Swiss approve pioneering legal heroin program

Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved Sunday a move to make permanent the country's pioneering program to give addicts government-authorized heroin, AP reported.

At the same time, voters rejected a proposal to decriminalize marijuana.

Sixty-eight percent of the 2,264,968 voters casting ballots approved making the heroin program permanent. It has been credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts since it began in 1994.

Some 63.2 percent of voters voted against the marijuana initiative.

On a separate issue, 52 percent of voters approved an initiative to eliminate the statute of limitations on pornographic crimes against children before the age of puberty.

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," Borer said. "You can just see in the Netherlands how it's going. People just go there to smoke."

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 criticized the program as potentially fueling drug abuse, but several 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 growing 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," Lang said.

The government, which opposed the marijuana proposal, said it feared that liberalizing cannabis 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 that offer a range of support to nearly 1,300 addicts who haven't been helped by other therapies. Under careful supervision, they inject doses of 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 26 million Swiss francs ($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.

The current Swiss statute of limitations on prosecuting pedophile pornography is 15 years. The initiative will result in a change in the constitution to remove that time limit.

Previously only genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and terrorist acts were defined under Swiss law has being without a statute of limitations.

The government had argued that it will be difficult to put the change into practice, partly because of the legal problems of determining the onset of puberty, which varies with each child. Also, the government said, it will be very difficult to prove such crimes in trials many years after the crimes are committed.

The proponents said in campaign literature that sometimes it only becomes possible years later to build a case against a pedophile when other victims "also finally find the strength to bring charges."

"It must therefore be only up to the victim to decide whether it should be forgotten or prosecuted," the proponents said.

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