Norway is about to radically change its drug policy. Those who use drugs should no longer be punished, but offered help according to Portuguese model.
– Society should not punish sick people. This is a fundamental error, says Norwegian health minister Bent Høie, who is to push through the changes in the law.
Using drugs has been punishable in Norway for 50 years. Whoever gets stuck usually gets a fine. But now, the winds of change are blowing in the Norwegian drug policy. The responsibility for drug problems should be moved from the judicial system to the health care system and rest on a scientific basis.
– To punish those who use drugs has very little effect, or no effect at all, says Bent Høie when SVT Nyheter meets him at the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in central Oslo.
– What many people need is help, and therefore we should give them it instead.
The inspiration for the new law comes from Portugal, which stopped punishing drug users in 2001. Drugs are still illegal, as are longing and smuggling.
But those who use drugs or wear small amounts of drugs for their own use do not commit any crime and can therefore meet with other measures. For example, a compulsory conversation with a so-called “advisory board” where a lawyer, doctor and social worker is included. The model has proved very successful.
– If someone has problems with their drug use, this is often discovered during the conversation, says Bent Høie, who sees the change in drug policy primarily as a way of being able to catch up with those who need help and support in the past.
Majority is behind
A majority of the parties in the Storting are behind the change in the Norwegian drug policy, which is intended to be introduced within three years.
Kenneth Arctander is the spokesperson for RIO, an association for people with drug problems, and is part of the panel with, among other things, doctors, researchers, lawyers and police who will produce the new bill. He believes it will be of great importance.
– Particularly the part about stigma. That no longer exists in the criminal record, which follows you all your life and can affect future career choices, it will mean very much. I also hope that people with drug problems will be more accepted in society, Kenneth Arctander.
Progress Party skeptical
But the change has also raised criticism . The Progress Party, which does not support the settlement, believes that there is a risk of drug use being de-dramatized and perceived as harmless.
The Norwegian drug police association is concerned that drug use will increase, especially among young people.
– The research that exists does not indicate this. For me, it is important to pursue a knowledge-based drug policy, says health minister Bent Høie.
– Drugs will still be banned, as well as using them. It is important to emphasize.