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Switzerland's parliament rejects idea to legalize marijuana

Switzerland's parliament on Monday stood against the initiative to legalize marijuana.

Lawmakers voted 106-70 against the proposal to decriminalize the consumption, possession, purchase and cultivation of cannabis for personal use, which was opened to debate after Swiss citizens' petition collected more than 100,000 signatures.

The center-right majority said it rejected the proposal to protect children, while opposition deputies said prohibition was creating more problems than it was solving.

The "no" vote was more pronounced than four years ago, when a similar initiative lost 96-89 in the national council.

Health Minister Pascal Couchepin, a passionate advocate of reform in 2003, presented the seven-member executive branch's support for the "no" camp Monday, saying an exception for cannabis was not justified.

Couchepin's remarks came in stark contrast to his argument four years ago that "bans on cannabis and alcohol have always proved a failure."

Socialist deputies and some members of Couchepin's centrist Radical Party said the ban helped fuel a black market for illegal drugs controlled by mafia-style groups that fail to protect the health of minors. They argued that the state should regulate the market.

Although cannabis remains illegal, authorities in many Swiss cantons (states) largely tolerate possession of the drug in small quantities for personal consumption.

Switzerland is one of the most tolerant European countries on drugs. It runs a heroin program that allows addicts to use the drug at approved centers with heroin paid for by the state health insurance system, on the grounds that addiction is an illness rather than a crime.

Swiss citizens can override the government's vote by calling a countrywide referendum, and gaining a national majority as well as a majority in over half of Switzerland's 26 cantons.