Norway's courts will now be able to sentence drug-addicted convicts to treatment programmes instead of sending them to jail.
Following trials in Bergen and Oslo, the narkotikaprogrammet (narcotics programme) is being introduced nationwide, effective immediately.
Announcing the expansion of the programme, Justice Minister Anders Andundsen said: “We’re rolling out a program that has been tested since 2006, in which addicts have been sentenced to treatment with concrete follow-up."
“The goal is that more addicts will rid themselves of their drug dependency and fewer will return to crime,” Anundsen continued. “But if the terms of the programme are violated, the convicts must serve an ordinary prison term.”
The legislation was introduced by the Conservative party, who are ruling as a minority government in a centrist coalition, and backed by almost every party in the Norweigan parliament.
However, the new measures have also attracted criticism from across the political spectrum. Right-wing pundits in Norway have argued that possession of illegal substances should remain a criminal offence, while many on the left feel that the law still viciously penalises vulnerable addicts.
Arild Knutsen of the Association for Humane Drug Policy said: “Drug courts constitute a form of forced treatment where the primary symptom of addiction, relapse, is punished with prison. Only one in three people successfully complete the programme.
The weakest people with the most complicated problems are either not considered suitable, or are sent back to prison after failing supervised urine controls.These undemocratic policies reinforce the role of the police and violate people’s privacy and dignity.
If Norway was truly progressive, they would follow WHO and UNAIDS recommendations and fully decriminalize drug use, ban forced treatment and stop using involuntary urine controls.”
More extensive decriminalisation measures across Europe and beyond seem to have achieved the desired effect, reducing drug use and abuse by removing factors that create problematic drug use such as stigmatisation, lack of access to healthcare, prison sentences and employment difficulties.
Portugal adopted a bolder policy in 2001, totally decriminalising all personal possession of drugs. 15 years later, rates of drug use have fallen across the nation, and British people are now 15 times more likely than Portuguese people to die of a drug overdose.
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Where cannabis is and isn't legal
Having been reclassified in 2009 from a Class C to a Class B drug, cannabis is now the most used illegal drug within the United Kingdom. The UK is also, however, the only country where Sativex – a prescribed drug that helps to combat muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis and contains some ingredients that are also found in cannabis - is licensed as a treatment
2/12 North Korea
Although many people believe the consumption of cannabis in North Korea to be legal, the official law regarding the drug has never been made entirely clear whilst under Kim Jong Un’s regime. However, it is said that the North Korean leader himself has openly said that he does not consider cannabis to be a drug and his regime doesn’t take any issue with the consumption or sale of the drug
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In the Netherlands smoking cannabis is legal, given that it is smoked within the designated ‘smoking areas’ and you don’t possess more than 5 grams for personal use. It is also legal to sell the substance, but only in specified coffee shops
Although in some states of America cannabis has now been legalised, prior to the legalisation, police in the U.S. could make a marijuana-related arrest every 42 seconds, according to US News and World Report. The country also used to spend around $3.6 billion a year enforcing marijuana law, the American Civil Liberties Union notes
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Despite cannabis being officially illegal in Spain, the European hotspot has recently started to be branded, ‘the new Amsterdam’. This is because across Spain there are over 700 ‘Cannabis Clubs’ – these are considered legal venues to consume cannabis in because the consumption of the drug is in private, and not in public. These figures have risen dramatically in the last three years – in 2010 there were just 40 Cannabis Clubs in the whole of Spain. Recent figures also show that in Catalonia alone there are 165,000 registered members of cannabis clubs – this amounts to over 5 million euros (£4 million) in revenue each month
In December 2013, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a bill legalizing and regulating the production and sale of the drug. But the president has since postponed the legalization of cannabis until to 2015 and when it is made legal, it will be the authorities who will grow the cannabis that can be sold legally. Buyers must be 18 or older, residents of Uruguay, and must register with the authorities
Despite the fact that laws prohibiting the sale and misuse of cannabis exist and is considered a habit only entertained by lower-income groups, it is very rarely enforced. The occasional use of cannabis in community gatherings is broadly tolerated as a centuries old custom. The open use of cannabis by Sufis and Hindus as a means to induce euphoria has never been challenged by the state. Further, large tracts of cannabis grow unchecked in the wild
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize the use of all drugs, and started treating drug users as sick people, instead of criminals. However, you can still be arrested or assigned mandatory rehab if you are caught several times in possession of drugs
9/12 Puerto Rico
Although the use of cannabis is currently illegal, it is said that Puerto Rico are in the process of decriminalising it
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The US state became the first in the country to legalise marijuana in January 2014. In February 2015, President Obama recently said he expects to see more states "looking into" legalisation. However, it is illegally to grow more than six cannabis plants and to possess more than 28 grams of the drug
Oaksterdam in Oakland, California, is the world's only university dedicated to the study and cultivation of cannabis. If you are court in California with anything up to an ounce of cannabis, you will be fine $100, but you will not get a criminal record, nor will you have to appear in court
Cannabis is grown in the wild and has been used to treat conditions such as gout and malaria. But, officially the substance is illegal to consume, possess and sell
With its introduction of a network of federal-administrated, legal marijuana dispensaries, Uruguay is becoming the first country in the world nternational Convention on Drug Control. However, data does not yet indicate the impact of the legislation on a country where 10% of the prison population is incarcerated for small drug offences.
Amongst other countries, the Netherlands, Colombia and Spain have adopted similar approaches towards some drug use, while Ireland is set to enact a similar programme to Portugal this year.
Norwegian legislators argue that their new legislation will follow these trends and instigate a decrease in addiction, drug-related crime and drug-related deaths. However, commentators such as Knutsen fear that vulnerable addicts will actually suffer more under the new programme than they did under the original system.