While multiple state and local governments throughout the U.S. are considering decriminalization and other drug reforms, the government of Norway on Friday proposed a bill to end the criminalizing personal possession of illegal substances.
Members of the country’s Liberal Party presented the decriminalization legislation, which would make low-level possession a civil offense instead of a criminal one carrying more severe penalties. Possession offenses would also require mandatory drug treatment. Refusal to comply with the treatment requirements could result in a fine, but not the threat of jail time, under the proposal.
Police will confiscate small amounts of illegal substances found on a suspect’s person and require the offender to appear at a municipal advisory unit without threat of prison.
Drug Addiction Is a Medical Problem
“Decades of repression have taught us that punishment doesn’t work. On the contrary, punishment can make things worse,” Education Minister Guri Melby said during a press conference on Friday, according to AFP. “Drug addicts need help, not punishment. We will no longer stand by and watch people being stigmatized and called criminals when they are in fact ill.”
These statements reflect the position of most scientists, doctors, and drug treatment professionals that drug abuse and addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal one, and should be addressed in a medical context.
Health Minister Bent Hoeie, a member of Norway’s Conservative Party, reflected the government’s stance by saying, “young people can be motivated to change behavior without the threat of force or criminal punishment.” He further stated that the proposed policy change “will make it easier to seek help when they need it, as they won’t have to fear jail or fines. It’s high time we replace punishment with help.”
The Norwegian Drug Reform Committee released a report in December that recommended Norway enact decriminalization, and reform followed this recommendation.
Norway isn’t alone in considering or enacting a decriminalization policy for certain illegal substances, as there is similar pending legislation in several U.S. states with Oregon approving a ballot measure to decriminalize all drugs in November 2020.
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