Norway Set to Decriminalise Drug Use
In a significant shift of drug policy, the majority of the Norwegian parliament – known as the Storting – has backed a move to promote addiction treatment over jail time.
Nicholas Wilkinson, health spokesperson for the Socialist Left party (SV), said the goal was to “stop punishing people who struggle, but instead give them help and treatment”.
A spokesperson for the Storting says legislation has not been drafted but there is a push for the government to head that way.
“The majority in the parliament has asked the government to prepare for reform,” the spokesperson told Newsweek.
“It’s just the starting point.”
While the move has widespread support among the major parties, Storting representatives have indicated the change will take some time, with implementation possibly taking place as late as 2021.
“Those who have substance abuse problem should be treated as ill and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment,” the deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, Sveinung Stensland, told Norwegian daily VG.
Mr Stensland, from the Conservative party, also added: “It is important to emphasise that we do not legalise cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalise.”
Indications from the Storting suggest the ways of dealing with drug use will be reformed – from treatment and follow-up – which would require legal entities and healthcare changes.
A similar view is held across the political spectrum.
“It is important for all parties involved in this that it is about large-scale reforms: how to support people and help them out of drug abuse,” Mr Wilkinson said.
“The most important thing is that this will be good reform.
“If we have to wait another year for it to really work, it’s worth it.”
A move to decriminialise drug use will bring Norway into line with other European countries Portugal and the Netherlands that have liberalised their nation’s laws.
Portugal’s drug mortality rate is among the lowest in Western Europe and its health ministry estimates about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin – down from 100,000 since the policy was enacted in 2001.
Drug use remains illegal in Portugal, but fines and treatment referrals are issued over jail time.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, possession of a small amount of cannabis in the Netherlands is not subject to police investigation, and consumption outlets, known as ‘coffee shops’ may be tolerated by local authorities.
Norwegian cities Bergen and Oslo implemented treatment programs to replace custodial sentences in 2006.
The country’s drug report, released this year, counted 266 people as dying in 2014 with opioids the most commonly involved drug.