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Legitimacy through scaremongering: the discursive role of alcohol in online discussions of cannabis use and policy
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD).
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.
2013 (English)In: Addiction Research and Theory, ISSN 1606-6359, E-ISSN 1476-7392, Vol. 21, no 6, 469-478 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In Sweden, prohibitionist drug policy has contributed to making cannabis an illegal drug, viewed as dangerous, while alcohol is considered a legitimate recreational commodity. But the official Swedish cannabis discourse is now being contested on internet. In virtual environments an often employed way to try to legitimize cannabis use is by comparing it to alcohol. This indicates the importance of analyzing how substances are attributed with meaning in various contexts. This study aims to describe and analyze the discursive role of alcohol in Swedish online discussions of cannabis use and policy. Approximately 700 alcohol-related comments, posted during one year period, were retrieved from the cannabis-section of Swedish Flashback Forum (a website open for public viewing). The sample was analyzed qualitatively with analytical tools such as nodal points, analogies, distinctions and typological examples. Two concepts, danger and discrimination, were identified as nodal points in a cannabis legalization discourse, and provided a backdrop from which comparisons between alcohol and cannabis were made meaningful. We have found that cannabis and alcohol ‘‘changed places’’ in these online discussions. The participants drew on a prohibitionist cannabis discourse but applied its arguments to alcohol; alcohol was thereby given the role of the ‘‘ideal enemy’’ while cannabis was presented as a harmless plant rejected by society on moral rather than scientific grounds. The relevance of acknowledging and reflecting upon the influence that online ‘‘talk’’ has on young people’s attitudes towards drugs is discussed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 21, no 6, 469-478 p.
Keyword [en]
Cannabis, alcohol, internet, discourse, Flashback
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-83949DOI: 10.3109/16066359.2012.731115ISI: 000326043600005OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-83949DiVA: diva2:577859
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2006-1523
Available from: 2012-12-17 Created: 2012-12-17 Last updated: 2017-04-18Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Cannabis discourses in contemporary Sweden: Continuity and change
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Cannabis discourses in contemporary Sweden: Continuity and change
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this thesis is to study how cannabis is constructed in contemporary Sweden, which policy responses are promoted as rational, and how international cannabis trends are received in this context. The four papers are the result of analyzing empirical material from three different sub-studies: 1) a qualitative study of online discussions about cannabis and drug policy, 2) a qualitative and comparative study of print media articles from 2002 and 2012, and 3) a qualitative study of oral presentations from cannabis information symposia. All papers are based on a social constructionist approach.

A point of departure is that attitudes and regulations on cannabis have changed in large parts of the Western world. In Sweden, however, strict prohibition of cannabis is still central in the national drug laws. Some of the main findings can thus be gathered in discussions on continuity and change. In Swedish online discussions, there seems to be a strong desire to change the national cannabis policy in line with international developments. This discussion propagates alternative views on cannabis, in which comparisons to alcohol become vital and more liberal cannabis policies become logical. These discussions are also characterized by continuity, as many arguments for liberal cannabis policies seem to be based on traditional social democratic values and prohibitionist “scaremongering” arguments. Continuity is also what seems to characterize traditional print media, where cannabis is generally portrayed as a potent and illegal drug producing social problems. However, this arena also shows signs of change, as the material from 2012 includes stories on cannabis as an economic asset as well as a recreational substance. Both traditional print media and cannabis information symposia focus on youth consumers, who are seen as particularly vulnerable to cannabis effects. Such constructions seem important for protecting prohibition from international influences and for a continuous discourse centered on the dangers of cannabis.

It is concluded that cannabis appears to be able to represent almost anything. As such it can be “used” for any purpose to promote a whole set of ideas related to policy often based on what is considered as scientific evidence. Depending on the context, it thus seems possible that cannabis is medicinal, recreational, harmful, and addictive. If so, and if all of these constructions are in some way “real,” then it is suggested that cannabis necessitates a much more tailored and nuanced response than that which prohibition can offer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Social Work, Stockholm University, 2017. 95 p.
Series
Stockholm studies in social work, ISSN 0281-2851 ; 35Dissertations at the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD), 17
Keyword
cannabis, Sweden, discourse, social construction, prohibition, legalization, de-criminalization, internet, online, media, professional, symposia
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-140931 (URN)978-91-7649-750-0 (ISBN)978-91-7649-751-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-05-24, Aula Svea, Socialhögskolan, Sveavägen 160, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-04-28 Created: 2017-04-03 Last updated: 2017-04-21Bibliographically approved

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