Debating the Drug Policy in Sweden: Stakeholders’ Moral Justifications in Media 2015–2021

Tuulia Lerkkanen & Jessica Storbjörk (2023)

Contemporary Drug Problems, 50(2), pp. 269-293.

Abstract. Drug-related harms continue to increase globally and governments struggle in search of effective and legitimate countermeasures. The choice between policy options is intertwined with the arguments that dominate drug policy discussions, which in turn are closely related to who has access to the policy debate. In this study, we examine stakeholders’ visibility and moral justifications of argumentation in the Swedish drug policy debate in the media (2015–2021). Justification analysis (JA) is used as a methodological and theoretical tool to illustrate the moral principles behind the claims by the stakeholders. The results show that the most visible stakeholders were politicians, government agencies and molders of public opinion. Furthermore, the stakeholders with successful active attempts to participate in the debate were molders of public opinion, NGOs, and politicians. The silent stakeholders in the media were people who use drugs and significant others. Stakeholders generally revolve around a dividing line regarding the restrictive features of Swedish drug policy, and were divided into proponents, opponents and neutral ones. All stakeholder groups included all three sides, hence reflecting the ingroup dissonance that may explain the continuing deadlock in Swedish drug policy. Justifications that value evidence-based policymaking (industrial worth) was used in the argumentation by the majority of the stakeholder groups, often combined with other moral justifications. This notion challenges the dichotomy of evidence and values in drug policy debates. Proponents relied more on the justifications that value paternalism (domestic worth), while opponents leaned toward the justifications valuing civil rights and social justice (civic worth). The development of Swedish drug policy may depend on the relative strength of these two value positions (domestic versus civic worth) in society and among stakeholders in power. This study continues the discussion of making contesting values explicit in the drug policy, serving a riveting case for international comparison.

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