«Ensuring Human Rights protection in Nordic drug policy» - Side event at CND

18. april 2023

March 14, 2023 we arranged the side event: «Ensuring Human Rights protection in Nordic drug policy» (YouTube) at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in Vienna.

This side event aimed to discuss the Nordic drug policy discourse: Is policing a proportional response and the best option to adress drug use? Are strict and punitive control regimes in Health Services for People Who Use Drugs cost effective and helping? Are they aligned with the goal of ensuring healthy lives and well-beeing for all? How are Human Rights protected in the midst of these questions?

The event aimed to highlight the findings of recent research on Human Rights in Nordic countries.

The event  was organised by The Association for Humane Drug Policy with the support of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, IDPC and RIO.


Eivind Digranes, Norwegian National Human Rights Institution
Halldóra Mogensen, MP, Iceland
Nanna W. Gotfredsen, Street Lawyer and MP, Denmark
Arild Knutsen, head of The Norwegian Association for Humane Drug Policy (FHN)

Moderated by: Marie Nougier, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

Side event organizer: John Melhus, The Norwegian Association for Humane Drug Policy

The event was recorded and uploaded to YouTube. You can see the event here. Video produced by Istvan Gabor Takacs / Drugreporter

This was Arild Knutsens talk at the event:

I am glad to say that in the context of human rights in Nordic drug policy, Norway is still heading in the right direction and now faster than ever before. Even though; the report from The Norwegian National Human Rights Institution clearly shows that even a country that prides itself on being a Human Rights champion, has room for improvement. I think it is a strength for any country to be able to have itself scrutinized on Human Rights, and I hope more institutes on Human Rights in other countries will follow this example. 

As some of you might remember, a conservative Norwegian government suggested a drug policy reform, with decriminalization, in 2021. It was to advance social justice and human rights. And please remember that decriminalization of drug use is strongly supported by the entire United Nations system through the “UN common position on drugs”. 

The Norwegian society was still not ready for it, so the parliament turned the suggestion down, but the discussion is still going strong and there has happened so much in the aftermath of this, that it is really amazing.

1. The courts first started to reduce penalties in drug cases, changing sentences from months in prison to a few weeks suspended sentence.

2. The Supreme Court then decided that those with substance use disorders shall no longer receive punishment for their own personal use. Personal use allows for 5 grams of heroin, amphetamine or cocaine, and for cannabis the limit is set to 15 grams.

3. In one tried case even a recreational user was let off with probation for 10 grams of amphetamine, due to “personal circumstances”

So I must say that the Norwegian society has really started taking considerations to the wellbeing of the people to whom this applies, rather than blindly punishing them for the sake of the society. In some ways the court system is now leading us to a even more humane drug policy than the previous government suggested.

4. The Attorney General has since instructed the police that if a person suspected to be in possession of drugs for their own use is addicted to drugs, this person should no longer be stopped, searched, or arrested. If they are in doubt as to whether the person is addicted to drugs, then the benefit of the doubt must be given to that person. 

There has been a historic drop in reported drug offenses after this, and it seems as if the police now have reduced, if not stopped their search and strip - practice as well as their bringing people in for drug testing to see if they are under the influence.

During this extensive development, The current government is planning a new drug reform that they call a “Prevention and treatment reform”, but one issue that the current government really seems to take into consideration is proportionality. What is a proportional reaction? And this is a key issue, but at the same time we are seeing some troubling signals from some of our neighboring areas, where the police response to drug use is being scaled up, sentencing is becoming harsher and there’s also a political rhetoric blaming users for the violence and even terrorism that is happening due to drug crime. We have seen this political abdication of responsibility many times before throughout history and we do know the results:

More stigma, more damage and less positive health outcomes. We hope that this will end. Because there are alternatives!

And I think that the development in Norway can be of inspiration for us all, and maybe especially for the Nordic countries.

Because, seeing that the police now have stopped, at least reduced, their following and arresting people for suspicion of drug influence or possession, we have a unique possibility to find other ways to meet and react to drug use.

In the lead up to the decriminalization reform, a Norwegian committee did extensive research for a year and found that criminalizing drug use does not prevent drug use. It just creates problems, it is actively counterproductive. And that was very surprising to many people. 

Now, I think what we owe each other is extensive research on whether the police should prioritize drug use. Because, since the police have taken two steps back, it has opened for social workers to take those two steps forward. They have the right expertise, the right tools and then the police can prioritize serious crime, even such crime that traumatizes people and creates the kind of trouble a lot of people use drugs to be able to bear. 

Also, during the year that the police have taken two steps back, they have seized a larger quantity of drugs than in many many years. Actually they have increased the amount of seizures to almost twice the average for the last decade.

It is also time to acknowledge that drug users have a particular vulnerability to being exposed to crime and that they must be protected.

The police should change practice from criminalization to behavior regulation.

They should ensure that drug users are just as protected from crime as everyone else. We want drug users to have the same protection of the law that everyone else can take for granted.

A couple of weeks back, a local police officer said to me “You know, I think there are other professions that can do drug prevention work much better than us in the Police”

And I think he is very right!

When we look into what the authorities have taken into account, what The Norwegian National Human Rights Institution has taken into consideration and what the discussions mainly is about, it is about the follow-up after arrest. But why arrest someone for drug use at all? What we are missing is a concrete discussion about police work and priorities. In all stories about oppression and human rights violations throughout history, police control instead of police protection is at the center of these stories. We therefore think it is wrong to talk about de-stigmatization and human rights violations without this perspective.  

Here you can read and watch a video from last years event  "Exploring the status of Nordic models of criminalization and decriminalization of drug use – which consequences these processes have had and how changes in direction have challenged the perspectives of politicians, society and the general public at large"

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