Norway’s legal experts have failed the Drug Reform
Norway’s lawyers have failed society in the debate on drug reform. While sociologists, psychologists, and criminologists have considered the reform with profound interest, lawyers have stood on the sidelines. From there, they have, without comment, witnessed the fall of the rule of law as the state openly neglects the guidelines of international law. Nothing is more detrimental to the integrity of the discipline of law. AROD, therefore, calls for greater community involvement.
Striking events have taken place in the Norwegian drug reform. First, Norwegians received a report showing that drug policy has been shaped by panic, that human rights considerations dictate a move away from punishment, and that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure an effective remedy. From there, the debate could not have been more divisive. While prohibitionists have ignored the Royal Commission’s considerations, others have noted the problem of human rights violations and the need for a truth and reconciliation commission.
The criticism is shocking. Based on the same principled thinking that the Royal Commission used as a basis for its report, NGOs have pointed out disparities between theory and practice that politicians or lawyers will not relate to. They have shown how a catalogue of rights remains unclear and emphasised that the state must ensure an effective remedy.
The rule of law
Such remedy is a minimum requirement for the rule of law. It is, therefore, strange how the country’s lawyers have placed themselves on the sidelines. Is the public panic documented by the Royal Commission so pervasive that even law experts cannot put two and two together? Are drug policies and principled thinking such opposites that cognitive dissonance is a prerequisite for maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium?
It may appear so. Despite a Royal Commission that went to great lengths to invalidate the prohibition on drugs, no one has followed up on its work. No one has taken human rights seriously and said anything about the basic elements of policy, such as the reversal of constitutional principles. Historically, the prohibition came into place by setting aside basic rule-of-law guarantees. Nevertheless, there must be good reasons to maintain such a state of emergency, and an independent and competent commission must decide if this is the case.
When it comes to users, the Royal Commission has already established that good reasons are hard to find. That was why the report recommended shifting away from punishment, but no one has wanted to discuss the implications – neither the politicians nor the lawyers.
A quiet funeral
While the politicians overlook the obligations created by international law, the jurists silently stand by a dysfunctional and toxic culture. Not even Norway’s institution for human rights (NHRI) wants to consider the possibility of several hundred thousand Norwegians being arbitrarily persecuted. Rather than making themselves relevant to society, jurists are focusing on matters worthy of criticism elsewhere, and what could have been a glorious time for principles, “which must be central if a humane, liberal rule of law is to be maintained”, has instead become a silent funeral.
While the Director of Public Prosecutions praises these principles in his letter on the drug reform, the police step on them in their daily treatment of drug offenders. For over ten years, the persecuted have been denied the rule of law, but instead of accepting responsibility, the police and the Higher Prosecuting Authorities continue to punish on refuted terms.
This is despite NGOs taking the law into their own hands and offering the Director a small amount of drugs to trigger a review of rights. In this way, civil society does its part to promote solutions in long-ignored areas of the law. Nevertheless, the state continues to disown its part of the social contract, and it is time our lawyers wake up to their social responsibility and deal with matters of controversy.
Originally published 15. September 2020 in Aftenposten