Drugs confiscated by the Swedish Customs Service. Photo: Christine Olsson / TT
Swedish drug laws have not been evaluated in decades, even as the country’s harsh approach has left it increasingly isolated from its neighbours. But the political winds might now be blowing in a different direction.
After the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Sveriges kommuner och landsting, SKL) recently came out in support of re-evaluating the nation’s penal code for drug offenses, SVT found that a majority of the political parties on the Committee on Health and Welfare also believe it is time to give drug laws a new look.
In a survey of the committee’s members, the Liberals, the Centre Party, the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Left Party all said that nation's drug legislation should be revisited.
Michael Anefur, one of five Christian Democrat MPs on the committee, said that other countries have rethought their approach to drug use and addiction and that it is time for Sweden to do the same.
“It has been a long time and we should evaluate the law and also consider how things look in other countries,” he told SVT. “Over the past 30 years, views on drug dependency have shifted from being seen as a sign of mental weakness to an understanding that it is a disease.”
The Left Party, which is the only political party in Sweden currently advocating for the legalization of drugs for personal use, said it’s high time to consider the effects of Sweden’s current approach.
“Have the number of addicts decreased? Have addicts received proper care? What have the laws meant for society?” Karin Rågsjö asked in response to the SVT survey.
She added that Sweden should learn from Portugal, which has seen dramatic drops in drug usage, drug-related crimes and overdose deaths since it decriminalized all drugs in 2001.
Sweden's long-standing zero-tolerance drugs policy is based on the fundamental vision of a “drug-free society”, and was shaped by lobbying group The Association for a Drug-Free Society (RNS). The group, founded by psychiatrist and “father of Swedish drugs policy” Nils Bejerot in 1969, pushes for the prevention of drug use through penalties rather than treatment of drug addiction. This has led to tough policing with a focus on small crimes of possession.
As the Swedish government's website explains, the zero-tolerance policy makes no distinction between “hard” and “soft” drugs. Police can detain and give a compulsory urine test to anyone they suspect of being high – followed by a criminal charge if proven to be true.
While SKL’s proposal and the committee members’ openness might perhaps reveal a shift in thinking, it is far from universal.
The ruling Social Democrats said they supported the general notion that “all legislation should be evaluated continuously” but MP Kristina Nilsson said in a statement that “the party’s starting point is that drug use should be criminalized.” The Green Party said “we are negative toward legalization and stand behind a continued restrictive drug policy”, while the Moderates also said they “stick by the restrictive approach that has characterized Sweden’s drug policies”.