There hasn’t been much about the pandemic that is even vaguely amusing, but the cheers for Sweden’s pandemic policies from the American right are at least bemusing.
Sweden chose to avoid the “lockdown” that most of the rest of the world, including its Scandanavian neighbors, have followed. The Swedes urged caution, including voluntary face masks, social distancing, etc. but none were mandatory, and no businesses were closed. It was hoped that it could avoid the economic pain that hit others so hard. Consequently, its decision has been cheered by Americans who opposed the lockdown in the US.
Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been a success. Its neighbors, Finland, Denmark and Norway combined have had a total of 1,182 deaths as a result of COVID-19, while Sweden has had more than 5,300, which is seven times the per capita rate for its neighbors, and its economy is still expected to shrink by 6%. So far, so bad, but maybe…
In any case, the idea that the American right would adopt Sweden as a model for anything is… Bemusing.
Sweden has a very high standard of living in a “welfare state”, and has long been cited by “Democratic Socialists” as an alternative to free market capitalism. However, as American conservatives point out, it is truly very different from the US. For one thing, its population is only ten million people.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that they have had in common with the US… a fanatical devotion to the Drug War, especially marijuana prohibition, and it has been a total disaster.
As Wikipedia reports, “In Sweden, cannabis has no officially recognized medical usage and medical use is not seen as an extenuating circumstance. Rather the opposite, in a case that drew some attention in the national press involving a multiple sclerosis patient, the disease, and the fact that she stated that cannabis helped her, were seen as an aggravated circumstance by the court. The court argued in the verdict that she lacked motivation to stop using the drug and therefore gave her an unconditioned jail sentence, although she was a first-time offender, she would have otherwise regularly been given a suspended sentence or a fine.
So how is that working out? Sweden actually has the second highest drug overdose death rate in Europe, 92 per million population. The European Union average is 23 per million. The Dutch rate is 22 per million. And Portugal where all drug possession is decriminalized, has the lowest rate… just 4 per million.
How can a country which is certainly “socially liberal” have had such a repressive and counterproductive policy so deeply entrenched for decades? Very simply, they have had a massive Prohibitionist propaganda machine. But what else do they have in common with the US?
Although the UK overdose death rate, at 74 per million population, is far lower than the US, it is still fourth in the EU and almost twenty times the Portuguese rate of 4 per million. And Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe, far poorer than Sweden. ($35,000 per capita, vs $55,000 per capita)
Of course, unlike Sweden, the US and the UK have global influence on international drug policies. The failure of the world’s two leading democracies to consider their impact on global public health is truly shameful, but not as shameful as their failure to be realistic about how they have harmed their own people.
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In a dictatorship the blame for bad policies falls on the government, but in democracies like the US, the UK, and certainly Sweden, the blame must also be shared by the whole society.
As an American, I am very proud that the American people have taken the initiative (via the states’ initiative voting processed) to free themselves from the tyranny of the Drug War. Majoritarianism can certainly be a threat to minority rights, but if we are led by the truth, it will make us free.
- Richard Cowan is a former NORML National Director and co-founder of Real Tested CBD Reviews.