Susanne Eriksson, 39, began cultivating marijuana plants at her apartment in Märsta in Stockholm’s commuter belt after watching a television programme describing how a number of scientific studies had shown cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of MS.
When Eriksson decided just over a year ago to give it a try, a green-fingered assistant volunteered to tend her plants.
Eriksson was delighted to find that the effects of the drug were exactly as she had hoped.
“It helped me tackle my cramps. That was the most positive effect. But really there were a whole series of improvements. Everything got a lot better,” she told The Local.
Last February, however, she received a visit from the police. Acting on a tip off from a neighbour, they confiscated her plants and took both Eriksson and her personal assistant into custody.
She was detained for 37 days. Her condition worsened while in custody, she said, as the police said it was not their job to pick up her medicine from the pharmacy. Whereas before she was able to move around her apartment with the aid of a crutch, she is now wheelchair bound and in need of assistance for most everyday tasks.
At the subsequent trial in Sollentuna District Court, Eriksson and her assistant were both sentenced to jail for possession and distribution of narcotics. While she admits giving cannabis to visitors, saying she was afraid that people would report her to the police if she turned them down, she insists she never sold it.
Eriksson’s attempts to have the decision overruled fell on deaf ears.
“I went to the court of appeal but they approved the ruling. I also went to the supreme court but they wouldn’t take up my case. Then I turned to the government but got rejected there too,” she said.
Many other countries apply lenient sentences to medical use of cannabis, or turn a blind eye altogether. The UK and Canada have even licensed the drug Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine which alleviates pain caused by MS. But Sweden’s zero tolerance approach to narcotics meant that her belief in the healing properties of marijuana was viewed by the courts as an “aggravating circumstance”.
Eriksson fully expects her condition to deteriorate further, as it is uncertain whether she will be permitted to use the powerful pain relief medicine that has been prescribed to her.
“They don’t allow anything in there that can be construed as an intoxicating substance,” she said.
To add to her woes, social services have refused to cover the cost of her rent for the duration of her sentence.
Representatives of MS sufferers in Sweden say Eriksson’s sentence seems harsh.
“They should be able to give a more lenient sentence when someone with MS is using cannabis – they should take account of this in sentencing guidelines,” said Stefan Käll, chairman of the Swedish Association of Persons with Neurological Disabilities. But he also underlined that people should not take the law into their own hands:
“It is the job of the healthcare sector to make medicine available. As long as it is not allowed [to smoke cannabis] we cannot argue that it is OK to use it.”
Käll was critical that prison authorities appeared to be banning Eriksson from using her prescribed medicine.
“That is a problem. If she has a prescription then she should be able to have the medicine.”
With all avenues sealed off, Eriksson has been ordered to present herself at Hinseberg jail “by February 4th at the latest”.
“It feels hopeless. It’s impossible to describe. And I don’t even know if I’ll have anyhere to live when I get out,” she said.