Norway’s parliament has voted to decriminalise drugs in a move away from incarceration towards treatment for narcotics instead.
The measure, which was passed by the Storting, Norway’s parliament, by 133 votes in favour versus 42 against, drew support from across the political spectrum. The outcome of the vote does not mean that drugs will be decriminalised overnight, rather it means the government must now begin initiating changes to Norway’s drug laws in accordance with the vote.
“The majority in the parliament has asked the government to prepare for reform,” a Storting spokesperson told Newsweek. “It has started a political process… it’s just the starting point.”
According to a 2014 report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Norway had the highest number of deaths by drug overdose in Europe – 76 for every one million inhabitants. This compared to just 17 per million in Europe as a whole. In 2014, 266 people died from drug overdoses in Norway.
The move to decriminalise followed a recent fact-finding mission by a government health committee to Portugal, which was the first country in Europe to decriminalise drugs in 2001. Portugal now has the second lowest drugs-related death rate in Europe.
Nicolas Wilinson, health spokesman for the Socialist Left told a Norwegian magazine that the aim from now on will be to “stop punishing people who struggle, but instead give them help and treatment.”
Norway’s Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said that users who are offered treatment but fail to follow through with it could still face criminal charges.
“If the terms of the programme are violated, the convicts must serve an ordinary prison term,” Anundsen said.