Switzerland's government is taking steps to allow limited studies on the legal sale of cannabis — though any liberalization appears to be a distant prospect.

The governing Federal Council said Thursday it sent to parliament a proposal to allow municipalities to run pilot projects on "the advantages and disadvantages of alternative forms of regulation," such as the regulated sale of cannabis in pharmacies. The possession and consumption of cannabis with more than 1 percent THC, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, are currently illegal.

The government said 200,000 people in the country of 8 million regularly consume cannabis recreationally despite the ban, leading to a flourishing black market and high enforcement costs.

The tightly regulated pilot projects will run for a maximum 10 years, after which studies will be reviewed.