Changes in the Estonian Cannabis Debate
The article analyses the discussion of cannabis regulation in the Estonian media. In the past five years, there has been a noticeable shift in discussion of drug policies in some Western countries and regions (the US, Canada, Latin America, etc.) from a punitive focus towards a more liberal approach. The Global Commission on Drug Policy recommends that countries put an end to civil and criminal penalties for drug use and possession. In this context, the article examines how the Estonian press has reacted to the situation. Which approach to cannabis (continuing to ban it vs. advocating legalisation) prevails in opinion pieces? What are the main arguments both for and against its legalisation? The media could play a prominent role in determining public opinion about illicit drugs and shaping relevant public policies. Hence, the author looks also at how the coverage has changed over time.
A content analysis of 57 opinion articles, editorials, comments, interviews, and summaries of public speeches was carried out to study the political debate surrounding cannabis in 2009 and 2015, both years in which it was high on the media agenda. The content analysis was complemented by the method of close reading. The findings indicate that press coverage of cannabis has become more tolerant towards ‘softer’ drug policies. The chorus of ‘voices’ has become more complex, which reflects development of the drug-politics discourse. While the 2009 debate was launched by pro-legalisation lawyers and the discussion involved various professional experts (among them medical doctors, lawyers, and specialists in drug prevention), cannabis more often made headlines in 2015 because of work by civil activists, columnists, writers, etc. A strong dichotomy between traditional law-enforcement discourse and cannabis-legalisation and harm-reduction discourses has emerged. The author expresses the opinion that a shift in the global drug-policy debate alongside softened media coverage may pave the way for changes in the national drug policy.