Blog of Per Johansson, Secretary of the Board
Per Johansson is Secretary General of RNS (National Association for a Drug-free Society) in Sweden. He was educated to be a teacher but has committed himself to work with drug policy since 1979. First as a volunteer but since the early 90s professionally. Mr Johansson is a leading figure in the drug debate in Sweden. He has been engaged in several international projects that RNS has been involved in. He lectures on drug policy and role of public opinion’s role in forming a balanced and restrictive drug policy. He is the Secretary of the Board ofWorld Federation Against Drugs.
Dear Vivienne Moxham-Hall,

A friend gave me the tip to read your op-ed article on drug policy.

There is a passage in your text which I find quite strange:

“In Portugal, drugs were decriminalised in 2001. Today there is a bulk of evidence pointing to Portugal as a leader in drug reform. Not only have rates of drug use declined in almost every measured category, but Portugal also has the least amount of drug use when compared with the EU countries with more stringent criminalisation measures.”

What data do you base this on? The fact is that Portugal comes out on a quite average level when illicit drug use among young people is measured. On May 30 the fifth ESPAD report was published. ESPAD is a drug habit survey which today includes 39 countries. The same questions, the same age (16 year-olds), the same time of the year. Quite unique survey where one can compare many nations in Europe. Portugal has been involved from the beginning so one can follow the trends there over time.

I live and work in Sweden, a country known for its strict drug policy. We have criminalised drug use as such, which is quite unusual comparing with other similar nations. We have one of the oldest, maybe the oldest, drug epidemic in Europe. We have tried more or less everything one can try in drug policy. We had harm reduction in the mid-60s before the term existed. We had decriminalisation in the early 70s before the Dutch formalized it in 1976. There is more to say, but I stop there.

I think you should look at the ESPAD report and compare Sweden with Portugal. You find it here. Look at the tables at pages 87, 89, 90 and 92. Sweden is in the bottom section in all tables. Portugal is in the middle section, close to the top section on page 90 and 92.

Go to pages 134-144, where the trends in the various countries are shown. Portugal is not worst by any means, but the trend is upwards for illicit drug use. Remember that ESPAD is about teenagers age 16, actually the year you turn 16, so some can be 15 when the survey is done. The survey takes place in the spring.

It is a mystery how the story of the “success” in Portugal has travelled so far across the world. Why should an average result become something to strive for? Shouldn’t we always at least try to be excellent and sometimes we might succeed in getting close to that. Being mediocre can’t ever be an ideal.

Yours sincerely,
Per Johansson
Today, March 14, I was at a meeting in Vienna where NGOs meet Fedotov. He said almost as his first remark that one ultimate goal for UNODC is to protect children, who are most vulnerable. He also said in his opening speech: "Crucially, the international community must protect children". 

I asked Mr Fedotov if UNODC will take initiatives with UNICEF and the Committee on the Rights of the Child for them to issue policy papers what protecting children means practically. He answerered in a positive manner about cooperating with UNICEF.

Earlier this morning I was at a meeting with IDPC where they presented a book: Drug Policy Guide. They outline how international drug laws can be reformed. Human rights should be a base in this. I pointed out that they do not mention the only HR convention tht mentions drugs; the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mike Trace answered my question and admitted that this was an omission. He also said that IDPC has another interpretation of CRC art 33. -You should write it down, was my comment which was more or less the last words of the session.

During the meeting with Mr Fedotov he got questions about treatment. He says both good and bad things. He said that treatment is more efficient than law enforcement, as if they were opposites. He said that he thinks methadone should be part of broader treatment program aiming at recovery. Methadone for the sake of methadone is bad and does not help.

I think WFAD has established a new path in the international drug policy debate. There is very much more to be done, but there is strong interest in the child perspective. I think many are tired hearing only about treatment matters mostly connected to intravenous drug use.

Per Johansson

Sweden has maybe the strictest drug laws in the EU. There was a time, however, when one could possess quite large amounts of illicit drugs without that leading to any legal consequences if the drugs were for personal use only. In 1980 this Dutch model – “it is forbidden but we don’t care about enforcing the law” – came to an end. From then on every gram, or less than a gram, took you to court.

In 1988 the drug law of Sweden was extended to include consumption of all illicit drugs. The law was revised in 1993 and gave the police the right to demand a person suspected of illegal consumption of drugs to give a urine or blood sample. The legal consequence for illegal consumption is relatively mild, normally a money fine related to the person’s income. Theoretically, up to 6 months in prison is possible but the courts never use that possibility. Based on this law, some 35 000 drug tests are taken by the police every year. These interventions by law enforcement constitute the bulk of drug crimes in Sweden today.

Strangely enough members of the Swedish police force are not required to be randomly tested for drugs. A police officer has the right to demand anyone to give a drug test based on suspicion of illegal drug use, but the police officer himself/herself is not tested. Swedish public opinion ranks the police quite high. We generally trust our 20 000 police officers to be honest and fair. We might think they should be more effective than they actually are, but we believe them to be free from corruption. Of course there are exceptions, which has been demonstrated every now and then. Among a group of 20 000 people some will fall for the temptation to use narcotic drugs. Every year there are a few policemen (as far as I know no policewoman yet) fired because of being involved with illegal drugs.

Lennart Karlsson is the head of a small drug squad in Stockholm. He has worked with drugs for almost two decades. On a few occasions he has arrested colleagues on suspicion of drug crimes, which he has done with a heavy heart. Knowing that the colleague will most likely loose his job and maybe end up in prison if the crime is severe.

Just a few days ago Lennart Karlsson wrote a long article in the magazine of the Swedish Narcotics Officers Association sharing his experiences and advocating that random drug testing must be introduced in the Swedish police force. One of the national TV-channels made this their head news with follow up interviews with responsible decision makers the next day. Naturally everyone involved was positive to Lennart Karlsson’s proposal. The National Police Board made some excuses about the lack of laws regulating drug tests among their employees, but this is no reason not to do the testing. Everywhere else on the Swedish work market this is regulated by negotiated agreements between the union and the employer, and this should be the model for the police as well.

My guess is that we will see random drug testing among the police in Sweden later this year. It is a little embarrassing that we have not seen it earlier. Thanks to Lennart Karlsson a blank space in Swedish drug policy will not be blank for much longer.

Lennart Karlsson will speak at the 3rd World Forum Against Drugs in Stockholm, May 21-23.

Per Johansson
Secretary of the Board