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    Towards a paradigm shift in Norwegian drug policy

    DRUGS: Perhaps it is the opponents of Norways's drug reform who should watch The Winds of Change, which follows three activists from the Association for Human Drug Policy.

    The Winds of Change is an appropriate title for Kieran Kolle’s documentary on Norwegian drug policy, as major changes are about to take place in this area.

    The film is about Arild Knutsen, Michelle Alexandra Muren, and Kim-Jørgen Arnetvedt, all affiliated with the Association for Human Drug Policy. Knutsen has led the association since he founded it in 2006, and through this position has been a key participant in the public debate on the country’s obvious challenges in the area of ​​intoxicants. Norway has long pursued a strict and conservative drug policy, which in the opponents’ view, has not been very successful. «In recent years, Norway has had among the highest registered incidences of drug-induced deaths per capita in Europe,» it says on the Norwegian Directorate of Health’s website, and these statistics also refer to the film in an introductory text.

    Early in the documentary, Knutsen tells about drug addicts who do not call an ambulance when they witness others overdose, as this will mean the police will also come. And there are probably many who are reluctant to seek help for a number of drug-related problems, for the reason that drug use is criminalised and stigmatised.

    Norway-drug reform-documentary-mtr
    The Winds of Change, a film by

    Proposal for decriminalization

    This year, however, the wind may turn in earnest when the legislature is to consider the government’s proposal for drug reform. In December 2019, a drug reform committee appointed by the government presented the report «From punishment to help», in which it is proposed that drug users should be offered help and treatment rather than being criminalised and punished. It involves a decriminalisation of purchases, use, and possession for one’s own use – which, it should be noted, is not the same as legalisation, but a transfer from the justice sector to the health care system.

    Nevertheless, it is perhaps not surprising that the committee’s proposal has provoked reactions. In a feature on Dagsrevyen on 11 January, it was presented that one can be taken with more than 300 intoxication doses of various substances to a total street value of 20,0000 kroner without being punished if this is successful. In the feature, Sylvi Listhaug and Åshild Bruun-Gundersen from the Progress Party were presented with doses of all the drugs, presented on a table. The two politicians reacted with predictable dismay to the hypothetical amount of different substances – which no one, in reality, would have been in possession of for their own use.

    However, the changes have been in the air for a while, no matter how shocked the Progress Party’s representatives may be when NRK gives them the opportunity to score such cheap points. The drug reform was initiated by a parliamentary majority consisting of the Labor Party, the Conservative Party, the Socialist People’s Party, and the Liberal Party in 2017, and decriminalisation has previously been investigated and proposed by the Criminal Law Commission in 2002 and the Stoltenberg Committee in 2011.

    the documentary shows both their personal challenges with drugs and the work they do for Norway to have a more humane policy.

    Close observations

    The Winds of Change was first shown at the Bergen International Film Festival in October, where it won the Youth Documentary Film Prize. The documentary uses archive clips from the Norwegian media to illustrate the recent decades’ public debate on drugs, but filmmaker Kolle has not included interviews with other professionals, nor politicians, or those in power in favor of an observational portrayal of the main characters. He has come close to the three activists in recordings that extend over several years, and the documentary shows both their personal challenges with drugs and the work they do for Norway to have a more humane policy. By following them, we witness several important moments in the work leading up to the reform we are now facing, and which the association they represent has fought for.

    The government has not followed all the recommendations from the drug reform committee in the proposal they recently presented, among other things, the non-criminal amounts of drugs have been downgraded. Hopefully, however, there will be a parliamentary majority for a far more humane drug policy, which will make Norway one of the progressive pioneers in the area. In that case, this will be a significant and dramatic change – and for some, it may seem more than radical.

    The use of heroin and other hard drugs is often a form of self-medication for trauma or other painful experiences.

    Self medication

    The three people the film follows are all, as mentioned, connected to the same association, which welcomes the reform. At the same time, they are people with their own experiences with substance abuse problems. By sharing so much of themselves, the film emphasises a very important point: The use of heroin and other hard drug#s is often a form of self-medication for trauma or other painful experiences. As it is said in the film, no one wants to be addicted to drugs. Criminalisation in no way contributes to helping those who are.

    Due to the absence of critical voices, some will probably think that The Winds of Change speaks to the congregation, but perhaps it is the opponents of the reform who should preferably watch this film.

    Decriminalisation will hardly lead to increased recruitment of drug addicts but will make it easier to seek and offer the necessary help. As Minister of Health Bent Høie has, for example, changed his position, it is high time that the wind turned in this field.

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    Aleksander Huser
    Huser is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
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