No fines for minor drug offenses

Norway’s left-center government seems ready to try using “motivational dialogue” with drug users instead of simply issuing fines to those found with relatively minor quantities of narcotics. The users will also be offered “intervention programs” aimed at steering them away from a life of addiction, but opposition politicians aren’t convinced.

Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and Justice Minister Knut Storberget (center) welcomed a report that proposes milder, preventive measures against drug use and possession in Norway. PHOTO: Regjeringen.no

Justice Minister Knut Storberget and Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen made it clear at a press conference in Oslo Monday that they welcomed recommendations to move away from fines and prison terms for “less serious” violations of Norwegian narcotics laws. The recommendations came from a working group that had followed up a report from a commission led by the prime minister’s father and former Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg.

The commission already has advocated milder punishments for drug users. The working group also proposed that persons arrested on relatively minor drug charges should be offered alternative reactions instead of automatic fines and short or suspended prison terms.

Among the alternatives are “motivational conversations” or intervention programs that are believed to have a preventive effect on first-time drug offenders. Offenders with a record of drug use will be offered a six-month program involving conflict resolution. If they complete the program, their offense won’t go on their criminal record. If they drop the program, they’ll face normal penalties.

Storberget stressed that the proposal wasn’t a first step towards legalizing drugs in Norway. “This doesn’t involve decriminalization or legalization,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s rather an attempt to tailor a reaction that will address the reason for the law violation, the use of drugs.” Use and possession of drugs will remain illegal, Storberget said.

He said he’ll propose the new alternatives this fall, adding that they’re expected to cost NOK 23 million. “We can afford that,” he said, and Health Minister Strøm-Erichsen agreed.

“The thinking behind this has turned more from justice issues to health issues,” she said. “We’re using enormous resources on drug addiction. It would be great if we can take care of the users, and prevent them from falling into drugs again.”

Peter Myhre of the opposition Progress Party was already speaking out against the milder punishment Monday afternoon. He claimed the proposal does seem to make narcotics less punishable, and told NRK that his colleagues want to toughen punishment, not lessen it.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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  • Neal

    Why worry about the users? It’s the pushers that really need to be hit and hit hard. IMO the best way to sort out the crime involved in drug abuse is to legalise it, if you make drugs easy to get and taxed (like alcohol and tobacco) a lot of the problems go away.

  • David Hart

    ‘“This doesn’t involve decriminalization or legalization,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting’.

    A pity; that would be a far more effective measure rather than tinkering at the edges of a system that criminalises people for private consensual behaviour in a manner that is not obviously less unjust than those laws still on the books in some countries that criminalise people for private, consensual homosexuality.
    Supporters of prohibition seem to take it as a given that drug use is obviously the kind of behaviour for which people deserve to be punished (unless, strangely, that drug is alcohol, despite the fact that it is widely acknowledged to be more dangerous than many currently-prohibited drugs). Yet no prohibitionist to my knowledge has ever come up with a convincing argument as to why people who use drugs other than alcohol deserve to be criminalised for it.
    But ignoring the obvious injustice of punishing people who use drugs which fall foul of the personal prejudices of the majority, Neal is right; the only way to seriously damage the interests of unscrupulous and often violent dealers is to make it legally possible for responsible, law-abiding pharmacists (who will have a licence to lose) to outcompete the black market. Would that the justice minister had the wisdom to see this (or perhaps I should rather say, the courage to admit it).