A few days ago, a Russian military aircraft nearly collided with a SAS passenger plane somewhere between Copenhagen and Malmö. The plane was flying without its transponder on, so was apparently invisible. You know, except to the people in the plane. This isn’t the first time this has happened and the way Russia is going it won’t be the last. They’ve violated several countries’ airspace and don’t seem all too concerned about doing it. In fact, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin seems pretty sure the Swedes are just a bit paranoid and imagined the near miss. He was quoted as saying “[t]he Swedish authorities also recently said there was a submarine in their waters. There wasn't. Now they say again that they have seen something. I'm afraid the Swedes visit Pusher Street very often.” Then he went on to make veiled threats about not waking up the Russian bear and blah blah blah, Putin is manly and rides horses without his shirt on.
What is much more interesting than the Russian bear, is the Swedes and weed. Because that’s what this ambassador is getting at. Pusher Street is, of course, the street in Christiania, Copenhagen, where you can buy a whole lot of hash. Cannabis. Clearly, comrade Vanin hasn’t spent much time in Sweden. But I have. And maybe you’re thinking of spending some time here. Or even moving here:
Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries
And what better way to prepare for your move to Sweden after having found a place to live and understanding the laundry system than to take a look at the drug policy of the country?
I should say this up front: I don’t smoke weed. I haven’t tried it and just am not all that interested. So keep that in mind as you read, but coming from the US where marijuana use is becoming common in the medical community, where my home state has legalized it, it’s a topic of conversation in both Sweden and the US, so I suppose I'm an advocate of legalization. And in that classic way that helps people earn credibility – it’s cool, I know a guy who smokes. He told me I could write this. So without further ado, some information about weed in Sweden. You know, just in case.
Weed will make Swedes nervous. And I’m painting with broad strokes here. If you want it, you can find it. People smoke it. It exists, you can buy it, albeit illegally. But it makes Swedes nervous. I remember studying abroad in Uppsala years and years ago. I remember going to a party where I don’t remember if I drank too much. I remember smelling weed. But that smell is distinct. And I watched as people around me started leaving the party. Clearing out. It was just too much. Drink yourself to the point of vomiting and unconsciousness? No worries. That’s just a normal Friday or Saturday night. But weed? You may as well have clubbed a baby seal while shooting heroin and chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! in the middle of rush hour at Central Station. People will give you a wide berth.
It’s just not socially (or legally) acceptable. It wasn’t always this way. Thanks to Nils Bejerot’s campaign for zero tolerance back in the 1960s, the Riksförbundet Narkotikafritt Samhälle (The National Association for a Drug-Free Society) was formed in 1969. And that was that. Under the impression that drug usage works as a an epidemic and is spread from user to user, RNS uses a mix of imprisoning users, treating users, identifying early users, and some early education for the young ‘uns. And with that, Bejerot and RNS convinced everyone that drugs are bad m’kay. Including weed.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, as of 2012, lifetime prevalence for cannabis use for adults aged 15-64 is only 14.9%. That means that only 14.9% of those surveyed had ever tried weed over the course of their entire life. Denmark comes in around 35%. Turns out Pusher Street is pushing that number higher. You can check your favorite European country’s weed numbers here. Compare that to the United States where some studies show that over 50% of those surveyed had tried weed sometime during their illustrious lives. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration put that number at 51.9% in 2013 for young adults. That same EMCDDA study put the Swedish number for young adults at 22.2% in 2012. Math is hard, but that’s about twice as much.
Drug use is separated into three different categories: minor, ordinary, and serious. Seems easy enough. What that means in time served kind of depends. Generally speaking, a minor offense means you’ll probably just pay a fine, although you could spend up to six months of time in jail. If you bump up your offense to the ordinary one, you cold be facing up to three years in prison. A serious offense will result in a prison term of between two and ten years. Or, if you’re an immigrant, I suppose just deportation.
But how do you move up the ladder of offenses? It mostly has to do with the amount. A minor offense for weed will mean about 50 grams of cannabis (that’s about 1.7 ounces). Ordinary is about 51 grams to two kilos. Serious is more than two kilos. The EMCDDA and, strangely enough, the Parliament of Canada, has a wonderful overview of Sweden’s drug policy.
While plenty of countries (and American states) are changing their attitudes towards marijuana use, Sweden, well, doesn’t. There’s not even much of a discussion about potential legalization. Drugs are bad. Marijuana is a drug. Marijuana is bad. Drugs are illegal. Marijuana is a drug. Marijuana is illegal. It really is that simple for a lot of Swedes. Every now and again someone will pop up and write a piece in the newspaper calling for a change. Every now and again a professor will make a statement pointing out that yes, marijuana is not all that great for you, but neither is alcohol, maybe we should reconsider the drug policy. And then those articles will get lost in the internet somewhere and folks will go back to buying weed illegally or just leaving the country and heading down to Pusher Street in Copenhagen. Just maybe not at the rate that Vanin thinks.
Welcome to Sweden. And marijuana policy.