Drug Reform—A Constitutional Challenge
(This article was published in Nettavisen, 18 January 2020. It was written as a response to the tendency of politicians to ignore the implications of moral panic, naming specifically the Christian People’s Party (KrF) and the Progress Party (FrP).)
The Royal Commission has published its report, but politicians in KrF and Frp do not like the experts’ conclusions. They are looking in vain for good reasons to continue as before, and the Liberal Party (V) is wise to distance itself from that kind of behaviour.
As documented in the report, politicians have let the heart rule over the head, allowing emotions take precedence over reason and ensured a drug policy with no evidence base. Moral panic has defined the development and will continue to, if Frp and KrF are to decide.
Kudos, therefore, to the Liberal Party, which is supporting more knowledge-based drug policies.
Human Rights Concerns
It has now been established that punishment is counterproductive. Hundreds of thousands are being persecuted without a demonstrable effect, and as the Royal Commission rightly says,, drug prohibition and human rights obligations go badly together. Thus, there has been a shift from interpreting the UN drug conventions in the light of a drug-free ideal, where prohibition was considered a suitable tool, to emphasizing ground realities and the intention to promote health and welfare.
In this context, the international community is unambiguous that the drug law must be subjected to human rights analysis to ensure that the control regime does not unnecessarily hurt society.
The Commission summarizes this nicely in its overview of human rights obligations. The report shows why decriminalization is in line with international agreements and that criminalization is increasingly seen as an evil to be avoided. As the Commission concludes:
“These international recommendations dictate that changing the structure of national drug policy from punishment to health, through a decriminalization of use and possession and the introduction of health-oriented measures in response to drug use, will contribute to Norway better respecting and fulfilling the citizens’ right to health.”
Apart from this, our obligations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the right to privacy, are better advanced by a regime of decriminalization, as the Commission takes care to document.
Considering this, it is preposterous to argue for continued persecution. As the damage resulting from criminalization is incompatible with human rights obligations, it is not only bizarre to see KrF present its position as one of solidarity with the persecuted; FrP’s decision to rely on the assessment of the police becomes deeply flawed too. In times of moral panic, the police are more likely to function as a tool for oppression than liberation, and the Norwegian debate is just another example of how the police wants a police state, and how our moral compass has been corrupted after more than 50 years of the prohibition propaganda.
The Liberal Party should, therefore, to secure drug reform, ensure that the drug policy moves forward on constitutional lines.
It makes no sense to go from a criminalization regime to infantilization and forced medicalization without first checking whether there is room for self-determination. And if the intention of this reform, which is to remove the stigma, is to succeed, we must dare to look at the rights of the persecuted groups.
For ten years, they have fought for an effective remedy and the legal situation becomes even more dubious after the report of the Royal Commission. As the commissioners point out, it is for the state to ensure that rights are protected, and if the Liberal Party emphasizes the constitutional responsibility, opponents such as KrF and Frp will have to support the report’s recommendations.
Alternatively, over the next few years, they must actively oppose the emergence of human rights and the safeguarding of human rights obligations, and few politicians will openly advocate this.
Moreover, by promoting drug reform as an obligation under international law, unnecessary quarrels are avoided, and a bigger picture emerges—one where drug prohibition is comparable to humanity’s most-failed social experiments, and where there is a need for a truth and reconciliation commission.
Historically, this is what is required when a society wakes up to the realization of moral panic.
By then, scapegoating has made arbitrary prosecution an accepted norm, and the psychological costs on both sides—for the victim and the perpetrator—will be enormous.
In such times, questions of law and order and right and wrong will be distorted by an oversized enemy image. From there, only a principled recalibration of the perspectives on morality and law can provide an effective remedy, as this alone can promote integrity at the individual and national levels.
We can therefore look forward to such a commission as a healing salve for the national psyche when the time comes.