• Sweden's news in English
 

Reefer madness: why are Swedes so scared of pot?

Published: 12 Nov 2013 07:40 GMT+01:00

For some Americans, moving to Sweden can feel like you’re not just switching countries, but switching eras. Sweden is years ahead of the US in so many areas — education, health care, sexuality, worker’s rights, social welfare, etc. — so it’s easy to understand why it feels like entering some progressive Disneyland when I left California for Stockholm earlier this year. 
 
But despite Sweden’s perks, there’s one issue here that’s left me questioning the open-mindedness of the Big Blue & Yellow — weed. 
 
Marijuana is unacceptable in Sweden, both legally and socially. 
 
If you lit a joint outside one of the coolest clubs in Södermalm, even the hippest of the hipsters might look at you like you were shooting heroin in an H&M.
 
And that’s nothing compared to what the police would do if they smelled something funky on you in the bowels of the Stockholm metro. A spliff of Swedish weed could mean a one-way ticket back to the United States for an immigrant like me, and severely impact any Swedish citizen’s future based on the social stigma of having such a crime on his or her record.
 
As a native to the weed capital of the American West, I find this aspect of Sweden baffling and saddening, especially when I’m bragging to my friends back home about all the other benefits of living here. 
 
But I’m not the only one alarmed by Sweden’s cannabis stigma. I was recently reading an article about Romania legalizing medical marijuana where a user commented: 
 
“Come on Europe, lets beat the Americans to full legalization!”
 
This fantasy was immediately shot down by several other commenters, who painted a grim picture of the prospects of legalized marijuana in the following online exchange: 
 
-“We (the EU) have Sweden, not going to happen…”
 
-“Yeah. It's never going to be legalized in Sweden.”
 
-“Sweden is completely crazy.”
 
As a country that much of the world looks to as the prime example of progressivism, Sweden shouldn't have to hear comments describing the country in this way. Especially when the United States — where citizens are denied rights for their sexuality, workers aren't guaranteed sick days or maternity leave, and more citizens are incarcerated than any other country — has decriminalized or granted access to cannabis in nearly half of its states.
 
Is it possible that Sweden can really be years behind America on a social issue?
 
More than 20 US states have legalized medicinal cannabis, and in my hometown of Los Angeles, medical pot shops are more common than Starbucks. Recently, Colorado and Washington passed full legalization, and it seems to be only a matter of time until this spreads to the rest of America. Many other countries are following suit, too (Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Uruguay, etc.) and this trend will likely continue spreading internationally. 
 
Yet every Swede I ask about cannabis says they don’t see their country budging any time soon. 
 
If this global marijuana movement continues, does Sweden really want to be left in the dust? 
 
It's not only embarrassing for a country with such a progressive reputation to be so backward when it comes to weed, but also economically foolish, considering that the global marijuana market is estimated to be over $140 billion. It would be a shame if Sweden chose to ignore the world’s biggest cash crop simply because people look down on it.
 
So what is it about marijuana that’s such a turn-off to Swedes?
 
Many Swedes associate cannabis with laziness and stupidity. Sure, there are plenty of pot-smoking losers out there, but let's not forget intellectuals and visionaries like Carl Sagan and Steve Jobs who attributed much of their creativity to cannabis. And what about the tech workers of Silicon Valley, where cannabis use is said to be “extremely common.” So the idea of lower productivity or initiative due to smoking a joint is really just a crude stereotype. 
 
When it comes to reasons regarding physical harm, Sweden also needs to do more research. It's virtually impossible to overdose on cannabis, since the lethal level of THC would require smoking roughly 30,000 joints in less than an hour. Meanwhile, a bottle of vodka readily available from state-run liquor retailer Systembolaget can easily kill an overly-zealous teenager.
 
Further, Scandinavia has a troubled history with alcoholism, and northern Europeans have been found to have higher rates of alcoholism and binge-drinking compared to southern Europeans.  One would think that Sweden would embrace cannabis to help combat these unfortunate statistics. Considering the various medicinal benefits of cannabis and its lack of physical addictiveness, it would seem socially responsible for Sweden to offer marijuana to its citizens as a safer alternative to alcohol. 
 
The average Swede, also seems to carry a disdain for marijuana, viewing it as somehow unsophisticated. But to that, I ask: How many times have you gotten on the train late at night with obnoxiously loud drunks, people passed out in their seats, or a fresh puddle of vomit stinking up the train? Do you think that getting home on a Saturday night would be any less sophisticated if Swedes were out enjoying cannabis? 
 
I’m not saying that all Swedes should become stoners. It’s just frustrating that so many Swedes carry this cannabis stigma, especially when they are so enlightened about so many other issues. 
 
When I talk to Swedes about certain Americans’ opposition to gay marriage, they always ask, “How could people be so old-fashioned and believe that stuff?” 
 
Swedes should know that if their culture doesn’t catch up with the modern views on marijuana, before long a lot of people will be asking the same questions about them.
 
I’m not worried that marijuana will never be accepted in Sweden. It will happen eventually. But for one of the otherwise most progressive countries in the world, Sweden risks letting cannabis become a tarnish on Sweden’s crown if it doesn't start lightening up soon.
 
David Olson, moved from Los Angeles, California to Sweden to pursue a masters degree at the Stockholm School of Economics.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Lisa Holm murder
Hundreds mourn teen Swedish murder victim
Mourners remember Swedish teenager Lisa Holm. Photo: Thomas Johansson/TT

Hundreds mourn teen Swedish murder victim

UPDATED: Family, friends and community members have attended the funeral of Swedish schoolgirl Lisa Holm, who was found dead after disappearing a month ago. READ  

 Swedish spice recall after salmonella scare
A laboratory at Sweden's Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten). Photo: TT/Sweden's Public Health Agency Folkhälsomyndigheten

Swedish spice recall after salmonella scare

A seasoning mix has been withdrawn from Swedish supermarkets after it was linked to one of the biggest salmonella outbreaks in the country in recent years. READ  

'You become a Muslim if you eat halal meat'
A Sweden Democrat politician has claimed halal meat has magical powers. Photo: AP Photo/Mel Evans

'You become a Muslim if you eat halal meat'

The leader of a local wing of the nationalist Sweden Democrat party has caused a controversy after he claimed that halal meat has magical powers that turns people into Muslims. READ  

Uber Sweden in hot water over driver checks
Uber is available in 57 countries. Photo: TT

Uber Sweden in hot water over driver checks

Car-sharing service Uber is facing questions about how closely it vets drivers after a Swedish newspaper reporter managed to enrol with the company without being given any training. READ  

Greece crisis
Stockholm market back up after Greece vote
Stockholm's stock exchange. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Stockholm market back up after Greece vote

Despite dipping in the immediate aftermath of Greece's referendum, Stockholm's stock market rose again on Tuesday. Meanwhile Eurozone finance ministers and leaders are attending the latest EU crisis talks in Brussels. READ  

Refugees to Sweden face long wait for ID checks
Refugees to Sweden face a long wait to have their passports checked. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Refugees to Sweden face long wait for ID checks

Tens of thousands of refugees who applied for asylum in Sweden before the new year are still waiting to have their identification documents processed by the Swedish immigration authorities. READ  

UN seeks new probe on Swede's crash death
Swedish former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. Photo: UPI/SCANPIX

UN seeks new probe on Swede's crash death

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a fresh investigation into the mysterious plane crash that killed Swedish diplomat and former UN chief Dag Hammarskjöld more than 50 years ago. READ  

Opinion
'Russians don't think about Sweden's military'
Russian planes perform during the International Maritime Defence show in St.Petersburg earlier this month. Photo: TT/AP/Dmitry Lovetsky

'Russians don't think about Sweden's military'

While there's been much chatter in the global media about Russian military activity off the Swedish island of Gotland, most Russians have never even heard of the place, writes Stockholm-based Russian journalist Elena Bazina. READ  

Rude name stops house selling for 1,000 days
The property in Snorrslida, Sweden. Photo: Dansk Ejendoms Consult

Rude name stops house selling for 1,000 days

A home in southern Sweden has been on the market for more than 1,000 days, with many suggesting its rude-sounding name could be the reason it has failed to attract buyers. READ  

Greece crisis
Stockholm stock market falls after Greek vote
Stockholm's stock exchange. File photo: TT

Stockholm stock market falls after Greek vote

UPDATED: Sweden’s Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson has raised concerns about Greece’s future, while Stockholm's stock market has fallen as economic jitters are felt across Europe. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week: Huskvarna, Jönköping
National
Boy rescues lost engagement ring
National
Jump in solo children seeking Swedish asylum
Sponsored Article
'Today's refugees could be tomorrow's Zlatan'
Sponsored Article
Sweden's 'incredible' chance to connect
Blog updates

3 July

Editor’s blog, July 3rd (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello from the Swedish island of Gotland! The Local’s editorial team has decamped from our Stockholm headquarters..." READ »

 

2 July

Som eller att (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! It happens quite often, that my students are confused over when to use “som” and when..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
People-watching: July 3rd-5th
Sponsored Article
'Swedish industry needs US trade deal'
National
Scary taxis lure Nordic Noir freaks to Sweden's capital
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
National
Oasis star calls Zlatan 'idiot'
Sponsored Article
‘I don’t feel Swedish, I feel international’
National
Learning Swedish: different rules for expats and refugees?
Sponsored Article
What can we learn from Swedish women's sex habits?
Sport
IN PICTURES: Thousands welcome home Sweden’s heroes
Politics
Almedalen: The Local's guide to Sweden's power players week
Sponsored Article
VIP Mingle at Almedalen's hottest event
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Your July summer snaps
Sport
Sweden celebrates greatest sporting victory in decades
Gallery
People-watching: July 1st
National
Swede battles slug invasion
National
VIDEO: Is this herring tasting clip an 'insult to Sweden'?
Gallery
Property of the week: Visby, Gotland
National
Sweden set for sunniest week of year
Gallery
People-watching: June 26th-28th
Features
The Local's essential guide to who's who in Swedish politics
National
More Swedish military exercises as Russia aggression fears grow
National
What's on in Sweden this week
Travel
Why Swedish camp sites are set for a bumper summer
National
Swedish summer's really on its way (at least according to forecasters)
Gallery
People-watching: June 24th
National
Why are southern Swedes angry about becoming 'Danish' again?
Society
Lifestyle: When to catch your favourite features on The Local
National
Is Sweden one of the world's most peaceful nations?
Sponsored Article
Harstena: Travelling to Sweden's secret islands
National
One in ten Swedish cats homeless
Sponsored Article
'I constantly evolve my Swedishness'
Gallery
Property of the week: Värmdö, Stockholm
Society
Would you eat this Swedish pizza?
National
Swedish royals' dream honeymoon
National
Swedish hospital opens first centre for male rape victims
Gallery
People-watching: June 20th-21st
Photo: TT
Lifestyle
Midsummer: The Local's guide to Sweden's craziest festival
Sponsored Article
Murder, myth and magic: Travelling to the birthplace of Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: June 17th
Sponsored Article
Gallery: Life in Sweden's secret archipelago
Society
Seven alternative names for Sweden's Prince Nicolas Paul Gustaf
National
FBI returns stolen Swedish books
National
Want to smell like Zlatan?
National
Royal joy over birth of new prince
Gallery
Property of the week: Brantevik, Simrishamn
National
How racy graffiti inspired a teacher's high school sex class
Gallery
People-watching: June 12th-14th
National
As it happened: Prince Carl Philip marries Sofia Hellqvist
Technology
Is Stockholm the world's creative capital?
Sponsored Article
KTH President: ‘Sweden’s success is because of its size’
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: Nine questions every expat should ask
Sponsored Article
The millionaire teacher who leads by tough love
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

3,236
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se