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Norway to sentence some drug addicts to treatment rather than prison

"More addicts will rid themselves of their drug dependency and fewer will return to crime"

Matt Broomfield
Sunday 14 February 2016 15:40 GMT
The law covers drugs from cannabis through to heroin and crack cocaine
The law covers drugs from cannabis through to heroin and crack cocaine (Getty)

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.

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.

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