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Cannabis: Subculture, economy and social marginality (completed)

What is the symbolic meaning of cannabis? How are cannabis rituals performed? Does cannabis use cause marginalization?

About the project

Cannabis has been used in Europe for centuries, and is now the most used illegal drug in the world. In Norway today, a rather high proportion of the population debut in their late teens, or in their twenties. By the age of thirty, 40% of men and 29% of women have used cannabis.

Studies of cannabis users in Norway have made an interesting observation. Users seem to be separated into two rather different groups: the first, marginalized young adults of low socio-economic background, poor education and with social problems; the second, a group with their background from the middle of society, with higher education and greater resources. Similarly, it seems that cannabis culture is best understood if it is separated into a marginalized subculture associated with a lifestyle of crime, and a subculture associated with an oppositional life-style, leftist radical politics and a “hang loose ethic”.

The picture is more complex, however. Cannabis symbols and mythology is mainly produced and upheld by countercultures, while much of the production and distribution is left to established criminal networks. There is therefore frequent contact between the different groups of users, and contact with the illegal cannabis economy increases processes of marginalization. Illustratively, we find a strong association between cannabis use and later charges for crime.


  1. What are the cultural practices and symbolic meanings connected to cannabis use in Norway?
  2. How is the illegal cannabis economy organized?
  3. To what degree is use of cannabis, participation in cannabis cultures and distribution of cannabis related to processes of social marginalization?
  4. In the project, we will also reflect on possible political options: What is a rational cannabis policy today?


  • The project period is March 2010 - June 2014.
  • Professor Willy Pedersen is project leader and post.doc. Sveinung Sandberg and research fellow Eirik Hammersvik are attached to the project.
  • The project is financed by the Norwegian Research Council.


  • Hammersvik, Eirik; Sandberg, Sveinung & Pedersen, Willy (2012). Why small-scale cannabis growers stay small: Five mechanisms that prevent small-scale growers from going large scale. International journal on drug policy.  ISSN 0955-3959. . doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2012.08.001
  • Pedersen, Willy (2012). Hvordan ADHD blir en legitimering av «medisinsk» bruk av cannabis. Sosiologisk Tidsskrift.  ISSN 0804-0486.  20, s 251- 274
  • Pedersen, Willy & Sandberg, Sveinung (2012). The medicalisation of revolt: a sociological analysis of medical cannabis users. Sociology of Health and Illnes.  ISSN 0141-9889. . doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2012.01476.x
  • Sandberg, Sveinung (2012). Cannabis culture: A stable subculture in a changing world. Criminology & Criminal Justice.  ISSN 1748-8958. . doi: 10.1177/1748895812445620
  • Sandberg, Sveinung (2012). Is cannabis normalized, celebrated or neutralized? Analysing talk as action. Addiction Research and Theory. ISSN 1606-6359. . doi: 10.3109/16066359.2011.638147
  • Sandberg, Sveinung (2012). The importance of culture for cannabis markets. Towards an economic sociology of illegal drug markets. British Journal of Criminology.  ISSN 0007-0955. . doi: 10.1093/bjc/azs031
  • Pedersen, Willy (2011). Cannabis and social welfare assistance: a longitudinal study. Addiction.  ISSN 0965-2140.  106(9), s 1636- 1643 . doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03436.x
  • Pedersen, Willy & Skardhamar, Torbjørn (2010). Cannabis and crime: findings from a longitudinal study. Addiction.  ISSN 0965-2140.  105(1), s 109- 118 . doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02719.x
  • Sandberg, Sveinung (2010). Utbredt men annerledes. Cannabiskultur og normalisering av hasj i Norge. Tidsskrift for samfunnsforskning.  ISSN 0040-716X.  51(4), s 495- 524
  • Sandberg, Sveinung og Pedersen Willy (2010) Cannabiskultur, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget
  • Pedersen, Willy (2009). Cannabis use: Subcultural opposition or social marginality? A population-based longitudinal study. Acta Sociologica. ISSN 0001-6993.  52, s 135- 148 . doi:
Published Aug. 25, 2010 1:35 PM - Last modified Dec. 10, 2019 10:25 AM


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