Of all the EU member states, Sweden’s rigid zero-tolerance policy for THC makes it the most restrictive EU state when it comes to cannabis regulation.
Most times these days when the Nordic countries are mentioned it’s usually to talk about their forward-thinking mentalities on prison systems, their strong economies, flourishing tourism industries, and social systems that are actually beneficial to their people. In fact, when it comes to many things like healthcare, school systems, and worker benefits, places like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are thought of as the epitome of advancement and on a higher level than the rest of the world.
This does not extend to their policies on cannabis, particularly Sweden.
While much of the world – including most other EU member states – are slowly sliding toward more lax cannabis laws, Sweden has actually tightened theirs up more recently. In fact, of all the EU member states, recent court decisions have left Sweden as the most restrictive when it comes to dealing with cannabis in any form.
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Sweden & drugs
They’re not legal. That’s the short version. All of it. All of it, isn’t legal. They really don’t mess around over there. To be clear, drugs of pretty much every variety are not legal in any capacity. Under the Penal Law on Narcotics, the use or possession of any illicit substance is illegal and punishable by law.
Smaller offences incur fines and shorter jail sentences of 6 months, with more serious offences garnering 6-10 years imprisonment. Use and possession violations make up the grand majority of drug law offences, the number of which had been declining until 2017. While there have been several updates made to the original laws, one of the more notable ones is the criminalization of small amounts of drugs for personal use in 1988, with prison terms added as a penalty in 1993.
Sweden & cannabis
Cannabis is essentially 100% illegal for both medicinal and recreational use. In fact, in a June 18, 2019 court ruling regarding a CBD oil, it was found that any product containing any amount of THC is subject to Swedish narcotics laws. Industrial hemp is exempt from this law, but any product made from it, is not. It all came about because a man was arrested in connection with having several bottles of CBD oil with an unspecified THC content in 2017, and prosecuted for it.
The case went all the way to Sweden’s supreme court where the ruling was made that though it was sourced from legal industrial hemp, that the oil itself qualified as a narcotic because of the presence of THC. The court reinforced that a preparation is anything containing psychotropic substances – in whatever state it is (oil, tincture, mixture), and that THC is a psychotropic substance. Put together, it makes anything coming out of the cannabis plant with any amount of THC, an illegal product.
The EU standard for THC in hemp products is a maximum of .2%, with specific countries lowering, or slightly raising, the quantity allowed in legal products. Sweden is the only one to lower that amount all the way down to zero, making products with any trace amount of THC, illegal. This means that CBD – cannabidiol – a cannabis cannabinoid that does not have psychoactive properties, but has been shown repeatedly in research to help with a myriad of health problems from insomnia to pain management, is also illegal if it has any amount of THC in it, regardless of how small.
CBD has become more popular globally in the last several years, offering possible solutions to medical issues that otherwise require heavy pharmaceuticals, or have no immediate answer. The use of CBD has acted as a big support in the quest for cannabis legalization, providing a non-psychoactive benefit profile to a plant mainly associated with getting high. Many countries that have not loosened their recreational cannabis laws, have loosened their medicinal cannabis laws. Sweden is not one of them.
Does Sweden have a cannabis culture?
Even in the most restrictive countries, there is often growing pushback amongst citizens when it comes to cannabis laws. Throughout history, cannabis use has been insistent, like a pesky cockroach that can’t quite be snuffed out. In this day and age, it almost seems silly that this point hasn’t sunk in completely, and governments are still trying to do what they’ve never been able to accomplish (and with a drug that really poses no danger).
But that seems to be the case, and for however forward-thinking Sweden is when it comes to dealing with social issues, it remains in the dark ages of understanding when it comes to dealing with cannabis, and this while being a part of Europe which has been shifting towards looser cannabis regulation over the years.
For a country that is so determined to go against changing global policies, Sweden is far from actually being rid of marijuana use. Cannabis is the most often used illegal substance in Sweden, with a survey by the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN) in 2017 finding that 4% of citizens 18-34 had used at least one illegal substance in the past year.
On the other hand, statistics from the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drug (ESPAD) point to Sweden having less than half the European average of cannabis use among school students, which isn’t surprising given how strict the laws are there. The marijuana culture that does exist, does so in a very underground way, but much like that cockroach, it never manages to be snuffed out completely.
We don’t smoke it, but we buy the stocks!
In one of those great little turnarounds, while Sweden has some of the most repressive cannabis laws out there, Swedish investors sure don’t miss a good investment opportunity, even if it means investing in companies that sell illicit drugs, or paraphernalia for them.
And there don’t seem to be any laws against that. In 2018 there was reporting on just how involved Swedish investors are getting in the worldwide cannabis markets with cannabis growers and growing paraphernalia companies bringing in hundreds of millions of Swedish crowns within just the first couple months of 2018.
It’s a clear, but not unexpected, contradiction where the business/investment side of life, is in direct opposition to penal law, and it goes a long way to show where loyalties really lie, and how the opportunity for big profits can potentially offset, and work to change, super stringent laws. Hopefully in the future, cannabis use policy will be as lax as cannabis investing policy in Sweden.
A country like Sweden has a lot to be proud of, and in many ways is a global leader when it comes to government and social infrastructure. It rates high on livability scales, is considered a clean and beautiful country, and seems to invest heavily in the lives and well-being of its people with things like free health care and free education.
For these reasons, it’s hard to argue – I mean, they’re doing a pretty good job, right? And people seem to be healthier than in other places; Sweden does generally rank as one of the healthier countries. So, naturally, it’s hard to point at the country and say they’re doing something wrong. However, it creates a bit of a disconnect that such a forward-thinking country that cares for its citizens, would deny them a beneficial medicine, and not work to stay up-to-date on changing medical knowledge when it comes to cannabis.
I suppose old patterns are hard to break, and countries like Sweden and Japan highlight this idea. It will be interesting in the coming years to see just how tightly Sweden holds to its anti-cannabis policies, and how the country is liable to change in different ways by giving them up.
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