The Swiss “Weed Care” pilot project, which is to be the first-ever trial of legal distribution of cannabis for adult use with THC in Europe, is scheduled to start on January 30, 2023 after a four-month delay.
This landmark study, which should “pave the way” for further adult cannabis trials in Switzerland and Europe, is back on track after the approval of a second batch of cannabis.
Pure Production AG has confirmed that it has received approval from Swiss health authorities to provide the trial, after its first 30kg batch “narrowly” failed to meet quality standards.
Those concerned hope that this delay will allow the first lessons to be learned from the project and will facilitate the realization of the many other important studies which should be authorized “in the coming weeks”.
The Weed Care pilot was originally scheduled to launch in Switzerland’s third most populous city, Basel, on September 15, and was to last until March 2025.
However, a few days before the launch of the regulated sale of cannabis for adult use in certain Basel pharmacies, the city’s health department announced that the cannabis supplied “just did not meet a quality standard stipulated in Narcotics Act Pilot Testing Ordinance”.
The Swiss legal framework surrounding the controlled sale of adult cannabis for research purposes requires that the products used be grown organically, rather than through much more tightly controlled indoor cultivation.
Analysis of the first batch of Pure revealed the presence of 0.1 to 0.2 parts per million (ppm) of fluopyram, a pesticide “not approved for organic cultivation”, which is believed to have come from greenhouse soil contaminated “from years before » Pure started using the site.
Although fluopyram levels are well within the limits of conventional food consumption (lettuce is at 15ppm), strict legislation guidelines led to the decision to incinerate the 30kg batch and suspend the trial waiting to find a solution.
Lino Cereghetti, COO of Pure Production, told BusinessCann: “At the end of the day, for us, there was never a question of releasing this batch, unless they choose to revise the thresholds, because we are fighting for the quality of cannabis in Switzerland for years. »
Thus began a “six-week” discussion between the government and the pilot project on how to find an alternative source of product so that it could start as soon as possible.
“The options were limited, to be honest; there are not many recreational markets in the world that are able to export. Canada was considered, but then we had to make sure that the suppliers were growing organically according to Swiss regulations, which further reduced the number of potential suppliers,” Cereghetti explained.
While the option to import products from Canada was reported in the Swiss press amid radio silence from the Basel authorities, it is understood that this was only a “fallback option” if the second batch of Pure was not approved. The import would have been legally possible, the controlled distribution of cannabis for adult use being framed by an experimental and research status, which is very clearly authorized by the International Conventions.
“Even if we had used Canadian products, it would only have been to fill the void; they would have been replaced by Swiss production. »
While these discussions continued, Pure managed to harvest a second batch from another site which “has been organically farmed for 30 years”.
It has now received its authorization from the federal office, and it has been confirmed that its second batch “meets all the criteria of quality assurance”.
As originally planned, Pure will supply two hashish products and four cannabis flower products to selected Basel pharmacies, which will be able to purchase them from January 30, 2023.
Despite this delay, the health department of Basel-City, the university psychiatric clinics, the Aargau psychiatric services and the University of Basel continued to recruit.
Approximately 340 participants out of a total of 370 have been enrolled and will be included in the study, with the remaining 30 to be enrolled before the start date.
Mr. Cereghetti said that while he “does not see any other obstacles to the implementation of this project”, it is not called an “experimental project by chance”.
He suggested that the whole approach of the study was to gather evidence in order to create a better regulatory system, and that this delay “will provide the first lessons for large-scale regulation later”.
Furthermore, he argued that the lessons learned from this delay will make “easier and faster” what should be nearly a dozen similar pilots following in the weeks and months to come.
“We are doing pioneering work here for the entire cannabis industry in Switzerland. Those who will follow us will have the easier task thanks to the cost of learning that we paid. »
“A lot of things have been tested for the first time. Many processes and pathways that did not exist before have now been created. »