Although the U.S. is finally starting to lower its weapons in The War on Drugs, perhaps it could learn some lessons from Norway, which just updated the way judges are allowed to sentence convicted drug users for non-violent drug offenses. Instead of sentencing these people to prison — which is what the U.S. does so often that almost half of its federal prison population is connected to drugs — Norway now allows judges to sentence convicted drug users to rehabilitation programs.
As reported by Quartz and the Independent, the novel narkotikaprogram actually isn’t very new at all. It began back in 2006 in the cities of Oslo and Bergen, giving convicted drug users the option of signing up for drug treatment programs instead of going to prison.
The expanded program does have its restrictions; Norway’s new regulations have made it clear that judges are not required to give drug users the option of going to rehab and the court can decide which conditions each individual must abide by while in rehabilitation. Failure to follow these conditions would result in jail time, and any individual who is convicted, completes the rehabilitation program, and then returns to the drug scene will be required to serve his/her sentence in jail as usual.
Norway’s decision to change the way it handles drug-related crimes has received both praise and criticism. On one hand, it’s clear that Norway needs to take action and make changes in this sector; it has the highest number of people dying from overdoses than any other country in the European Union.
On the other hand — and this is what many Americans argue when they hear about prisoners being pardoned for non-violent drug-related crimes — it’s hard for a government to enforce rules that limit illicit drug use without enacting some sort of punishment.
“I would say that Norway’s decision is a step in the right direction. Many governments worldwide have decriminalized drug use for personal amounts,” said Arnold Hesnod, Clinical Outreach at Clear Sky Recovery. “The United States has an incarceration problem. While we account for only 5% of the world’s population, we house a staggering 25% of the world’s prison population. Many individuals behind bars are there due to non-violent, drug-related offenses.”
“The paradigm of criminalizing a medical condition (drug dependence) has produced absolutely no positive results. Better medically-based drug treatments are necessary, and “just say no” or “attend a 12-step meeting” hasn’t exactly worked out for the vast majority. Fortunately, there are new treatment options available such as ibogaine.”
Norway isn’t the first country to change the way it approaches the issue of drug use. Portugal decriminalized all drugs back in 2001 because its drug problem was so out of control that public officials didn’t know what else to do. It ended up working out pretty well.
Ireland announced last year that certain hospitals in the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick would have “supervised injecting rooms” for the treatment of drug addicts, and that the country would continue to look for more ways to improve how it handles drug use.
Perhaps none of these policies are 100% perfect, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.