapped out an anticipated path for medical cannabis over the coming years
He said: “The current exceptional authorisation process is very bureaucratic and involves a lot of paperwork and administration and this has resulted in a bottleneck at FOPH which means they do not have capacity to deliver as many permits as requested.
“Then there are just a few doctors prepared to go the extra mile to help their patients secure these permits, and a limited number who believe in THC and also have the specialist knowledge required – although this is now changing.”
He went on to say that over recent years the attitude towards cannabis has been shifting in the Swiss medical profession, the political class and society, as a whole.
He continued: “Politicians have been asking for the production of THC and to support Swiss companies looking to export medical cannabis. The FOPH also asked for the law to be amended, as the demand was so great that it was no longer able to deal with the number of applicants.
“They wanted to make access easier, broaden the uptake to a greater number of people and help the authorities develop new regulations.
“This will mean that when the new regulations come into effect in the middle of 2022 every doctor will be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis, if appropriate.”
He believes that by the end of 2023 the number of medical cannabis patients could have reached 100,000 with the potential for that to more than double in the ensuing years.
The current system sees medical cannabis restricted to a narrow range of conditions including Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, and chronic pain – but only as a last resort.
The patients pay for their own treatments with a month’s supply of high-THC cannabis extract oils costing anywhere between €300 to €500.
The market is serviced by Swiss company with an annual volume of around 300kgs, while Sativex is also included in the prescribing clinicians’ toolkit.
“At the moment it is effectively a monopoly but we expect to see prices fall as competitors enter the market.
“The goal should be to ensure we have to have accessible medicines at a decent price.
“Reimbursement is being examined by the authorities and insurance companies, but if this does not develop as we hope – and the medicines are still too expensive – then people may be forced back to the black market,” he added.
Switzerland is preparing to launch its adult-use cannabis trial in a number of major cities – including Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lucerne and Geneva – with the first ones expected to begin in late 2022.
Pure Holdings AG is looking to be a partner in some of these trials and is in talks with ‘multiple cities’, said Mr Cereghetti.
It is currently in the process of constructing a new indoor EU-GMP cultivation facility which will be open by the end of next year producing THC flower for domestic and EU markets.
Maybe 10,000 Patients?
He added: “The stigma and the hurdles are being overcome in Switzerland. There are many people with a bad experience with opioids and the potential number of patients could be hundreds of thousands within a few years.”
Conor O’Brien, a Senior Analyst at Prohibition Partners, said: “Patients in Switzerland could benefit enormously from liberalisation of medical cannabis.
“At the moment, the high costs and bureaucratic nature of medical cannabis access likely deters many thousands of patients from obtaining cannabis legally. In the domain of adult-use cannabis, Switzerland is taking a leading role and now also has the opportunity to do so on behalf of their domestic patients.
“Doctors discretion over prescribing cannabis to patients is key, but so is ensuring affordable medicines – for example – through a more open production licensing system and ensuring some insurance coverage as is done in neighbouring Germany. If this is done, we could see 10,000-plus people accessing medical cannabis legally in the country in the not too distant future.”
@The latest figures for Swiss medical cannabis ‘exceptional authorisation’ show that at the end of 2020 there were 2,588 patients on the scheme compared to 2,935 at the end of 2019.