Justice Minister Knut Storberget is joining the chorus of state officials urging new, perhaps radical means of tackling Norway’s drug problem. Storberget called Friday for a public debate on decriminalizing the use and possession of narcotics.
“We must dare to think of alternatives,” Storberget told newspaper Aftenposten, just days after a government commission headed by the father of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg released a report outlining various proposals for helping drug addicts.
It included providing free heroin under controlled circumstances for the most serious cases of addiction. That proposal sparked immediate debate.
Storberget has been reading through the report since its release on Wednesday and is especially intrigued by a proposal to follow Portugal’s lead on moving away from criminal charges and jail terms for those found in possession of or using narcotics.
Portugal decriminalized narcotics in 2001 and can boast a decline in the number of both new drug users and deaths by overdose. Usage remains illegal, but instead of criminal punishment, those involved are followed closely by a panel intent on counseling and rehabilitation.
“We have to ask whether we shall continue to use criminal punishment as a reaction to use and possession of narcotics, or whether we dare to think like the Stoltenberg Commission,” Storberget said.
He added that “we can keep building prisons until we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t help.” A recent study by research organization Fafo concluded that 60 percent of the inmates in Norwegian prisons are drug abusers.
Storberget told Aftenposten that his fellow minister hadn’t taken a position on the issue yet, but he has discussed decriminalization with Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, a Labour Party colleague.