Roar Mikalsen: The Director of Public Prosecutions’ responsibility for human rights in Norwegian drug policy 



The Director of Public Prosecutions’ responsibility for human rights in Norwegian drug policy 

The Alliance for Rights-Oriented Drug Policy (AROD) is asking the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue charges following the cannabis rally at the Norwegian Parliament on 22 September, so that the need for human rights analysis can be addressed to the courts. 

It is 20 years since the Norwegian Penal Law Commission’s majority pointed out the unreasonable punishments in the drug field, but the Ministry of Justice would not consider the proposal to lower the maximum sentence to 10 years. Instead, the state continues to twist supply and demand into a victim and abuser context, and thousands have to suffer unjustly. 

It is becoming more and more obvious that drug prohibition is not necessary in a modern society, because the punishment is not in a credible relationship with the goal but works against its purpose. 

There is an obvious connection between public panic, human rights violations and the arbitrary persecution of the past, and it is becoming more and more problematic for Norway to maintain the law’s strictest punishment when other countries regulate the cannabis market. 

The drug reform report is also clear that the burden of proof rests with the state, and it has not been met. AROD has shown how the Ministry of Justice has failed to ensure the quality of punishment in drug policy, and the Director of Public Prosecutions himself is unsure whether drug dealers should be subjected to the current regime. Sensibly enough, the Director has abandoned the ideal of a drug-free society in favour of more rational considerations, and the time is ripe to confront the double standard that builds prohibition.

Recently, four cannabis convicts received harsher sentences than people who rape children or commit murder. It doesn’t stick, and only witch hunts result in such verdicts. For 40 years, Norwegian criminologists have pointed to the scapegoat mechanism as decisive, and the report of the Royal Commission on Drug Policy Reform shows the public panic on which the policy is based. 

Cannabis will soon be legal in large parts of Europe, and it is time to assess the proportionality of the current criminal framework. Not only does the right to review of the law dictate that the courts must ensure an effective remedy, but the Director can request the cases he wants, and this is an opportunity to take responsibility for controversial laws. 

As the Royal Commission shows, the interpretation of the UN’s drug policy conventions in the last 10 years has gone from emphasizing a drug-free ideal to looking at the intention which is to protect public health. The Prohibition came about by disregarding constitutional principles and it was assumed that this would result in a drug-free society within 25 years. 

It didn’t work out that way. Rather than reducing supply and demand, prohibition has increased crime, stigmatization, deprivation of liberty, morbidity, and mortality, without much good to show for it, and it is time to assess the relationship between ends and means. 

Good intentions started this social experiment 60 years ago, but it is becoming more and more obvious that the cure (drug prohibition) is worse than the disease (drug use), and that the state must choose less invasive methods. The state has an obligation to protect the people from the destructive power of the drug economy, and more and more countries are using human rights as an argument for regulating the market. 

In fact, Colombia’s president last month described prohibition as genocide and told the UN that “democracy will die” if the state does not take control of the drug market, and this is the truth about drug policy. 

It is not right that hundreds of thousands of Norwegian citizens should suffer for the failure of politicians in the field of drugs, and we have questions that those responsible for policy must answer if the prohibition is to stand. We also have documents that presents an overview of the human rights argument, and we ask the Director to bring the case before the courts. 

This is the duty of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Civil society trusts that the prosecution authority’s chief representative will ensure the quality of legislation, and on behalf of the nation’s conscience we hope for a resolution.

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