I'm talking Sweden: the rich, successful little nation of pop, IKEA and blond women which has an attitude towards illicit drugs that makes me wonder if somewhere on my father's side some Swedish blood has crept into my genetic profile. A recent article which appears to be from that country sums it up:
Cocaine, ecstasy and even cannabis are rarely seen in streets and clubs in line with Sweden's official "zero tolerance" approach. The ambitious target is clear.
"The overarching goal: a society free from illegal drugs," it states.
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.
"The most important link in the chain when it comes to the drug problem is the use of drugs, the demand that comes from the individual user," said RNS secretary general Per Johansson.
"If you don't focus on the demand you will never be effective combatting the supply of drugs."
Sweden also puts strong emphasis on prevention, with extensive drug awareness programmes in schools and even preschools. The country now has some of the continent's lowest rates of drug consumption among students aged 15 and 16.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), only nine percent of the Swedish school population had tried cannabis, compared to 39 percent in France, 42 percent in the Czech Republic and around 25 percent in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
'Something not Swedish'
A survey by the Swedish Drug Users Union in 2008 showed that a majority of the population supports the strict policy. Every other Swede said that possession or cultivation of cannabis for personal use should be punished with prison, and six in 10 believed that a "total war" on cannabis -- which the survey defined as arresting and jailing all dealers and users -- was the best tactic.
"Drugs have always been seen as something not Swedish, like something foreign," said Börje Olsson, a sociology professor at Stockholm University.
"They are not part of the Swedish morals. People think 'this has nothing to do with us'."
The latest EMCDDA data shows that the number of Swedish adults between 15 and 64 who had consumed cocaine during the last year was almost five times smaller than the biggest consumer, Spain.
For ecstasy, consumption figures in Britain and the Netherlands were 14 times higher than in Sweden.
It shows a few thing, I think. Firstly, it appears that a key thing as to how seriously and successfully a nation takes on their "drug war" is cultural, and the cultural attitude does not uniformly run along the Left/Right divide. (Compare other successful drug fighting nations such as Japan and Singapore.)
Police play a key role in enforcement. 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.
Secondly, I think I have read that in Australia, at least, there is concern that drug education in high school may have the unintended effect of increasing curiosity and experimentation for those inclined to do so. That doesn't seem to be the case in Sweden.
Thirdly, I am curious as to how drug use is co-related across Europe in terms of economic success.
I also note that drug use follows weird patterns across various nations. Form the BBC report I just linked to, on why the UK doesn't have a crystal meth problem:
And yet in Australia, it is thought to be particularly popular in rural area.New figures from the Home Office estimate that in the past year about 17,000 people aged 16-59 in England and Wales took methamphetamine - fewer than for any other drug recorded. About 27,000 people had used heroin, 47,000 crack cocaine, 120,000 ketamine and two million cannabis."The prevalence has been pretty much confined to the male gay scene and even within that what you might call the heavy-end party scene of injecting crystal meth and promiscuous sexual activity," says Harry Shapiro of the charity Drugscope.
In the UK the drug is often used at sex parties and combined with others like Viagra and GBL, says Dr Owen Bowden-Jones, consultant psychiatrist at the Club Drug Clinic in central London.
Most of its 300 or so referrals for using crystal meth are from London, but some are starting to come from other cities like Manchester. A small number are from the straight clubbing community, but they remain the exception, says Bowden-Jones.
"On the West Coast of America it's a drug of deprivation, in London it seems to be a drug of affluent gay men and in Eastern Europe it's associated with prostitution."
Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, the alliance of Left and Libertarianism which is promoting a softening of cultural attitudes towards drug use in the US and Australia is not good for the countries in the long run.