The debate around Sweden’s zero-tolerance drug policy has been reignited in recent months, due to the approach’s failure to reduce drug deaths.

13 May 2019

Sweden currently has one of the highest rates of drug-related deaths in Europe, with 87.8 such deaths per million people recorded in 2016 – the vast majority of which involved opioids, such as heroin. This rate is more than four times the EU average of 21.8 deaths per million people.

In addition to opioids, an increasing number of deaths in the country has been attributed to cocaine.

The Swedish government claims its strict legislation is aimed at reducing drug use, but that may be on the rise too. Recent government data indicates a slight rise in cannabis use among young people, while “ecstasy” (MDMA) use is also on the increase – according to Swedish publication, The Local.

Under the Penal Law on Narcotics – the backbone of Swedish drug policy - possession of drugs for personal use continues to be criminalised, and can be punished by a fine or prison sentence. The country's national broadcaster, SVT, found that a majority of political parties in the government's Committee on Health and Welfare now supports reevaluating this approach.

The undertaking of such an evaluation been endorsed by representatives of the Liberals, the Centre Party, the Sweden Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Left Party, but neither party from the ruling coalition - the Social Democratic Party and Green Party – have agreed to the review.

Michael Anefur, a Christian Democrat MP, said “It has been a long time and we should evaluate the law and also consider how things look in other countries. Over the past 30 years, views on drug dependency have shifted from being seen as a sign of mental weakness to an understanding that it is a disease.”

Over 20 lawyers from around the country have gone a step further, and implored the government to make a specific change: decriminalise the personal possession of drugs. In an open letter, the group of lawyers said the current approach “causes great damage [and] directly counteracts our high ambitions for public health and welfare in society”.

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