NORWAY DECRIMINALISES CANNABIS IN AN EFFORT TO ROLL BACK REPRESSIVE DRUG POLICIES

On the whole, public policies in the Nordic countries are usually informed by modern science and human rights. Drug policy is, arguably, the notable exception. Current cannabis laws in Norway are not based on any real science of humanism but largely as a result of the fearmongering rhetoric of the 60s and 80s. However, as much of Europe rolls back the embargo on medical cannabis, Norway is looking to differentiate itself from the typically repressive Scandinavian cannabis policies.

 

Historical Spectrum of Drug Policy

Norway has one of the best funded healthcare systems in the world, spending an enormous €34 billion in 2016. In addition, Norway has a relatively young population, high life expectancy and generally does well with regard to risk factors such as smoking, alcohol and obesity. Despite an array of services from the healthcare services, many cannabis users are still suffering at the hands of repressive cannabis policies.

Scandinavian drug policy is totally divided between the liberal policies of Denmark and the punitive zero tolerance approach of Sweden. Norway lies somewhere in between but has slowly begun to differentiate itself from the Swedish model.

In the Nordic countries, the construction of cannabis policy started in earnest as a reaction to the drug wave of the 1960s. While Denmark and Sweden had rather mild reactions, Norway was immediately struck by panic, and passed some of the strictest anti-cannabis laws in Europe.  

At the height of the American drug war, in 1984, Norway’s right-wing government implemented maximum prison sentences for drug offences, often on par with murder sentences.

 

Regulatory Change

However, since the fearfulness of the 60s, 70s and 80s, Norway has slowly turned away from punitive measures and more towards treatment policies, taking lead from the Portuguese model of drug decriminalisation for adult use of cannabis.

In December 2017, the Norwegian Parliament announced the nation would become the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise personal drug use, including cannabis. The majority of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, backed the historic shift which was supported by the Conservatives, Liberals, the Labor Party and the Socialist Left.

 (Storting Oslo, Wikimedia)

(Storting Oslo, Wikimedia)

Under the new rule up to 15 grams of non-medical cannabis is considered an amount for personal use and will be treated with a fine rather than a criminal conviction.

It is important to emphasise that we do not legalise cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalise.

The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision: those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment
— Sveinung Stensland, deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee

Nicolas Wilkinson, the SV party’s health spokesman, told VG that parliament’s goal was to “stop punishing people who struggle, but instead give them help and treatment”. He added the aim is to transfer responsibility for drug policy from the justice department to the health department.

 

Medical Empathy

While the decriminalisation of recreational cannabis has been a recent effort, medical cannabis treatments have been around a little longer, since the beginning of 2016. Though cannabis is still on the list of prohibited narcotics, it is currently legal to import drugs containing a regulated narcotic for personal medicinal use in limited quantities provided that the person importing the drug has a prescription from a doctor. It’s important to note that medical cannabis, in this case, refers to cannabis-related products containing cannabis plant extracts rather than the use of flowers.

Since the medical cannabis scheme was piloted in early 2016, the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency have sent supervisors to educate specialists in hospitals on the application of frameworks and routines surrounding medical cannabis treatment, in an effort to bridge the ubiquitous gap between legislative efforts and medical application.

Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Hoie.jpg

The medical authorities in Norway follow the guidelines and practices set out by the Danish Medicines Agency and their use of medical cannabis. In order to apply for other cannabis treatments, doctors are required to show that other treatments have been ineffective.

CBD oil derived from hemp is legal, as long as it contains a negligible THC content. However, it is not particularly popular in Norway and would be difficult to find in any domestic shop. Coincidentally, the growth and distribution of hemp or hemp seeds is completely prohibited.

Unfortunately, Norway lacks a proper authoritative listing of qualifying conditions for cannabis treatments but it has been known to be prescribed for MS and cancer treatment and extreme pain - expected to import 100,000 grams of cannabis flower for patients in 2018.

 

Commerce and Cannabis

Unfortunately, commercial opportunities in the cannabis industry are limited by Norwegian legislation. Currently, industrial production is prohibited for both cannabis and hemp, with seed distribution strictly outlawed with all medical cannabis currently imported from the Netherlands’ Bedrocan.

Hence, multinationals are looking to target the Norwegian market via European cultivators and distributors. Canadian based Maricann Group are targeting the Norwegian market in anticipation of a medical cannabis surge. Another, Aurora Cannabis plan to supply medical cannabis to Norway, and a series of other Nordic countries, via their German subsidiary.

Norway’s decriminalisation of cannabis has been widely cited in the media but perhaps a further investigation of cannabis policies is needed. Consumers are still persecuted financially under the new cannabis laws and no significant listing exists for qualifying medical conditions. Rather, as with much of Europe, cannabis is seen as the last chance saloon of medical treatments. However, after half a century of harsh cannabis laws in Norway, decriminalisation represents another chink in the armour of punitive cannabis policies in Europe.


For any questions regarding the content on this article, please contact the author at eoin@prohibitionpartners.com