America v Sweden Drug use is prominent in most if not all countries around the world. The use of illegal substances has created a market that makes millions of dollars every year. Illegal drugs refer to ‘narcotic, psychotropic and related substances produced, traded or used in contravention to domestic law or international drug control organizations’ (Wyler 2008). Narcotic drugs include cocaine, heroin, opium and cannabis, psychotropic substances include ecstasy, LSD, amphetamine and methamphetamine. In some instances production and sale of controlled substances are legally permitted for medical and scientific use only.
Nonetheless drug use is a universal problem that most countries face, with the global drug problem generating between ‘$100 billion to $1 trillion in illicit profit per year’(Wyler,2008). Moreover, because the drug trade is such a lucrative business this has led to ‘the revenue from illegal drug industry being used for international drug trafficking organizations to evade and compete with law enforcement officials, penetrate legitimate economic structures through money laundering and some instances challenges the authority of national government’. (Wyler,2008).
From the evidence above, it is clear that drugs pose as a threat to countries everywhere, and policies are needed to combat this problem. Different countries use different approaches to deal with the drug problem, some countries have more stringent policies on illicit drugs than others, with varying outcomes of polices implemented. This paper will be looking at America’s policies for illicit substances compared to Sweden’s policies. The united states use an extremely punitive illegal drug policy. America has a high percentage of its population that consumes illegal substances, costing the tax payer billions of dollars each year.
According to the drug policy alliance ‘America spends more than 51,000,000,000 on the war on drugs annually and in 2010 1,638,846 people were arrested on non-violent drug charges’(Drug Policy Alliance,2012). On the other hand Sweden uses a more restrictive approach. Sweden stands out because it is ‘one of the first countries in western Europe to be afflicted by the modern drug epidemic’(Anderrson et al 2002). The Swedish drug problem began in the 1930’s and amphetamines were seen as the biggest problem. Unlike Sweden, America’s drug problem can date back to the turn of the 19th century.
One of the most significant developments in American drug policy was the Harrison Act 1914 which‘ sought to control the use and trade of drugs this act confined the distribution of heroin and cocaine to physicians’ (Blanchard &Chin:2007). The public’s perception on drugs is also a determining factor on drug policies, this is because initially ‘drug policy in the united states focused on public health issues until 1920’s, when the temperance movement, in conjunction with attitudes of nationalism, nativism, fear of anarchy and communism, shifted public perception to view drug abuse as a national security threat’ (Blanchard & Chin:2007).
Sweden on the other hand has always viewed the use of drugs as a problem, rather than seeing it as a crime they saw it more as a health issue and ‘used legal prescription to deal with the drug problem between 1965-67’(Lafreniere:2002). Political influence also has an effect on policy, and in America President Richard Nixon’s saw that ‘Americas public enemy number one was drug abuse. in order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive ending the drug war’(Angell et al,2011). It was taken a step further by Reagan’s administration who declared it a war on drugs in the 1980’s.
Similar to America, Sweden’s drug policies changed with different ideas. Sweden’s drug policies have not always been restrictive, ‘in the 1960s, its policy was fairly liberal, basically reflecting a harm reduction approach’(Lafreniere :2002). This changed after psychiatrist Nils Bejort ‘aimed to stop legal prescription and in 1969 founded the national association for a drug free society, that would promote the idea of restrictive drug policy by educating both the public and his medical colleagues’(Costa:2007). This eventually led Sweden out of a permissive to restrictive drug policy, which continues today.
Under a restrictive drug policy, Sweden have a vision for a drug free society. In a drug free society ‘the main aim is concertized in three sub targets, reducing the recruitment of new drug abuses(mainly through prevention directed at young people), inducing more drug abusers to kick the habit(through care and treatment), and reducing the supply of drug(through criminal measures)’(Anderrson et al:2002). America’s war on drugs has a similar approach in that , it ‘emphasizes criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs’ (globalcommissionondrugs,2011).
The biggest difference with the war on drugs approach is that it does not place any emphasis on treating drug abusers like Sweden’s drug free society approach. The foundation of US federal law today comes under the controlled substance act 1970. Under this act drugs are based on a series of schedules, and put into categories with different levels of punishment, there are five schedules, but for the purpose of this paper, I will only mention schedule I and II.
The most restrictions are placed on ‘Schedule I drugs which cannot be possessed by anyone, except for the purpose of research that has been licensed by the federal government’(Dolin:2001) . This Schedule includes drugs such as marijuana, heroin, MDMA, LSD which are deemed to have no medical use and a high abuse potential. For schedule I, you can receive ’15 years to life for manufacturing and distribution, 5 to 20 years for possession over 5g, and 1 year for 5g or less’(Dolin:2001). Schedule II substances, which have ‘an accepted medical, also have a high potential of abuse, but the potential is less than those in Schedule I’(Dolin:2001).
Included in Schedule II are cocaine, opium, morphine, oxytocin and codeine. These heavy sentences on drug offences show that drugs in the United States are heavily criminalized and are not seen as a medical problem. On the other hand Sweden’s main drug legislation is the Narcotics drug act 1968. Under the narcotics drug act ‘“narcotic drugs” is defined in section 8 and includes medical products or substances hazardous to health with addictive properties, there is no distinction made between hard and soft drugs, however the nature of the substance is, among the criteria to determine the seriousness of an offence ’(Lafreniere:2002 ).
Similar to the controlled substance act, the narcotics drug criminal act also comes under five subcategories, unlike the controlled substance act which puts each one under schedules, the narcotics drug criminal act is set out in five lists. ‘List I deals with illegal drugs without medical use; lists II to IV deal with narcotic substances with medical usage and regulation of its import/export; and list V deals with narcotic substances outside international controls. Pursuant to the legislation, narcotic medicines may only be supplied on prescription from a doctor, dentist or veterinarian’ (Lafreniere:2002).
In terms of punishment Sweden is less likely to give heavy sentences like America. Sweden uses ‘three degrees of penalties for drug offences: minor, ordinary and serious. Penalties for minor drug offences consist of fines or up to six months’ imprisonment, for ordinary drug offences, up to three years, and for serious offences, two to ten years imprisonment’(Lafreniere:2002). The vast difference in sentencing between Sweden and America also means that less people are incarcerated in Swedn, whereas the ‘U. S has less than 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its population are prisoners’(Donohue et al:2011 ).
They difference in population size is also because the ‘Swedes concentrate instead on treating addicts with a drug substitute at their GPs’ surgery and they are then given rehabilitation help in the community to get them back into work and drug education for schoolchildren is compulsory’(Waugh 2003). Sweden and the U. S both use drug education programs in schools , however, in the U. S. more often than not, previous convicts are often discriminated against in the job market and are more likely to return to drugs, which also leads to a higher rate of reoffending which adds to already populated prisons.
The drug free society initiative is in all more effective than the war on drugs. As seen in statistics ‘76% of American people and 67% of police chiefs have declared the drug war a failure’. The war on drugs ‘has failed to curb the supply nor reduced the amount of illegal substances in the united states’(Angell et al 2011). On the other hand the drug free society is more favored in Sweden as ‘fewer people are likely to take drugs in their and ‘their low use compare favorably to other developed countries’(Andersson et al 2002), this clearly shows the negative attitude that Sweden has towards all drugs.
On the other hand Americans attitudes towards drugs, especially marijuana lead to discrepancies in legislation, because of differing attitudes towards the legalization of medical marijuana, currently 19 states have legalised marijuana. America can adapt certain aspects of the drug free society, which may help in the reduction in the amount of drug use and also the amount of incarceration and also money spent. America can adopt a more rehabilitative approach towards heavy users and also help with the allocation on jobs, that the Swedish drug policy uses.
Nonetheless doing so will add on to the already high cost of the war on drugs. Implementing such an approach, does not necessarily mean that the drug problem in America will decline, this is because of the different views that Americans have about drugs. Moreover other issues have to be taken into consideration, such as the availability of drugs. Sweden are probably less likely to be affected by drugs because the drug supply route is not specifically aimed at Sweden, whereas the U. S are more exposed o drugs. This is because most drugs come from south America and ‘drug supply routes transverse nearly every area of the US map, with major routes spinning off into secondary routes and people transporting drugs by land, air and sea using all means available to them’(recoveryfirst. org). Even though the routes may be heavily monitored, the small percentage that are transported into the U. S have an adverse effects. To conclude the drug problem is something that both America and Sweden are affected by.
Both Sweden and America have gone through some historical developments that have affected their drug policy. America’s drug problem has existed much longer than Sweden’s however Sweden also stands out as it was one of the first European countries to be affected by drugs. Both countries use five subcategories to define drugs. Both see drugs as a problem in society, however they differ in that, America sees it more as a criminal problem whereas Sweden see it more as a health problem then a criminal problem, and these views have had an effect on their legislation.
America is more likely to impose a harsher sentence, whereas Sweden are more likely to focus on treatment. Nonetheless both countries use programs to educate youth about drugs, however the success of such programs is questionable. In Sweden the overall population have a more negative view on drugs compared to that of America, in which more people have varied views especially on the use of marijuana. In all, Sweden appears to have had a more successful outcome with their drug free initiative than America’s war on drug initiative.
Moreover even though there are some similarities between both initiatives, America can adopt the aspect of rehabilitation into their imitative. Nonetheless this may not work as America has a higher population than Sweden ,it may be difficult to do so effectively. Moreover America is more likely to be exposed to illicit drugs, because it is more vulnerable to the drug supply route. Most illicit drugs come from South America and it is much easier to import illicit substances to America than to Sweden even with the strict regulations and patrols.
Furthermore the population in America exceeds that of Sweden and therefore there is more profit to be made in America. In all the drug problem is not something that can be solved simply by policy, as several factors have to be considered such as individual circumstance and opportunity, if America adopts the treatment aspect that Sweden uses it may be a success however this will take time and money. References Andersson, Bengt, Anita Lonnberg, and Barbara Andersson. “National Report. Sweden 2002. ” National Institute of Public Health, 2002. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.