Norway is to become the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs as it focuses on treatment rather than punishment.
The majority of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, backed the historic shift which was supported by the Conservatives (Hoyre), Liberals (Venstre), the Labor Party (Ap) and the Socialist Left (SV).
They directed the national government to reform its policies on drugs.
Sveinung Stensland, deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, told Norwegian publication VG: “It is important to emphasise that we do not legalise cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalise.
“The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision: those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.”
Nicolas Wilkinson, the SV party’s health spokesman, told VG that parliament’s goal was to “stop punishing people who struggle, but instead give them help and treatment”. He added the aim is to transfer responsibility for drug policy from the justice system to the health system.
The move follows the drug programme with judicial control (ND) scheme to replace custodial sentences with treatment programmes for drug addicts in the cities of Bergen and Oslo.
Launched in 2006 the scheme, billed as an “alternative to detention in prison”, was rolled out to all Norwegian courts last year.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen previously said: “The goal is that more addicts will rid themselves of their drug dependency and fewer will return to crime.
“But if the terms of the programme are violated, the convicts must serve an ordinary prison term.”
Norway’s Country Drug Report released this year shows in 2014, the latest figures available, 266 people died from drug-related deaths. The figures, released by the Cause of Death Register, showed an increase from the year before, with opioids the most commonly involved drug.
The Norwegian Health Committee is planning a trip to Portugal in February, which decriminalised personal possession of drugs in 2001. The country made the move following a heroin epidemic and the highest drug-related Aids deaths in the European Union (EU).
It now has the second lowest drug-related deaths in the EU.
Norway could join other countries such as Portugal, the Netherlands, Uruguay, and certain US states including California and Colorado, which have liberalised drug laws.
Author: Rebecca Flood