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Regulating legal drugs: What can Canada learn from Sweden?

A collaboration between the University of Victoria and an international team of leading alcohol researchers could contain valuable lessons on the importance of applying evidence-based policy to the regulation of alcohol and other legal drugs.

Tim Stockwell, director of UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC, led the research team contracted by Systembolaget—the Swedish government alcohol monopoly responsible for take-away alcohol sales—to measure the health and safety benefits of retaining the monopoly.

The report’s findings could have implications for local, provincial and federal government as more Canadian jurisdictions privatize the distribution and sale of alcohol, and with cannabis legalization slated for July 2018.

Researchers estimated the effect of removing Sweden’s alcohol retail monopoly on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms, including hospital admissions and crimes, by looking at two different privatization scenarios: replacing government liquor stores with private liquor stores, and selling alcohol in grocery stores.

Their analysis projected a 20 per cent increase in alcohol consumption in the first scenario, and a 31 per cent increase in the second.

Increases in consumption were reflected in alcohol-related harms: they estimated a 22 to 33 per cent increase in alcohol-attributable hospitalizations, a 41 to 66 per cent increase in deaths, and a 34 to 58 per cent increase in drunk driving offences respectively.

“Systembolaget represents international world best practice by placing the government distributor of alcohol within a ministry of health as opposed to finance, the usual reporting structure for the 30 full or partial monopoly jurisdictions left in Canada and US,” says Stockwell. “This ensures that alcohol and drug policy is viewed primarily through a public health lens, not an economic one.” (For more on this, see Stockwell’s opinion piece in today’s Hill Times.)

“The public health consequences of alcohol and cannabis use are substantial,” says UVic PhD student Adam Sherk, a member of the research team. “When evidence-based policies are applied, fewer lives are lost, fewer people are admitted to hospital and fewer crimes are committed. It’s time for Canada to heed the lessons learned from other jurisdictions.”

Researchers from Australia, the UK, Finland, Sweden and the US were also members of the team.

Download the executive summary of the Systembolaget report. (PDF copies of the full report are available in English on request.)

Download an infographic summarizing research findings.

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Media contacts

Tim Stockwell (Director, UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research) at timstock@uvic.ca

Adam Sherk (PhD Student, UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research/Social Dimensions of Health) at 250-853-3235 or asherk@uvic.ca

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or sahearne@uvic.ca

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