It’s no longer about crimes, but health and well being.
This week, Norway took a bold step away from punishing those in the country who use street drugs.
Sveinung Stensland, deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, made sure to put the moment in perspective. “It is important to emphasize that we do not legalize cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalize (it),” he said.
The Nordic country of just over 5 million people saw over 200 individuals die from drug-related deaths in 2014. And so the move comes with hope that things will change.
The government is searching for a different vision, one that will treat substance abuse as a sickness rather than a crime.
Is it a good idea? If you’re from a country like Portugal, you’d probably say, yes.
According to reports, Portugal had a full-blown heroin epidemic on its hands back in 2000. The result landed the country the highest rate of drug-related AIDS deaths in all of Europe.
Shocked in 2001, the Portuguese government moved to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs.
The result? Portugal now has the second-lowest rate of drug-related deaths in the EU.
Norway knows that decriminalizing drugs won’t make them disappear. The hope is to transfer addiction problems away from the justice system to the health system, where the country feels they belong.
And it’s not all cut-and-dry…nor feathers and bells. Addicts found using drugs do face consequences.
They will be expected to participate in mandatory treatment programs, something which has been happening in the Norwegian cities of Bergen and Oslo since 2006.
And if participants violate the terms of their program, they will then be expected to serve a regular prison sentence as punishment. But they will first be given a medical chance to get back on their feet, in terms of their health.
“The goal is that more addicts will rid themselves of their drug dependency and fewer will return to crime,” said Justice Minister Anders Anundsen.
Let’s see what happens. Perhaps it’s part of a larger, longer global change.
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