GENEVA (AFP) — Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a proposal to decriminalise cannabis by a clear majority in a nationwide referendum, Swiss news agency ATS reported.

Switzerland is the heaviest user of cannabis in Europe according to a recent study but the proposal to decriminalise the drug failed to win popular support in the majority of cantons, ATS said.

In anticipation of a "no" vote, the Pro Juventute youth group along with the Federation of Swiss Youth Clubs and teachers unions has called for a fresh approach to young cannabis users, the NZZ am Sonntag weekly newspaper reported.

"We should remember that the current regime in force has hardly dissuaded young people from using cannabis; the popularity of this drug rose constantly during the 1990s and has only recently seen a slight dip," Pro Juventute said in a statement.

Instead of criminal proceedings, people under 18 caught using cannabis would face fines and also drug prevention treatment and counselling, the paper said.

Swiss teenagers are increasingly using hard drugs such as amphetamines, speed, cocaine, magic mushrooms and LSD, according to a study carried out in July by the Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (ISPA).