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Switzerland voters approve permanent heroin assisted treatment program

[JURIST] The government of Switzerland [official website; JURIST news archive] on Sunday announced that voters in a referendum have approved a measure [official materials, in German] making the country's heroin assisted treatment program (HAT) [official website] permanent. Sixty-eight percent [results, in German] of 2.26 million voters approved the permanent legalization of heroin [AP report] while voting against a proposal for the decriminalization of marijuana [official materials, in German] by 63.2 percent [results, in German]. The key difference between the two legalization schemes was scope. The legalization of heroin is limited to 21 outpatient clinics and two prisons where distribution is tightly controlled by prescriptions and given only to addicts who have been unsuccessfully treated elsewhere. In contrast, the proposed amendment to the federal constitution concerning marijuana [Swiss Federal Assembly website, in German] would have broadly legalized the consumption, growing, and sale of cannabis for personal use.

The HAT program began as a Swiss National Cohort Study [official website] in 1994, concluding in 1996. The study showed that the lives of the addicts in treatment at government-run centers improved dramatically. The patients in the initial study moreover reduced their dependence on crime as a source of income from 70 percent to 10 percent after eighteen months. The Netherlands and Germany [BBC report] have initiated similar pilot studies following the Swiss success.

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