No fines for minor drug offenses

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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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