What are the similarities and differences between the drug policies of Sweden and those of the US over time?
The United States has championed supply-side policy, which aims to curtail drug usage through law enforcement involvement, interdiction, and eradication. Essentially, the United States employs both harsh punishments combined with strangling the supply of drugs to drive up prices and create a barrier to usage.
Similarly, Sweden has a notorious zero-tolerance drug policy, which aims to reduce both the supply and demand of illegal drugs.
Sweden classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Recently, the United States has moved toward a more libertarian cannabis policy with decriminalization and outright legalization of recreational use.
Economists believe there is ample evidence that the demand for drugs is inelastic, which means supply-side policies do not have a material effect on drug use.
A study in 2000 conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) claimed Sweden’s hard drug policy led to one of the lowest drug usage rates among Western countries; however, this finding has been heavily questioned with claims that scientific methods were not followed.
Other studies have disputed these findings. In 2005, The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found that the drug-related deaths per capita in Sweden were more than double those of the Netherlands, which has some of the most libertarian drug policies.
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