• Sweden edition
 
Opinion
Reefer madness: why are Swedes so scared of pot?
Contributor David Olson (not pictured) thinks it's embarrassing for Sweden to be so backward when it comes to marijuana

Reefer madness: why are Swedes so scared of pot?

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

Sweden may be progressive in many ways, but the country's reactionary attitude toward marijuana leaves American graduate student David Olson wondering what exactly the Swedes have been smoking.

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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ikea to introduce 'green' vegetarian meatballs

Ikea to introduce 'green' vegetarian meatballs

Swedish furniture giant Ikea is planning to put vegetarian meatballs on the menu in an attempt to cut down on its carbon footprint, the company has announced. READ () »

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

The Swedish government has proposed scrapping the 25-year span for repaying student loans, by suggesting those who attend higher education should keep paying the money back well into retirement. READ () »

Drowned puppies found in crayfish cage
The crayfish cage in the picture is not the one mentioned in the story. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Drowned puppies found in crayfish cage

Police in eastern Sweden have launched a preliminary investigation of animal cruelty after two puppies were found drowned in a crayfish cage. READ () »

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat
Rickard Rundgren Björk of the coastguard services speaks to the media after the rescue operation on April 19th 2014. Photo: Maja Suslin /TT

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat

Three Saturday morning sailors had a lucky escape after their small boat collided and sank after it crashed into a cruise ship whilst sailing in the Stockholm archipelago. READ () »

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK
Sofie Marie Jansson. Photo: Metropolitan Police

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK

British police have found the missing Swedish girl Sofie Jansson in London, exactly a week after she was last seen, with authorities saying she is doing well. READ () »

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Sweden's opposition party has stepped up its efforts to secure the pensioner vote by pledging to lower taxes for the elderly and make higher earners pay more. READ () »

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend
Showan Shattak pictured in Malmö before his attack. Photo: Facebook

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend

The 25-year-old man, whose stabbing by neo-Nazis sparked mass demonstrations across Sweden, has made a strong recovery in hospital and took to social media to thank supporters for campaigning against fascism. READ () »

Police seeking missing Swede in London

British police have issued a plea for tips in the search to find Swedish national Sofie Marie Jansson who hasn't been seen for almost a week. READ () »

University applications rocket to record high

University applications rocket to record high

Swedish universities continue to draw vast amounts of applicants with the number of prospective students seeking a third level education increasing for the seventh year in a row. READ () »

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot
Swedish artist Lars Vilks pictured in New York in 2012. Photo: Linus Sundahl-Djerf/TT

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot

American authorities have sentenced a 20-year-old accomplice of 'Jihad Jane' to five years in prison for an attempted terror plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, after getting involved with the murder plans when he was a teenager. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
Advertisement:
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
TT
Politics
Swedes to give six-hour workday a go
TT
Society
Aussie choir member wows Abba in Sweden
YouTube
Society
Stockholm magic a surprise YouTube hit
Fastighetsbyrån
Society
Gallery: The Local's Property of the Week
Private
Society
Swedes find 200-year-old gravestone in living room
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Deepti Vashisht
Features
Deepti Vashisht dissects the magic of Sweden's personal ID number
Shutterstock
Society
Ten signs you've been in Sweden too long
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 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

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

738
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com