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Protecting Prohibition: the Role of Swedish Information Symposia in Keeping Cannabis a High-Profile Problem
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.
2015 (English)In: Contemporary Drug Problems, ISSN 0091-4509, E-ISSN 2163-1808, Vol. 42, no 3, 209-225 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

During recent years, political discussions about how to deal with cannabis use have become increasingly centered on harm reduction and liberalization in large parts of the Western world. In Sweden, however, no such re-framing of the issue has occurred. There has been political status quo with emphasis on prohibition and zero tolerance. This study aims to elucidate how the cannabis policy discourse in Sweden is characterized today to legitimize restrictive drug policy and counter global changes. Two symposia dedicated to dissemination of cannabis information in Sweden were analyzed to understand how policy players, service providers, and other professionals invited to speak at these events argue to maintain cannabis use a high-profile societal problem that necessitates prohibition. With the help of Carol Bacchi’s theoretical approach “What’s the Problem Represented to be,” we critically analyzed how cannabis is constructed in the material. This meant focusing on what policy and service provision that is described as meaningful and effective as a way to understand what the problem of cannabis is represented to be. Our analysis showed, among other things, that cannabis-positive attitudes are seen as utterly problematic, that youth users are portrayed as extremely vulnerable, and that current government responses are perceived as righteous and compassionate. It also showed how speakers at symposia construct a morally upright “us” who promote “reliable” scientific evidence about the dangers of cannabis. In this way, the choice between keeping prohibition and trying liberalization stands out as one between letting reliable or unreliable research guide drug policy. We conclude that youth becomes a perfect category to rationalize current problematizations; a vessel that may carry and protect drug prohibition in a globalized world where cannabis is increasingly handled like an ordinary commodity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 42, no 3, 209-225 p.
Keyword [en]
cannabis policy, problematization, youth, Sweden, Carol Bacchi, discourse analysis
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-122479DOI: 10.1177/0091450915599348OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-122479DiVA: diva2:866542
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2006-1523
Available from: 2015-11-03 Created: 2015-11-03 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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