The drug control policies of Sweden and the Netherlands

Sweden and the Netherlands are seen to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum concerning drug policy. The Netherlands adopts a very liberal approach while Sweden adopts a harsh repressive policy. However both argue their policy is the best method and have been successful in dealing the with the drug problem. This question is important as we are at a time where the European Union (EU) is making large efforts to make a unified policy on drugs for all member states.

However this is near impossible with such contrasting methods, aims and ideology for drug policy in Sweden and the Netherlands, with many other states following one or the other. This essay will compare and evaluate the policies of both states' drug policy and will argue that even though on the surface both countries are successful, the Netherlands' liberal approach has been far more successful than Sweden's repressive approach. The essay will be divided into three sub-sections. The first section will be concerned with detailing the drug policy of both Sweden and the Netherlands.

The second section will examine the success of the Netherlands' drug policy as well its failures. The third section will examine the success of Sweden's drug policy but through evaluation and details of failures will argue that in reality under the surface it has not been that much of a great success. This first section will look at the drug policies of first the Netherlands and then that of Sweden. Drug policy for the Netherlands is generally characterised as liberal, pragmatic and rational.

The aim for the Dutch drug policy is not ridding society of drugs all together as this is seen as very much impossible. Instead, the primary goal is to limit risks in conjunction with drug use and so the policy is based on 'normalisation', which means drugs are seen as "… a normal problem affecting society in general, rather than a problem facing the abnormal and therefore isolated individual user. " As a result drug addicts have always been seen as patients in need of help rather than as criminals requiring punishment, (Chatwin, 2003, p568 and quote p568, and Mol & Trautmann, 1995, p16).

This liberal policy where there were provisions for drug addicts was born through a radical amendment of the Opium Act in 1976 which also involved an attempt to differentiate between drug markets. There was a distinction made between 'hard' drugs, which involve an unacceptable degree of risk to society (drugs such cocaine, heroin and amphetamine), and hemp products, which are known as 'soft' drugs, (Dorn, Jepsen, Savona, 1996, p97). These principles have lead Dutch policy as being described as decriminalisation.

Drugs are not legalised but possession for personal consumption is tolerated and even though selling hard drugs is illegal and police have the power to prosecute if it gets out of hand they generally prefer to let it happen in the open and therefore guide addicts to treatment and spot dealers and use them to get leads to the main problem, which is the importers, (Clutterbuck, 1995, p152). The principle of a differentiation of markets has resulted in the use and sale of cannabis being tolerated.

By permitting the establishment of coffee shops which sell cannabis and marijuana in a controlled, semi-legal environment, the Dutch have successfully separated the market for soft and hard drugs. This is based on the assumption that soft drugs are less damaging to health than hard drugs with its aim to prevent young people who experiment with soft drugs from coming into contact and therefore transferring to more dangerous hard drugs, which is based on the assumption that "…

people are going to make the transition from soft to hard drugs as a result of social factors than because of physiological ones," (Dorn, 1999, pp218). The Swedish drug policy is described as restrictive, meaning that measures are directed at preventing the population coming into contact with illegal narcotic substances. The basic assumption is that all non-medical use of drugs constitutes abuse.

During the 1960s and 1970s the Swedes had a relatively liberal drug policy but during the late 1970s a far more repressive policy began to be implemented. Previously it was thought not to be in the interest of the public to prosecute in the majority of cases of possession of narcotics, but by the 1980s the law was changed to ensure that every incidence of possession of illegal drugs was taken to court.

By 1993 the police had powers to do blood and urine tests to determine whether drugs had been consumed and if results show to be positive, to prosecute from this evidence alone. While the Netherlands and other states focused their drug control policy on large-scale drug traffickers and so leaving small scale users and dealers relatively alone, Sweden believes that every user and dealer should be targeted in an attempt to create a drug-free society.

Neither does Sweden differentiate between 'soft' and 'hard' drugs. In Sweden cannabis is regarded as causing psychological damage, making people irresponsible, being addictive and is seen as a gateway leading to other more damaging and dangerous drugs. This was inspired by the "stepping stone hypothesis" and the "total consumption model" which was so influential on their alcohol policy, (Chatwin, 2003, p571 and Decorte & Korf, 2004, p142).