Swedish politician calls for legal cannabis shops

Sweden is famous for its highly regulated state monopoly on alcohol, with only state-owned stores allowed to sell alcoholic beverages. Now one politician wants similar stores for cannabis.

Swedish politician calls for legal cannabis shops
Cannabis plants. Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Hanna Wagenius, chairwoman of Sweden's Centre Party's youth wing, told The Local on Wednesday that Sweden should take its lead from several places around the world which have legalized the drug, such as the Netherlands and a number of US states.

“The Global Commission on Drugs, which is headed by Kofi Annan, advocates this. It is not a controversial position, at least not internationally. But in Sweden we have been raised to think that the whole of our civilization will fall apart if we legalize it, even though that is not the case,” she said.

Sweden has a highly regulated policy on the sale of liquor, with government-owned chain Systembolaget (literally translated as 'the System Company') being the only retail store allowed to sell alcoholic beverages that contain more than 3.5 percent alcohol by volume. And Wagenius has something similar in mind for the psychoactive substance.

“I suppose it would work like at Systembolaget, you go there and pay, but with a lower concentration of THC, which is the active substance in cannabis, than what you get in the black market. And applicable age limits and regulations, of course," said Wagenius.

Swedes buy their alcohol at state-owned chain Systembolaget. Photo: Leif R Jansson/SCANPIX

Cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, is the most used illicit drug in the world, according to the United Nations. The Centre Party's youth organization has pushed for its legalization since 2013.

“We want the sale of cannabis to become regulated, in order to get it off the black market, minimize the risk of damages to people's health, and make sure that fewer people come into contact with organized crime,” said Wagenius.

But her organization has faced opposition from its mother party, which is currently in opposition but was part of Fredrik Reinfeldt's previous centre-right coalition government.

When asked by regional newspaper Länstidningen on social media what she thought of Wagenius' suggestion, Centre party leader Annie Lööf – who hit the headlines last week when she announced she was pregnant – replied via Twitter: “We say no to that. But you already know that.”

Sweden criminalized illicit drug use in 1988, thanks in large part to a two-decade campaign by a group called the Swedish National Association for a Drug-free Society (RNS). It followed a two-year attempt to introduce a more tolerant approach that was considered a failure by authorities.

Anyone even suspected of being 'high' can be detained and given a compulsory urine test. If positive, they are slapped with a criminal charge and must stand trial.

Sweden also puts a strong emphasis on prevention strategies, with extensive drug awareness programmes in schools and even preschools. The THC substance is used in certain cases as approved medical treatment.

The current centre-left coalition is not in favour of changing the country's approach to cannabis.

READ MORE: Swedish drug addicts seek better help in the UK

According to figures released by European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) last year, only nine percent of the Swedish school population has tried cannabis, compared to 39 percent in France, 42 percent in the Czech Republic and around 25 percent in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

But concerns have previously been raised that the country's tough 'zero tolerance' policy may be pushing up the number of drug-related deaths in the country.

In 2012 412 drug-induced deaths were reported in Sweden, double the number in 2004, when 188 drug-induced deaths were logged.