MP charged in narcotics case

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UPDATED: A 24-year-old Member of Parliament (MP) for the Conservative Party, has been charged in a narcotics case that already has led to the arrests and imprisonment of several persons in Hordaland, the west coast district he represents. Erik Skutle of Bergen apologized Thursday night for “disappointing” his party colleagues but may end up hanging on to the parliamentary seat vacated by Erna Solberg when she became prime minister.

Erik Skutle PHOTO: Stortinget

Erik Skutle PHOTO: Stortinget

Website VG Nett reported Thursday afternoon that Skutle, who proposed decriminalization of cannabis just this week, is charged with violating narcotics laws. After undergoing police questioning and admitting to using hash, Skutle released the following statement:

“I’m very sorry for the serious breach of trust I have made. I have let down those who have helped me and supported my work in recent years, not least those closest to me. What I have done is serious and I understand it will have consequences. I will resign all party positions but will try to rebuild people’s confidence in me, slowly but surely.”

Trond Helleland, leader of the parliamentary group for the Conservative Party (Høyre), issued a press release Thursday afternoon in which he said that the group “had been made aware that one of our representatives, Erik Skutle, has, under police questioning, admitted using hash on one occasion.” Helleland referred to the Skutle’s offense as “a serious breach of trust.”

Can’t resign seat in Parliament
Skutle has been described as a rising political talent within the Conservative Party and party officials themselves said they were unsure what consequences his drug offense would have. Even though Skutle has said he will resign all positions of trust he has within the party, it’s not up to the party to remove him from his seat in Parliament and Skutle can’t resign himself.

In what may seem a legal paradox, MPs who violates the law don’t automatically lose their places in the national assembly that makes the laws. Instead, persons elected to a seat in Parliament have an obligation to fill it. The Parliament’s leadership can grant leave, but that’s usually only granted in cases of illness or when MPs are appointed government ministers. It’s seldom that an MP violates the law in Norway, so it will be up to the Parliament’s leadership to act.

“We view this as very serious, and in Høyre, we have zero tolerance for the use and possession of narcotics,” Helleland stated. “This is a serious breach of trust towards the party and Høyre’s parliamentary group.”

At the same time, however, Helleland noted that it “is important to take care of Erik Skutle and try to help him in the best possible way.” Helleland said he had been in contact with Skutle and described him as “doing well under the circumstances. He acknowledges that he’s done something illegal and has apologized for the breach of trust.”

Had advocated decriminalization of cannabis
As late as Wednesday, Skutle proposed that hash be sold in local pharmacies or Norway’s state-run liquor stores as a reaction to recent police raids on several schools in the Bergen area where many young students were found to be using hash. VG reported that the raids, and apprehensions of quite a few teenagers, revealed how common drug use was among youth.

Skutle told VG that he urged debate on whether Norway should allow pharmacies and the state-run Vinmonopolet to sell cannabis in the future. “I’m not saying narcotics aren’t dangerous, they of course are,” Skutle told VG. “They’re damaging, no one doubts that. But I think we have greater chances of controlling and reducing narcotics use by selling it legally than by having a total ban on it.” Helleland had later reportedly rebuked him, because decriminalization is not part of the Conservatives’ party platform.

Skutle denied using drugs himself. “I obey the laws that apply,” he told VG. That has proven to be untrue, and now his political career is in jeopardy regardless of the fate of his seat in Parliament. “It’s been a tough day,” Skutle told newspaper Bergens Tidende late Thursday. “Now I need time to collect my thoughts.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund