There are not many days left before it’s time for the Swedish election, which will happen on Sunday, September 9th. Among the hottest issues in the media debates, many voters lack a very important one, namely the cannabis issue. This is why, for example, the Swedish initiative “Cannabiskrysset” was launched. Fittingly enough, we’ve had the pleasure of talking to the man behind the idea.
Cannabiskrysset is a so-called personal election campaign in which political candidates open for decriminalization are listed on the project’s website. This way, as a cannabis advocating voter, you can get a clear picture of which candidates you can vote for to increase the chances that cannabis-friendly laws are implemented. The candidates on the website come from several different parliamentary parties, therefore we can’t claim that it’s a partial project.
Hello there, who are you?
My name is Christian Engström, I'm 58 years old and I live with my wife and son in Nacka. I was a self-employed programmer for the first 20 years of my adult life. When I left the business behind me, I became interested in the concept of open source instead, but also the political aspect of data and freedom. Therefore I started doing activist work, for instance for freedom on the Internet, after which I ended up with the Pirate Party when it was founded in 2006. After that, I was an EU parliamentarian for five years, while the activist mentality always stayed by my side.
Why did you start this initiative?
The cannabis matter has a lot to do with personal freedom, which is something I'm passionate about. But it’s also about the Swedish drug policies harming people. For example, we have some of the world's highest death rates among people who take hard drugs. Many people are harmed even in the case of cannabis, however, it’s rather the policies that cause more inconvenience than the drug. People lose their jobs and driving licenses, become condemned by the society and in some cases their entire lives can crash completely. Perhaps the most terrible example of this is that because of the heavy punishments, people start using synthetic cannabis-like drugs, including Spice, which has been proven to be very harmful. You can say what you want about cannabis but at least it won’t kill you.
Does your political career have anything to do with Cannabiskrysset?
Despite my background in the Pirate Party, the campaign is completely disconnected from the party, but they stand for the exact same thing, so it's not strange or unexpected that I share that view. There are no pirate candidates listed on the website because I chose to include only representatives from the parliament parties. Many people prefer to vote for a party that is already established because new or small parties require 4% of the country's votes to enter the parliament. But in order to succeed with a personal election campaign, it's often enough with just some hundreds of votes on a specific candidate, something that many voters are not aware of. There’s never been a nationwide and organized campaign in Sweden that brings candidates from all constituencies in this way. So it’s going to be very exciting to see where it leads. Cannabiskrysset is pure activism and, with the appropriate term, a pure grassroots movement.
Are cannabis advocates from all parties listed?
I’ve really tried to find representatives from all parliamentary parties but it has been impossible. There is no candidate from Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats), although I’ve been told that there are some individuals in the party who are for legalization. I’ve also not managed to find anyone from Vänsterpartiet (Left Party), which is because they are completely opposed to these kinds of personal elections. Socialdemokraterna (Social Democrats) are very stubborn and slow when it comes to these kinds of issues, so I’ve not managed to list any representative from them either. There’s also no one from Kristdemokraterna (Christian Democrats), which perhaps isn’t that strange.
On the other hand, wasn’t it God who created the plant?
In order to avoid a theological discussion, I can say that I’ve not heard of a single candidate from KD. On the other hand, I managed to find two people from Moderaterna (Moderates) and two from Miljöpartiet (Environmental Party). The parties in which it’s been most easy to find candidates, by far, have been Centerpartiet (Center Party) and Liberalerna (Liberals) with a total of 13 candidates each. This is because their youth parties are openly pro cannabis. The idea from the beginning was to collect significantly more from the red-green parties, but it has been difficult. The strangest thing, I think, is that I didn’t find more environmentalists, considering how they previously voted in such matters.
So the campaign is specifically about decriminalization?
Yes, it is the minimum requirement to present a candidate on the page. It’s obviously an advantage if the person is also for legalization because then you’re practically for harm reduction policies as well. This is where you eventually end up if you, as a politician, start talking about decriminalization; that harm reduction is the only morally defensible way.
What do you think comes first in Sweden; decriminalization, medical legalization, or complete legalization?
I'm not quite sure what comes first. Medical cannabis is already on its way, but so far only for 12 patients or something similar. So things are already happening there, but it happens too slowly and to a very small extent. Had I received the question a year ago, I would’ve answered that the decriminalization will come first. But since a legalization would help the police with such an urgent, and in the election campaign heavily-debated issue, I would probably say that it’s not entirely impossible that we’re going straight for a legalization. The question of eliminating power from the criminal gangs is very high priority with the police and politicians. Legalization is a great method, as it severely shrinks the revenues of criminal gangs and at the same time reduces their reasons for war of market shares. In addition, they will have less money for purchasing automatic rifles. It would’ve been a great change because Sweden is one of the worst countries in the West when it comes to humane drug policies. But I think and hope that it can turn pretty fast, which is what my campaign is about; i.e. to show the politicians that it’s an important topic and that you risk losing your job if you don’t conduct the issue.
When can we expect the legalization?
Hopefully, I think that it’ll happen during the next term of office; i.e. in the next four years after September 9th. Although it can be perceived as ambitious and optimistic, 2020 is not a completely unreasonable guess. It's changing all around the world. Even in Norway, that in the eyes of the Swedish public and politicians, is the world's most healthy country. It could lead to many Swedes waking up and realizing that it’s something to get involved in.
How can other people contribute?
There’s just one thing that matters. Spread the word. That’s what that the campaign relies on; that enough people hear about it before the election on September 9th. Spread it to everyone you know, both online and in real life. The politicians typically talk about sending a signal to the citizens… We want to send a signal to them.
Visit the Cannabiskrysset project .
We thank you for the chat, Christian!