Sensible drug policy has made its way to Norway, and on December 13, 2017, it was announced that the Norwegian Parliament voted to decriminalize all drugs. Advocacy groups like the country’s chapter of NORML, entitled NORML Norway, have been advocating for this type of policy reform for a while now. Chairwoman and Head of NORML Norway, Ester Nafstad, spoke with CULTURE B2B about how this decision came about, NORML Norway’s involvement in the legislation, as well as what the future holds for illegal substances, like cannabis, in the country.
“In 2016, we sent a petition to the Health Minister that sever drug user organizations co-signed, where we advocated for decriminalization in combination with voluntary and widely available help for drug problems. Five weeks later, the Health Minister Bent Høie announced that he had changed his mind in national newspapers, and most of the political parties followed.”
Norway has now decriminalized not just cannabis, but all illegal drugs in this monumental decision. Why do you think the Norwegian Parliament decided to go this route?
The decriminalization is a result of a strong Norwegian reform movement and an ongoing debate about the issue in Norwegian media over the past couple of years.
In 2016, we sent a petition to the Health Minister that several drug user organizations co-signed, where we advocated for decriminalization in combination with voluntary and widely available help for drug problems. Five weeks later, the Health Minister Bent Høie announced that he had changed his mind in national newspapers, and most of the political parties followed. One of our concerns was also that the drug users that are in the most difficult situations receive fines they are not able to pay, making a return to normal life even more difficult; Mr. Høie found this especially important.
How soon will Norwegians be able to see this decriminalization take effect? What’s the expected timeline?
The legislation will pass, at earliest, 2021, but it would be natural to expect to see a change in the way drug addicts and drug users are [treated] already this year.
How do you think decriminalization will affect those who have substance abuse problems due to illegal drugs?
Norway has for many years topped the European statistics of overdose deaths, and the hopes are that decriminalization can prevent a high number of these deaths, the same way Portugal experienced a dramatic reduction in overdose related deaths after their decriminalization in 2001. The decriminalization will make it easier for those who struggle with drug abuse to get help from the health care system.
How do you think that decriminalization will affect those who currently consume cannabis?
This can go either way, but we fear more use of social sanctions, like loss of the right to a driver’s license and loss of parental rights, against cannabis consumers. As we know only about 10 percent of the users have a problematic use; we fear the pathologizing and forced treatment of cannabis consumers.
What’s the next step for NORML?
Our biggest task this year I think will be the removal of stigma of cannabis consumers to avoid a situation as described above. We will also focus on harm reduction by promoting healthier ways of ingesting cannabis like use of vaporizers and edibles over joints mixed with tobacco, which is the most common way of using cannabis here in Norway.
There is still an idea that all use is problematic use, we see it as our task to challenge this view and create a more nuanced view of who the consumer of cannabis is.