The rural communities in the Västernorrland county of Northern Sweden are not used to being in the national spotlight, but in 2017 their struggle to stop cutbacks in maternity and emergency care made national news. What are the lessons for all those involved in building counter-power in rural areas of the Global North?
As the world prepares for the 2016 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS 2016), an increasing number of countries around the world now find the regime’s emphasis on punitive approaches to illicit drugs to be problematic and are asking for reform. In this moment of global disagreement, the Brookings project on Improving Global Drug Policy provides a unique comparative evaluation of the effectiveness and costs of international counternarcotics policies and best approaches to reform.
Hanna Wagenius, chair of Sweden's Centre Party's youth wing, thinks that Sweden should take its lead from several places around the world which have legalized cannabis, such as the Netherlands and a number of US states. Sweden has a highly regulated 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. Wagenius has something similar in mind for cannabis. (See also: Center Party youth vote to legalize marijuana)
The statistics were released after six teenagers in Gothenburg were rushed to hospital after taking the drug in excessive quantities. Police have opened an investigation into the matter, while two of the teens remain in a serious condition in the hospital. National broadcaster SVT asked young people in Gothenburg for their feedback on the rise of Spice. Many reported that the drug was cheap and relatively easy to get a hold of.
Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, who was removed from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after one month, this week wrote two rather provocative articles on the Conservative Woman website. Raabe’s main argument is that a better, “alternative approach to the drug problem” would be to create a “drug-free society”. Punitive, zero-tolerance, abstinence-based approaches have been the dominant drug policy model in most parts of the world for over half a century now – and they haven’t worked. They've caused a great deal of harm and haven’t really stopped people taking drugs.
The city of Copenhagen wants to legalize cannabis and, if possible, get supplies of the drug from the United States. Following a Europe-wide trend, Denmark’s capital has been planning a three-year experiment that would aim to wrest the city’s soft drugs trade away from criminal gangs and place it under direct municipal control. But while city officials overwhelmingly support the move, the Danish national government may not let them proceed. Last year the national government rejected more tentative plans that Copenhagen city councillors had approved by 39 votes to 9.
Tradition is disposable. Evidence is marginal. Economic arguments are not important. This, in a nutshell, is what Sweden said to the UN to oppose traditional uses of coca in Bolivia. It is opposite of what it says to the EU to defend the use and sales of snus at home. Sweden may have gained a small amount of favour from the US, and it may have further promoted its reputation for being tough on drugs, but it did so by contradicting itself, providing clear ammunition to those who would seek to enforce the ban on snus and ensure that the export ban is not lifted.
Today the Plurinational State of Bolivia can celebrate a rightful victory, as the country can become formally a party again to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, but without being bound by its unjust and unrealistic requirement that “coca leaf chewing must be abolished.” This represents the successful conclusion of an arduous process in which Bolivia has sought to reconcile its international treaty obligations with its 2009 Constitution, which obliges upholding the coca leaf as part of Bolivia’s cultural patrimony.
Sweden joined the United States and the United Kingdom in objecting to the re-accession of Bolivia to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs after Bolivia had denounced the convention and asked for re-accession with a reservation that allows for the traditional age-old ancestral habit of coca chewing in the country. Italy and Canada also objected, but the objection of Sweden is particularly disturbing.
There is no reliable evidence that tougher criminal sanctions deter drug use or offending. On the contrary, criminalisation worsens the health and wellbeing of drug users, increases risk behaviours, drives the spread of HIV, encourages other crime and discourages drug users from seeking treatment. A report by Australia21, Alternatives to Prohibition, subtitled Illicit drugs: how we can stop killing and criminalising young Australians, sets out the lessons learnt about the failed war on drugs from other countries, especially Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Portugal.