Norway's new drug policies may set example for rest of world

The Norwegian government has announced a shift in its reactions to illegal drug use, declaring that those caught using or possessing small quantities will no longer be the responsibility of the justice system, but will be referred to health services instead.

A recently established interdisciplinary committee has been tasked with providing  recommendations for a new Norwegian drug policy inspired by the Portuguese model. The committee will present its recommendations by 31 December 2019.

In the committee mandate, the government pledges the following:

  1. The government will pursue a knowledge-based drug policy aimed at preventing drug addiction, increasing harm reduction efforts and limiting societal harm. Saving lives and preserving users’ dignity shall be integral in ensuring a humane drug care approach.
     
  2. The government will not legalize personal use and possession of illegal drugs. However, this does not preclude an increased emphasis on harm reduction measures.
     
  3. The police shall have authority to ensure that users are met with healthcare measures, and failure to comply will lead to sanctions.


Norway is set to follow in the footsteps of Portugal, the first country to decriminalize possession of drugs for personal use in 2001, after realizing that strict punitive measures were not curbing the country’s ongoing drug epidemic. In the years following this bold policy reform, Portugal has seen a decrease in problematic drug use and overdose deaths.


The Norwegian committee’s mandate states that it "is free to look at other countries' experiences with similar approaches, but should separately assess the experience of Portugal and the Portuguese model, considering whether the model or parts of it may be suited to a Norwegian context."

The committee shall among other things examine:

  1. The maximum amount of a given illegal drug that is considered to be for personal use.
     
  2. What services or sanctions should be given according to each individual's life situation, the severity of his or her drug problem and other needs.
     
  3. How to respond to those repeatedly caught for use and possession and those who do not comply with sanctions issued or services provided.
  4. Whether, and in which cases individuals guilty of criminal offenses under the influence of alcohol and individuals receiving police/ambulance assistance due to overdoses should be included in the model.

  5. Whether attempts to acquire illegal drugs for personal use should be included in the model.

  6. Whether and in which cases current  alternative penalties, terms of appeal, etc. used for use and possession for personal use shall be included in the model

The Association for Safer Drug Policies (Foreningen for tryggere ruspolitikk) is raising funds to prepare and publish an independent report with recommendations.

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Read our public letter to the Norwegian Minister of health, signed by experts and stakeholders in 10 different European countries.