Mats Ramstedt: “It is important to keep the availability of cannabis low”

Earlier this month the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (Centralförbundet för alkohol- och narkotikaupplysning – CAN) published a report which showed that the proportion of adults in Sweden who regularly use cannabis is increasing. The proportion of Sweden’s adult population who used the drug in the previous 12 months rose from 2.5 percent in 2013 to 3.6 percent in 2017.

What could that mean for the wider Swedish drug policy? We asked from the CAN´s head of research and one of the report´s author, Mats Ramstedt.

CAN´s recent report found that cannabis use is growing in Sweden? What are the main reasons for that development?

As to the supply side, the amount of seizures of cannabis reached an all-time high in 2017 with 4.5 tons compared with 2 tons in 2013. Although this may be the result of more activities by the customs and the police, it suggests that the availability of cannabis is high.

Did you find that growth only with cannabis or with other drugs as well?

Of those estimates that were comparable with the 2013 data, the prevalence of cocaine and ecstasy increased significantly. The 12-month prevalence of cocaine increased from 0,5 to 0,9 % and ecstasy from 0,4 to 0,7 %.

Swedish Police reported that drug offences in Sweden are also increasing. This is used to critique Sweden´s strict zero-tolerance approach to drugs. How do you respond to that?

In my view this is more an illustration of the implementation of the strict Swedish drug policy, than evidence of a failure of the policy. However, as many of the offences is related to consumption of drug use, it could be used as basis for criticizing the efficiency of the policy when it is followed by increasing consumption. On the other hand, we may have had a larger increase in use without these measures by the police. However, these two interpretations are only speculations without empirical evidence.

Alcohol policy opponents are also saying that if for instance, high alcohol prices turn people away from alcohol they may turn to illegal drugs. Based on your research and experience, do you see any grounds for that?

I don’t believe that this effect is present in Sweden and I would be very surprised if alcohol prices were related to cannabis use in the Swedish population. A recent study with focus on young people in Sweden found no connection at all between trends in cannabis use and drinking during the last 15 years, and during an earlier period that association was instead positive. Whether such an association exists in countries with a high prevalence of cannabis use such as in the U.S. is another issue.

What should Sweden do, in your opinion, to change that trend and tackle the growing drug problem?

I am not sure that Sweden has a growing drug problem, but in relation to the increase in cannabis use it is important to keep the availability of cannabis low and to present credible information of the various risks associated with cannabis use to the population. I think it is crucial that this information is based on the most recent research and that it is presented in a credible way without moralistic elements.

Find more information from the report (in Swedish).