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Drugs Policy in Sweden (John Yates)

John Yates, a British citizen living in Finland, has written this article about the situation in the neighbouring country of Sweden. First published by UKCIA, it has since been reproduced at the DrugText site in Amsterdam and is also going to be published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Sweden has the harshest drug laws in Europe and they are determined that any future European drug laws should be based on the 'Swedish Model' rather than the 'Dutch Model'.

Drugs Policy in Sweden

Sweden is often thought of as a permissive and tolerant country and the average Swede as sophisticated and broad minded. This was true once, but Sweden has gone through a radical and unpleasant transformation over the last 20 years and is now the most intolerant and repressive country in Europe. The once famous open minded sophistication has given way to ignorant narrow minded prejudice and the average Swede is as likely to be permissive as any right wing arch conservative from the American deep south.

I lived in Sweden in the late 60's and there was a pretty good scene there then. Stockholm was like one big love-in, beautiful people and good vibes everywhere. Swedes were fun loving and non judgmental, the mood of the times being 'if you like it, do it as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else'. The main park in Stockholm, Kungstradgarden, was full of Hippies and pot was available everywhere. Although cannabis was illegal, the official attitude was one of tolerant acceptance. The atmosphere was cool and the police were friendly. It was very similar to Holland and it was sometimes hard to tell if you were in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam or in the Kungstradgarden in Stockholm.

Unfortunately things changed for the worst during the seventies. An extreme prohibitionist movement, the RNS 'Riksforbundet Narkotikafritt Samhalle' (National Union for a Narcotics Free Society) had a few members well connected in the government and police who managed to engineer a narcotics scare. There was crackdown on the open scene masterminded by RNS sympathisers within the police, who saw the chance of increasing their own power and importance, together with a scare campaign in the media led by the few RNS sympathisers in the government. They were very successful. Within a very short time Sweden had changed completely. The hysteria whipped up in the media had created an atmosphere where no politician who wanted his career to continue dared oppose the RNS fanatics and the police hard-liners were duly rewarded with more power and influence as the politicians competed with each other to show who was the most 'hard on drugs'.

The anti drug laws have got progressively more severe over the years and are now the hardest in Europe. Police give drug violations top priority and Sweden is the only country in the European Union that has criminalised drug use as well as possession. Passing a joint counts as trafficking and carries a mandatory prison sentence and drug violations are regularly given harsher sentences than other crimes, including crimes of violence.

Today Sweden is entirely dominated by the RNS. The media regularly run the most incredible horror stories about narcotics, especially cannabis, which they have singled out as one of the most dangerous of drugs. The authorities have a monopoly on information and there is no dissent. The situation is similar to that in the USA during the Macarthyite anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950's. It would be professional suicide for anyone in an official position to question the RNS publicly. And of course, hardly anyone ever does. What happened when someone was foolish enough to do this once was reported in 'Dagens Nyheter', a leading Swedish newspaper, 26.4.95:

There is such a strong unity between organisations and authorities that dissenting opinions on drug policy are not allowed. Alec Carlberg,President of RFHL ( National Union for Helping Drug Abusers) says "If one even dares whisper an opinion that is in the least other than the official line one is immediately maligned as a 'legaliser' and suddenly you are excluded from the debate, invitations to lecture stop, you can no longer take part in study trips. This is a threat to sound discussion in Sweden".

One who has personally experienced this is Lief Lenke, professor of criminology at Stockholm University who says "At a conference organised by the National Health Institute I dared raise a couple of questions. If it is credible to assert that cannabis is as dangerous as heroin and if it is right that Sweden refuses to give clean syringes to addicts when even the WHO recommends it. There was immediately a very unpleasant uproar. People whistled, shouted, and interrupted. I was called a 'legaliser'. I had been invited to speak on European narcotics policy at a meeting of Sweden's social services officers. They telephoned to say they had heard certain things about me and had chosen another speaker. Now the Social Services Department has informed me that I may no longer sit as Sweden's representative on the Council of Europe Committee for narcotic questions". When the director of the National Health Institute, Jakob Lindberg, was asked about the above he said "Everyone should know that we are completely, fully and uncompromisingly against drugs. There is great unity on this in Sweden".

Given the hysterical witch-hunt atmosphere raging in Sweden, it's hardly surprising that no one dares to publicly admit having liberal views.

The countries of the European Union have been moving towards decriminalisation and even legalisation for some time now. The recent liberalisation of German laws are only part of a general trend that has been taking place over the entire EU. In 1995 the European Parliament voted to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. Unfortunately Sweden is now a member of the EU and has determined to carry its crusade against drugs into Europe. Any attempt at liberalisation will be fiercely opposed by Sweden. Their aim is to stop and reverse the trend towards legalisation and to this end are using the resources of the Swedish state and all their political power in the European Parliament. Swedish Euro-MP's are forming anti-liberalisation pressure groups and actively lobbying for the adoption of repressive Swedish laws.

In 1994 Sweden was instrumental in forming ECAD (European Cities Against Drugs), whose entire budget is paid for by the Swedish state. The general secretary of ECAD, a fanatical Swedish drug warrior, Ake Setreus, said in April 1995 that the communist Chinese policy of sending prostitutes and drug abusers to forced labour camps is an effective way to fight drugs. Sweden has long had a policy of committing drug abusers to forced treatment centers.

The Swedes are always well represented at international drug and harm reduction conferences where they do their best to oppose and discredit any talk of decriminalisation of cannabis or liberalisation of drug laws. They distinguished themselves at the harm reduction conference in Florence in the spring of 1995 by savagely attacking speakers and gave the impression that they were not there in order to engage in meaningful dialogue, but to beat down any liberal arguments. According to the Finnish periodical 'Nordisk Alkohol Tidskrift' (Northern Alcohol Review) no.2 1995 many delegates were clearly upset by the behavior of the Swedes and found it hard to take them seriously. Unfortunatly some politicians and legislators do take them seriously and this could have dire consequences for the entire EU.

Swedish government funds are being used to finance anti-drug propaganda campaigns in European media, including ads on MTV Europe and in Foreign newspapers. Foreign politicians and officials visiting Sweden are regaled with glowing accounts of Sweden's success in it's hard line 'war on drugs' and persuaded to support the introduction of what they call the 'Swedish Model' to the rest of Europe.

The reality of the 'Swedish Model' is very different from the propaganda of the Swedish government. Their draconian laws are not having any effect on drug availability or use. Swedish Television News reported 5.10.95 that amphetamine is now so common that it is cheaper than alcohol. The newspaper 'Dagens Nyheter' reported 8.10.95 that heroin is pouring over the border from Norway into western Sweden as Eastern European gangs open up new routes to the lucrative Swedish market. According to the National Health Institute, 20% of Swedish young people in the major cities use drugs, mostly cannabis.

One area where Swedish drug laws are having a great effect is crime. The newspaper 'Dagens Nyheter' reported 2.6.95 that drug use and violence are escalating out of control and Sweden is heading for a situation similar to that in the USA. A report by the Criminal Care Ministry (Kriminalvardsstyrelsen) 1.7.95 says serious crime has risen 25% in Sweden since 1990 and a report from the Criminological Institute of Stockholm University in September 1995 states that adult crime in Sweden has risen 80% since 1975. In 1975 the drug laws were much more liberal than they are today.

The situation in the cities is becoming untenable. Crimes of violence in the Greater Stockholm area rose by 54% between the years 1987-1993 according to Johannes Knutsson, a researcher at the Police High School in report in the newspaper 'Svenska Dagbladet'10.7.95. The crimes that have increased most are robbery and aggravated robbery.

The minister of justice, Laila Freivalds, said to the press in June 1995 that there is a clear connection between the rise in violent crime in Sweden and the availability of illegal drugs and weapons.

None of this prevents the fanatical narconazis of Sweden holding their country up as example for the rest of Europe to follow. As Europe is the best hope the world has of instituting sane drug laws, the actions of Sweden represent a threat that is out of all proportion to their relatively small size. There is a very real danger that they can succeed in imposing the same totalitarian narcofascism on the rest of Europe that they have imposed on their own unfortunate country.

The best way of fighting the Swedish narconazis is by information. They should be confronted by the total failure of their prohibition policy and while this will make no impression at all on the Swedish demagogues, it may prevent them from fooling others that the 'Swedish Model' works.

John Yates,