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Portugal did it back in 2001—and by all accounts, it’s working: decriminalizing the use of all drugs, and shifting the focus from punishment to therapy has actually helped decrease the number of drug-related deaths. And now, Norway could be the first Scandinavian country to follow in Portugal’s footsteps, as the majority of Storting, the Norwegian parliament, pushes the government for the decriminalization of all recreational drug use.
On December 13, four of Norway’s leading political parties (the Labour Party, the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the Socialist Left Party) agreed that it’s time to “move the conversation away from punishment to help, treatment and follow-ups.” Both the Conservatives (who are also the leading party) and the LPs talked about how although drugs should still remain illegal, addicts should be given treatment instead of jail time. Transferring the responsibility for drug usage from the justice sector to the health sector practically equals decriminalization of all drugs.
It’s definitely the beginning of a big reform, as the government is now called to act upon the Parliament’s (almost unanimous) suggestion. The Healthcare sector will have to create a system that helps heavy drug users get clean while also arranging regular check-ups for youngsters who have been found in use or possession of small doses. According to Sveinung Stensland, deputy chairman of the Parliament Health Committee, “It will take some time, but it signifies a change in perspective. Those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals facing fines and imprisonment.”
In the near future, this shift is also thought to free up some bandwidth for the police: the legal use limits have changed, which means that the police can focus on apprehending dealers and drug-traffickers instead of recreational users. In a country that has such strict alcohol regulation laws, it’s interesting to see how this proposed change will pan out, and if Norway, like Portugal, will eventually benefit from it. In fact, the Parliament Health Committee will travel to Portugal in February, to better study how the process of decriminalization took place. Here’s hoping that they will return with some inspiring ideas to implement.