Vellykket Side Event på CND om avkriminalisering i Norden

18. mars 2022

Denne uken har forhandlingene i FNs narkotikakommisjon #CND65 pågått. Torsdag 17. mars arrangererte vi et Side Event om Nordiske debatter og prosesser om kriminalisering og avkriminalisering. Og om erfaringer vi kan trekke av dette. Med eksempler fra Sverige, Island, Finland og Norge.

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 (YouTube). Speakers: - Henrik Tham, Professor Emeritus, Stockholm University - Svala Jóhannesdóttir, Harm reduction specialist and advocate (IS) - Veronika Honkasalo, Member of Parliament of Finland - Arild Knutsen, Norwegian Association for Humane Drug Policy (FHN) Moderated by: Marie Nougier, Head of Research and Communications, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)

Debatten om rusreform er høyst aktuell, også i våre naboland.
Island har avkriminalisering vært oppe til Alltinget 3 ganger.

I Finland har en ekspertgruppe ved det Nasjonale Instituttet for Helse og Velferd (THL) anbefalt reform. Og en underskriftskampanje signert av 50000 for avkriminalisering av Cannabis er til behandling i Riksdagen.

Også i Sverige raser debatten. En av landets fremste kriminologer, Henrik Tham, har nettopp publisert en aktuell bok om Nordisk ruspolitikk, som heter Retreat or Entrenchment?: Drug Policies in the Nordic Countries at a Crossroads.

Det er 3. året Foreningen for human narkotikapolitikk arrangerer Side Event på CND. I 2021 arrangerte vi et Side Event med tittelen: "Addressing the harms of criminalisation and policing with criminal justice and drug policy reform" (Youtube)

Eventet i 2020 handlet om Fruktene av samarbeid mellom myndighetene og sivilt samfunn (YouTube). Der var Carl-Erik Grimstad og Arild Knutsen med i panelet.

John Melhus, tillitsvalgt i FHN, er kontaktperson for arbeidet knyttet til FNs narkotikakommisjon.

Arild Knutsens innlegg på årets event:

In February 2021 a conservative government in Norway suggested a model for decriminalization. I remember so clearly when I was talking about this at a side event here at CND last year. We were awaiting the opposition's response the very same day, and I said then that it was so exciting, it was a thriller.

Even though the opposition did turn the suggestion down and later on formed a government, it still is a thriller. Due to the findings of the Drug reform committee, the previous Government's proposal and the debate that followed, changes have come in motion, both in attitudes and practices that we did not even foresee.

It all started by a majority of the representatives in Parliament making it clear in desember 2017, that they wanted to transfer the reaction to drug use from justice to health. Civil society was the driving force behind this drug reform and was strongly included in the process.

The slogan “Support. Don’t punish” was finally embraced, but unfortunately with different understandings of the word support. The slogan for the Norwegian drug policy reform was “From punishment to help”, some understood this as decriminalization and others understood it as a policy where punishment is replaced by treatment, to stop using. Drug treatment. 

So what happened during the discourse was that drug users were divided into three constructed groups. 1. Young and experimenting drug users. 2. Adult recreational users. 3. People with severe drug dependence.

The majority of the Parliament thought that they should replace punishment with treatment for persons with severe drug dependence, but they opposed decriminalization as such because they still thought that we should maintain the criminal responsibility for young experimenting drug users and adult recreational users. 

The logic behind this thinking is that young people don’t always know what’s for their own good, so they must be forced into a control based follow up, with urine tests and conversations for up to a year to avoid punishment. And if drug use is again detected, punishment must again be considered.

And they think that adult recreational users must bear the burden of punishment, because they should take the responsibility for the problems that the illegal trade makes.

And they think that those with severe drug dependence should be considered as so sick that they are not liable, but to be put in a category with children and mentally disabled and therefore they should not be punished. 

The governments drug policy reform was turned down because of these, in my opinion, 

stigmatizing attitudes, 

This political abdication of responsibility 

And this unfortunate construction of groups of drug users.

Even though, the Parliament did make some changes. From now on, less serious drug offences shall be deleted from the criminal record after three years. 

And a “good samaritan law” has been implemented. Which says that one shall not be in risk of  being punished for drug use or possession when people call for help in situations where someone is in danger, like for instance in overdose situations. So that they will no longer hesitate to call for help. 

But after this, there has also happened a lot of other changes. 

Drug testing of students and pupils is finally settled as against the law and therefore the practice is finally stopped.

Also an old tradition with police bringing their dogs to schools to find drug users among the pupils and drag them out to arrest, and to have them kicked out of school, has finally come to an end. 

And finally it now sparks an outrage when people hear that those who express a wish for a more liberal, or humane, drug policy are being harassed by police and child welfare services and so on. 

There are several things that is happening, that shows that the attitude in the society is slowly shifting in a way where the criminal response is transferred from people using drugs and over to those who are treating drug users bad.

One of the more exciting changes is that the police now are forced to change the way they treat drug users upon arrest. 

During a hearing at The Parliament in March 2021, the main opposition to reform, police organizations and police representatives warned that decriminalization would rob them from their “tools” to “prevent” drug use. What they meant about their “prevention tools” was to take urine samples, search cell phones and search homes, when they suspected drug use. So that they could find who provided them the drugs.

The Attorney General reacted strongly and then wrote a letter to the police, explaining that they do not have the authority to use such privacy-infringing measures if suspected drug use. And now this search practice is the subject of an investigation. Also Norway's Human Rights Institution has reacted on this practise, stating that it seems to be a violation of both Norwegian laws and The European Convention on Human Rights. 

In my view, one of the most interesting things that has happened, is that the court system itself has started reducing penalties in drug cases. In some cases changing sentences from months in prison to a few weeks suspended sentence. The reasons behind this seem varied but one of the main ones is that, if all parties in Parliament agree that people with drug dependence should not be punished but helped, how can the court system continue to punish? Within the court system it has also been expressed that punishment for drug use is pointless.

And five days from now, march 22, The Supreme Court will decide whether criminalizing people with drug dependence is a violation of the Constitution.

There is a great chance that they will come to the conclusion that it is.

On one hand some say that the parliament cannot have a policy without equality before the law. So therefore we cannot decriminalize just for some. On the other hand some say that we cannot criminalize people with drug addiction because the majority of the Parliament is against it - and therefore we can not criminalize other groups of drug users either.

Another important question that is raised is: Who is to decide whether a drug dependence is severe enough so that they won't be punished?

In addition to all this, five political parties at the Parliament have suggested a rematch for the drug policy reform, so the groundbreaking debate is still ongoing. And the municipal authorities in the Capitol, Oslo, are working to get permission to have a local pilot tryout for decriminalization. 

So this is where we are at the moment. When the big debate about decriminalisation started, peoples eyes where opened. Different parts of society began to evaluate itself. It gave birth to rethinking what had been considered as right and wrong for decades.

So to conclude, the debate about decriminalization is not something to fear, but an opportunity for growth and human compassion, and believe me the situation, it still is an ongoing thriller.

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