Norway Set to Decriminalise Personal Use of Illicit Drugs

2nd March 2021

Norway is set to introduce significant drug reforms based on recommendations from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. The changes would decriminalise small quantities of illegal drugs for personal possession and use. 

Bloomberg reports that Norway’s Minister of Health and Social Care Services Bent Hoie and Education Minister Guri Melby said in a UN conference in February that Norway “will abolish criminal liability for the use of drugs and the acquisition and possession of a small amount of drugs for own use.”

Ms Melby said: “Decades of repression have taught us that punishment doesn’t work. On the contrary, punishment can make things worse. Drug addicts need help, not punishment.

“We will no longer stand by and watch people being stigmatised and called criminals when they are in fact ill.”

While it is still “only” a proposal, and as it is it needs to go through public consultation, experts believe this is a very strong recommendation by the government.

According to Drogriporter (Drugreporter), Norway will follow the Portuguese model. Portugal became the first nation to decriminalise all drugs in 2001, diverting drug users to appropriate treatment clinics as opposed to the criminal system. According to reports, Norway would introduce similar measures to prioritise public health.

The proposal means that possession and use will still be deemed illegal and the authorities will be able to stop and search those thought to be suspicious. However, the actions will not be punishable as a criminal offence as long as the amounts found are under the quantity ceiling.

The quantity ceiling has been set up as:

  • Heroin: 2 grams
  • Cocaine: 2 grams
  • Amphetamine: 2 grams
  • GHB, GBL and 1,4-butanediol: 50 ml
  • MDMA: 0.5 grams
  • Cannabis: 10 grams
  • Khat: 500 grams
  • Prescribed medicine: 15 pills

Drug decriminalisation has been on the political agenda in Norway since 2017 when the Norwegian Parliament’s sub-committee on health announced their intention to decriminalise personal drug use. The latest push for the reforms comes after the government was advised to decriminalise drug possession and use by the Norwegian Drug Reform Committee last December.

Despite having one of the highest-scoring welfare systems in the world, Norway, alongside its Nordic neighbours, is reported to have one of the worst drug-related death rates in the European continent. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug addiction, Norway had 66 cases of drug-related deaths per million in 2017 in comparison to an average of 23.7 in EU states.

While Norway has one of the strictest policies on cannabis use in Europe, medical cannabis has been legally available for some Norwegian patients since November 2016.

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