By Carey Wedler
Norway is the latest country to move toward decriminalizing drugs and promoting addiction treatment rather than punishing addicts.
This week, a majority of members of the Norwegian parliament directed the national government to reform its policies. “The majority in the parliament has asked the government to prepare for reform,” a spokesperson for the Storting, the Norwegian legislature, told Newsweek. “It has started a political process,” he said, still cautioning that “it’s just the starting point.” Despite some headlines’ claims that drugs have already been decriminalized, there is no legislation yet.
Nicolas Wilkinson, the SV (Socialist Left) party’s health spokesman in the Storting, said the majority wants to “stop punishing people who struggle, but instead give them help and treatment,” according to VG, a Norwegian publication. He said the switch in policy will lead to an emphasis on treatment and follow-up programs, though lawmakers made it clear that they do not intend to legalize drugs.
“It is important to emphasize that we do not legalize cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalize,” Sveinung Stensland (H) [Conservative Party], deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, told VG.”The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision: Those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.”
Officials in Norway have been considering reforming the country’s prohibition policies for over a decade. Newsweek summarized:
In 2006, it started to test a program that would sentence drug users to treatment programs, rather than jail, in the cities Bergen and Oslo. In early 2016, the country gave Norwegian courts the option to do this on a national level.
“The goal is that more addicts will rid themselves of their drug dependency and fewer will return to crime,” Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said at the time. “But if the terms of the programme are violated, the convicts must serve an ordinary prison term.”
The shift was introduced by the country’s conservative party, though some on the right condemned it, arguing drugs should remain wholly illegal, while reformists believed the change in policy didn’t go far enough.
As Arild Knutsen of the Association for Humane Drug Policy said last year:
If Norway was truly progressive, they would follow WHO and UNAIDS recommendations and fully decriminalize drug use, ban forced treatment and stop using involuntary urine controls.
Now, it appears Norway is inching closer toward decriminalization. Portugal opted to decriminalize drugs in 2001, a move that has drawn praise for the decrease in drug use that followed.
However, lawmakers hope to free up resources so police can pursue drug traffickers (rather than users), and other restrictions will remain. VG explained:
It will still be a ‘ban on use and possession of drugs.’ However, the two major parties agree to ‘change the authorities’ reactions to persons taken for use and possession of drugs, from punishment to help, treatment and follow-up.