The Norwegian government has introduced proposals that would decriminalise the personal use of illegal drugs in small quantities, including heroin and cocaine The draft bill was introduced last week by the minority centre-right government. Under the proposed law, possession of drugs will still be forbidden and police will retain the power to confiscate, but possession will not be punishable and users will instead undergo mandatory counselling.
The proposal is an attempt to tackle the country’s poor record of drug-induced mortality, following recommendations from the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO). Lawmakers argue that Norway’s strict laws criminalising recreational drug use are part of the problem and counterproductive to helping drug abusers seek help.
According to Bloomberg, Norway’s Health and Care Services Minister, Bent Hoie, described the proposal as an ‘historic shift in Norwegian drug policy’. He said: ‘I believe young people can be motivated to change behaviour without the threat of force or criminal punishment.’
In 2017, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that Norway had one of the highest-drug related mortality rates in Europe, with 66 cases of drug-related deaths per million adults in comparison with an average of 23.7 for the EU.
Guri Melby, Norway’s Education Minister, told a press conference that ‘decades of repression have taught us that punishment doesn’t work … we will no longer stand by and watch people being stigmatised and called criminals when they are in fact ill.’
The proposed law has attracted controversy from opposition parties. Norway’s Centre Party, for example, warns the law could result in more drug use, not less. This issue will likely become more prominent as the county moves closer to its parliamentary election taking place later in the year.