A society With or Without Drugs. Continuity and change in Drug Policies in Sweden and the Netherlands
Abstract: In debates about the Swedish and Dutch drug policies are usually positioned as opposites. The goal for the Swedish drug policy is to create a 'drug-free society'; while in the Netherlands a harm reduction approach prevails. In this study a drug policy is considered a practice of formal social control that can develop differently depending on the contexts in which it emerged. The period studied starts in mid 1960s and ends mid 1980s. This period can be said to be the formative years of the drug policies. The objective of the thesis is to investigate why the drug policies in Sweden and the Netherlands have taken such disparate courses. In order to analyse and explain the differences, two tracks will be followed: the way in which the problem was defined and the influence of institutional factors on both the problem definition and the action programme to counteract drug problems. In social problem theory, perceptions of the nature of the problem and its importance for society are perceived as the outcome of a collective process of problem definition. In addition it is important to identify the actors that were involved in this process and the problem definition that eventually gained master status. An underlying hypothesis for the study is that institutionalised traditions of formal social control are reproduced when a new social problem is established and they influence the problem definition as well as the action programme. These traditions will be examined in the three fields of the action programme, which in both countries have been singled out as crucial, namely judicial measures to control supply of illegal drugs, assistance to cure drug abusers and reduce demand and prevention to withhold people from using drugs. To understand the differences one has to comprehend their historical contexts. For a study of drug policies, three institutional factors are of particular interest: the role of the state in society, traditions of formal social control and the international context. If the right of the state to interfere in the private sphere of its citizens is fundamentally different than practices of formal social control will be different as well. By comparing formal control of another drug, 'alcohol', with control of illegal drugs, traditions in this field can be traced that have been of decisive importance for the elaboration of the drug policies in the 1960s up till today. This is the national context. The international context is constituted by the international control system that since the early twentieth century has been an increasingly constraining factor to national drug policies. The results of the study strengthen the hypothesis. The Swedish strong adherence to fundamentalist principles to the early policy on alcohol led by the central state, was preserved in the country's drug policy. The Dutch experimentalist approach is a prolongation of the country's tradition of pragmatism and a restrictive role of the central state.
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