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Cannabis discourses in contemporary Sweden: Continuity and change
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2593-1931
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this thesis is to study how cannabis is constructed in contemporary Sweden, which policy responses are promoted as rational, and how international cannabis trends are received in this context. The four papers are the result of analyzing empirical material from three different sub-studies: 1) a qualitative study of online discussions about cannabis and drug policy, 2) a qualitative and comparative study of print media articles from 2002 and 2012, and 3) a qualitative study of oral presentations from cannabis information symposia. All papers are based on a social constructionist approach.

A point of departure is that attitudes and regulations on cannabis have changed in large parts of the Western world. In Sweden, however, strict prohibition of cannabis is still central in the national drug laws. Some of the main findings can thus be gathered in discussions on continuity and change. In Swedish online discussions, there seems to be a strong desire to change the national cannabis policy in line with international developments. This discussion propagates alternative views on cannabis, in which comparisons to alcohol become vital and more liberal cannabis policies become logical. These discussions are also characterized by continuity, as many arguments for liberal cannabis policies seem to be based on traditional social democratic values and prohibitionist “scaremongering” arguments. Continuity is also what seems to characterize traditional print media, where cannabis is generally portrayed as a potent and illegal drug producing social problems. However, this arena also shows signs of change, as the material from 2012 includes stories on cannabis as an economic asset as well as a recreational substance. Both traditional print media and cannabis information symposia focus on youth consumers, who are seen as particularly vulnerable to cannabis effects. Such constructions seem important for protecting prohibition from international influences and for a continuous discourse centered on the dangers of cannabis.

It is concluded that cannabis appears to be able to represent almost anything. As such it can be “used” for any purpose to promote a whole set of ideas related to policy often based on what is considered as scientific evidence. Depending on the context, it thus seems possible that cannabis is medicinal, recreational, harmful, and addictive. If so, and if all of these constructions are in some way “real,” then it is suggested that cannabis necessitates a much more tailored and nuanced response than that which prohibition can offer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Social Work, Stockholm University , 2017. , 95 p.
Series
Stockholm studies in social work, ISSN 0281-2851 ; 35Dissertations at the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD), 17
Keyword [en]
cannabis, Sweden, discourse, social construction, prohibition, legalization, de-criminalization, internet, online, media, professional, symposia
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-140931ISBN: 978-91-7649-750-0 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7649-751-7 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-140931DiVA: diva2:1086649
Public defence
2017-05-24, Aula Svea, Socialhögskolan, Sveavägen 160, Stockholm, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-04-28 Created: 2017-04-03 Last updated: 2017-04-21Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Legitimacy through scaremongering: the discursive role of alcohol in online discussions of cannabis use and policy
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Legitimacy through scaremongering: the discursive role of alcohol in online discussions of cannabis use and policy
2013 (English)In: Addiction Research and Theory, ISSN 1606-6359, E-ISSN 1476-7392, Vol. 21, no 6, 469-478 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In Sweden, prohibitionist drug policy has contributed to making cannabis an illegal drug, viewed as dangerous, while alcohol is considered a legitimate recreational commodity. But the official Swedish cannabis discourse is now being contested on internet. In virtual environments an often employed way to try to legitimize cannabis use is by comparing it to alcohol. This indicates the importance of analyzing how substances are attributed with meaning in various contexts. This study aims to describe and analyze the discursive role of alcohol in Swedish online discussions of cannabis use and policy. Approximately 700 alcohol-related comments, posted during one year period, were retrieved from the cannabis-section of Swedish Flashback Forum (a website open for public viewing). The sample was analyzed qualitatively with analytical tools such as nodal points, analogies, distinctions and typological examples. Two concepts, danger and discrimination, were identified as nodal points in a cannabis legalization discourse, and provided a backdrop from which comparisons between alcohol and cannabis were made meaningful. We have found that cannabis and alcohol ‘‘changed places’’ in these online discussions. The participants drew on a prohibitionist cannabis discourse but applied its arguments to alcohol; alcohol was thereby given the role of the ‘‘ideal enemy’’ while cannabis was presented as a harmless plant rejected by society on moral rather than scientific grounds. The relevance of acknowledging and reflecting upon the influence that online ‘‘talk’’ has on young people’s attitudes towards drugs is discussed.

Keyword
Cannabis, alcohol, internet, discourse, Flashback
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-83949 (URN)10.3109/16066359.2012.731115 (DOI)000326043600005 ()
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2006-1523
Available from: 2012-12-17 Created: 2012-12-17 Last updated: 2017-04-18Bibliographically approved
2. A dawning demand for a new cannabis policy: A study of Swedish online drug discussions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A dawning demand for a new cannabis policy: A study of Swedish online drug discussions
2014 (English)In: International journal on drug policy, ISSN 0955-3959, E-ISSN 1873-4758, Vol. 25, no 4, 673-681 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: This study examines how online discussions on drug policy are formulating an oppositional cannabis discourse in an otherwise prohibitionist country like Sweden. The focus of the paper is to identify demands for an alternative cannabis policy as well as analysing how these demands are linked to governance. Methods: The empirical material is 56 discussion-threads from the online message-board Flashback Forum that were active during the first eight months of 2012. Discourse theory was used to locate the discourse, and governmentality theory was used to locate the political belonging of the discourse. Results: On Flashback Forum demands for a new cannabis policy are articulated in opposition to Swedish prohibitionist discourse. The oppositional discourse is constructed around the nodal points cannabis, harm, state and freedom that fill legalisation/decriminalisation/liberalisation with meaning. The nodal points are surrounded by policy demands that get their meaning through the particular nodal. These demands originate from neo-liberal and welfarist political rationalities. Neo-liberal and welfarist demands are mixed, and participants are simultaneously asking for state and individual approaches to handle the cannabis issue. Conclusion: Swedish online discourse on cannabis widens the scope beyond the confines of drug policy to broader demands such as social justice, individual choice and increased welfare. These demands are not essentially linked together and many are politically contradictory. This is also significant for the discourse; it is not hegemonised by a political ideology. The discourse is negotiated between the neo-liberal version of an alternative policy demanding individual freedom, and the welfarist version demanding social responsibility. This implies the influence of the heritage from the social-democratic discourse, centred on state responsibility, which have been dominating Swedish politics in modern times. Consequently, this study refutes that the demand for a new cannabis policy is strictly neo-liberal.

Keyword
Cannabis, Internet, Discourse, Governmentality, Neo-liberal, Welfarist
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-108002 (URN)10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.04.001 (DOI)000341482600004 ()
Note

AuthorCount:1;

Available from: 2014-10-06 Created: 2014-10-06 Last updated: 2017-04-18Bibliographically approved
3. The same old story? Continuity and change in Swedish print media constructions of cannabis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The same old story? Continuity and change in Swedish print media constructions of cannabis
2016 (English)In: Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, ISSN 1458-6126, Vol. 33, no 3, 267-285 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

AIMS - The purpose of the study is to describe and analyse how cannabis is constructed in Swedish print media and if this has changed over time. Sweden is known for its prohibitionist cannabis policy, but this approach seems increasingly challenged on both international and domestic arenas. It is therefore important to see if and how this international change is mirrored and processed in a key arena such as print media. METHODS - Newspaper material from two years, 2002 and 2012, was included to analyse continuity and change. The theoretical backdrop for the study is social constructionism, and methodological concepts such as discourse and subject positions from discourse theory were used to investigate how cannabis and cannabis problems are constructed. RESULTS - The analysis showed that print media in both years seem to draw mainly on a juridical, a social problems and a medical discourse when portraying cannabis. It is through these discourses that some subject positions become relevant as users (e.g. youth) and as experts (e.g. police). Despite a strong continuity in these cannabis constructions, the analysis also shows signs of change. For example, in 2012 there are articles drawing on economic and recreational discourses, and there is a global outlook enabling new cannabis constructions. CONCLUSION - The Swedish print media generally has a crime-centred and deterrent approach towards cannabis, with prohibition at the heart of the reporting. International events do however introduce discursive alternatives in 2012. It remains to be seen if these new ways of writing about cannabis will strengthen or challenge prohibitionist constructions.

Keyword
cannabis, media, press, Sweden, change, discourse
National Category
Substance Abuse Sociology
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-132553 (URN)10.1515/nsad-2016-0021 (DOI)000379145900006 ()
Available from: 2016-08-25 Created: 2016-08-15 Last updated: 2017-04-18Bibliographically approved
4. Protecting Prohibition: the Role of Swedish Information Symposia in Keeping Cannabis a High-Profile Problem
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Protecting Prohibition: the Role of Swedish Information Symposia in Keeping Cannabis a High-Profile Problem
2015 (English)In: Contemporary Drug Problems, ISSN 0091-4509, E-ISSN 2163-1808, Vol. 42, no 3, 209-225 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

During recent years, political discussions about how to deal with cannabis use have become increasingly centered on harm reduction and liberalization in large parts of the Western world. In Sweden, however, no such re-framing of the issue has occurred. There has been political status quo with emphasis on prohibition and zero tolerance. This study aims to elucidate how the cannabis policy discourse in Sweden is characterized today to legitimize restrictive drug policy and counter global changes. Two symposia dedicated to dissemination of cannabis information in Sweden were analyzed to understand how policy players, service providers, and other professionals invited to speak at these events argue to maintain cannabis use a high-profile societal problem that necessitates prohibition. With the help of Carol Bacchi’s theoretical approach “What’s the Problem Represented to be,” we critically analyzed how cannabis is constructed in the material. This meant focusing on what policy and service provision that is described as meaningful and effective as a way to understand what the problem of cannabis is represented to be. Our analysis showed, among other things, that cannabis-positive attitudes are seen as utterly problematic, that youth users are portrayed as extremely vulnerable, and that current government responses are perceived as righteous and compassionate. It also showed how speakers at symposia construct a morally upright “us” who promote “reliable” scientific evidence about the dangers of cannabis. In this way, the choice between keeping prohibition and trying liberalization stands out as one between letting reliable or unreliable research guide drug policy. We conclude that youth becomes a perfect category to rationalize current problematizations; a vessel that may carry and protect drug prohibition in a globalized world where cannabis is increasingly handled like an ordinary commodity.

Keyword
cannabis policy, problematization, youth, Sweden, Carol Bacchi, discourse analysis
National Category
Social Work
Research subject
Social Work
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-122479 (URN)10.1177/0091450915599348 (DOI)
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2006-1523
Available from: 2015-11-03 Created: 2015-11-03 Last updated: 2017-04-18Bibliographically approved

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