Police investigate tough drugs policy
The Herald, June 18 2007
The man leading Scotland's fight against organised crime is investigating Scandinavian-style get-tough policies on drugs.
Graeme Pearson, the head of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said yesterday he was drawing up a detailed report on Sweden's brand of no-nonsense zero-tolerance on narcotics.
Earlier this year, The Herald revealed calls from Mr Pearson to scrap Britain's system of drug classification in favour of a tougher stance. Now he and colleagues have visited Sweden to see how their policies, a combination of strict prohibition and reinforced education, have helped keep addiction at relatively low levels.
The UN has singled out Sweden for praise. The country, with twice the population of Scotland, has half as many addicts.
Mr Pearson said: "They still have a drug problem in Sweden. It's not an island of tranquillity in a sea of despair. But the UN report indicates Sweden has a number of policies which it promotes as best practice. Hence my interest.
Mr Pearson and his team will report their findings to other agencies, including the Scottish Executive.
Sweden, usually seen as a laid-back nation, has toyed with introducing liberal drug laws in the past. In recent decades, however, it has taken tougher stances on drugs.
Five years ago it appointed its first national drugs co-ordinator, Bjorn Fries, and gave him a multi-million budget.
His service is designed to bring together different agencies, from the police to education and health, and is focused as much on helping existing addicts get off drugs as trying to prevent new people becoming involved in the habit.
Sweden has avoided the UK policy of downgrading some drugs compared with others.
Mr Pearson and other experts are worried about the growing availability of Scottish-grown and highly potent cannabis. The drug, they believe, is dangerous, not least to those prone to certain kinds of mental illnesses.
Sweden has carefully measured cannabis use in recent years, including testing every young person doing national service in their army.
Figures for those with the drugs in their systems, after serious investment, are down. Cannabis prevalence among 16-year-olds in Sweden has fallen from 10% in the late 1990s to 7% now. Teenagers are also thought to be smoking and drinking less.
Mr Pearson and his colleagues are eager to avoid jumping to conclusions about why that is the case.
So are the Swedes. Christina Gynna Oguz, Mr Fries's deputy, last year said: "It is too early to draw any conclusions.
"A cautious interpretation is that the massive investments that we have done over the past years in mobilising local communities and civil society for the prevention of alcohol and drug use is starting to pay off.
"Certainly, it remains to be seen if we can sustain this commitment at local level."