Association for Safer Drug Policies - News

The Norwegian Drug Reform Committee's report ready: Will remove penalty for use and possession.

The proposal for a new Norwegian drug policy was tabled by the Drug Reform Committee on Thursday, December 19. The proposal marks a historic step away from punishment as a reaction for use and possession of drugs in Norway. As the title "From punishment to help" indicates, people who use drugs will now be met with offers of help and treatment. Although the use and possession of drugs will still be prohibited, it will no longer be punishable as a criminal offence.

The committee proposes a model where drug users are summoned to a meeting with a municipal counselling service. Although there is a duty to attend, failure to attend will not be punished. The report states: “The duty to attend is intended to clarify that the use of drugs is still illegal, while the meeting itself is intended to provide the basis for people to receive help and follow-up as needed. People will also be informed about potential consequences and risk factors associated with drug use.”

If people are caught with large amounts of drugs, they can be prosecuted for sale or distribution, as is the case today. The committee's proposal for restrictions on quantities for personal use is as follows:

Drug                      Majority proposal (8 members)                   Minority proposal (2 members)

Heroin                    5 grams                                                         1 gram

Cocaine                 5 grams                                                         1 gram

Amphetamine         5 grams                                                         1 gram

GHB                       1 desiliter                                                       0.5 desiliter

LSD                         3 blotters                                                       1 blotter

MDMA (crystal)     1 gram                                                          1 gram

Cannabis                 15 grams                                                      5 grams

Magic mushrooms   50 grams                                                     50 grams

Khat                          2 kilograms                                                  500 grams

Pharmaceuticals       25 drug doses                                             5 drug doses

Rune Solberg Swahn from the Norwegian Police Directorate gave a dissenting opinion, as the only one of the committee's ten members. He disagreed with some of the majority's recommendations, and also disagreed with the majority's interpretation of the committee's mandate. According to Swahn, the mandate was to propose a model for decriminalization only for people suffering from drug addiction, not users without a drug problem. He writes that if the Parliament adopts decriminalization for all users, he agrees with the committee's model if the limits on impunity are changed to his proposals and if the police’s authorization to perform home searches, full body seraches and demand that suspects undergo drug testing are not limited, as the committee proposes.

Swahn states a number of concerns about the impact of decriminalization. He claims it will be challenging to communicate that drug use is still illegal, and that the bar for trying drugs for the first time will be lowered. Swahn also believes that will lead the police to spend less resources on uncovering drug use, which will be detrimental to the police effort: He claims that it will make it more difficult to intervene in the drug use of minors and adolescents, to ensure security concerns with regard to driver's and weapon licenses, and expel foreign nationals for committing drug offences.

However, the committee concludes that there is no evidence to claim that drug use will increase after decriminalization. The committee emphasized the stigma and marginalization that follows criminalization, as important key reasons for abandoning punishment altogether. The proposal does not recommend coercive treatment as a matter of principle. The committee also proposes that previous convictions for drug use should no longer be visible on criminal records, following decriminalization. After the launch of the report, Actis (Norwegian Policy Network on Alcohol and Drugs) has joined Rune Solberg Swahn in his concerns that a departure from punishment will make it more difficult to prevent drug use among young people. 

Yet, the committee proposes that parents will be notified when minors are caught for use or possession of drugs, and that the children must attend the counselling service with the parents. If the children do not show up, the child protection system will be contacted. 

The Association for Safer Drug Policies wants to emphasize that young people at risk of developing a drug problem do not benefit from punishment. Young people at risk often have traumas that should be met building their sense of security and trust, creating positive relationships and help with emotion regulation. Punishment does none of the three.