The Norwegian Drug Reform Deserves an In-Depth Discussion
(Published: 30 January, 2020 in Vårt land)
Recently, in Klassekampen, Pernille Huseby from ACTIS and Arild Knutsen from FHN stand together in the call for a more unifying debate on drug policy. Noticing the increased polarisation, they fear that ‘negative reactions to constructive input may lead to providers in the public debate being reluctant to express their opinion or present their analyses’. The Alliance for Rights-Oriented Drug Policies (AROD) share the desire for more accountability, but we do not see a more dispassionate approach as the solution.
The debate on drugs, historically speaking, has suffered due to a refusal to deal with controversy. For half a century, whenever the premises of the prohibition quest have been challenged, prohibitionists have been keen to raise doubts about the moral constitution of their opponents. It is interesting to note that ACTIS requires more acceptance only now when the prohibitionists have lost the moral ground.
To date, the Norwegian Narcotics Officers Association (NNPF), the League against Intoxicants (FMR) and other members of ACTIS have operated with such impunity that only a few have dared to oppose the drug-free ideal and its proponents. The fact that most members of Law Enforcement against Prohibition (NNPF’s counterpart in the police) remain anonymous speaks volumes, and many still remember the outcry of the prohibitionists in 2008 when Sociology professor, Willy Pedersen, left their ranks. They were not shy of deriding the professor for this deep-felt betrayal, and that is how the prohibitionists have survived: by portraying opponents as a morally dubious breed who do not care about the good of the community.
This has been the prohibitionist’s wildcard in the fight against opposition. Besides, it is a sure sign of the times that the political winds have changed when they are now calling for more tolerance.
As shown by the report of the Royal Commission, there is a reason why the interpretation of the UN drug policy conventions has gone from promoting the ideal of a drug-free society and the idea of prohibition as a suitable venture to emphasising realities on the ground and the intention to ensure health and welfare.
The simple explanation is that the prohibition on drugs has been counterproductive. Not only has it failed to create a drug-free society but has also made life worse in different ways. An increasing number of people understand that drug policy is the result of scapegoating, the tendency to blame individual groups for problems that are a collective responsibility.
This psychological phenomenon is the greatest problem of our civilisation. It explains not only all the arbitrary persecutions but also the taboo of drug policy and the reason why moral panic has been allowed to shape politics.
This panic is well documented by the Royal Commission. Words or terms like ‘public panic’, ‘unbalanced views’, ‘misleading perceptions’, ‘misapplication of punishment’ and ‘reality-resistant iniquity’ summarise the development of drug policy. We are dealing with a debate characterised by ‘stereotypical representations’, ‘moral indignation and revenge urges’, one in which ‘scientific understanding of the drug problem has played a minor role’, and we must keep this in mind when ACTIS calls for a less antagonistic debate.
Indeed, the organisation has passionately championed the moral panic. Without the cultivation of exaggerated enemy images, a new course would have been staked out a long time ago, and it is history’s judgment that the supporters of punishment struggle to avoid.
Even so, there are moral absolutes that follow from human rights. According to the report of the Royal Commission, arguing for punishment is impossible without facing a major problem in this area. Therefore, prohibitionists understand either intellectually or intuitively that their days are numbered. With human rights principles comes a calibration of moral perspectives, one that makes whole what was previously disconnected and divided, and for those who have built their ideology on prejudice, this is painful.
Consequently, prohibitionists are desperate to postpone this process. They do not want to consider the principles of equality, proportionality, self-determination and the presumption of liberty applied to the prohibition regime, and yet, it is impossible to have it both ways. According to the Royal Commission’s recommendations, we must either support human rights or arbitrary persecution, and that is probably why ACTIS wants a more value-relative universe.
For the supporters of the prohibition, it is important to keep the debate in a moral vacuum and to ensure a climate where people forget what that they are dealing with crimes against humanity. According to prohibitionists, they have persecuted with the best of intentions, and no one should be held responsible for having supported drug policies based on emotions rather than reason. Nevertheless, as Norwegian professors of law have noted, we are dealing with a scandal much bigger than the NAV scandal. In the debate on drug policy, we must be defenders of either autonomy or tyranny, and what decides is a human rights analysis.
The need for human rights analysis
If society respects the rule of law, this is where politicians and drug reformers would put the bar. We would accept human rights demands and let an independent, impartial and competent commission determine the rights of the persecuted. However, ACTIS has shown no interest in rights.
Instead, together with the politicians, the organisation continues to support punishment, and it is easy to understand why its leaders want a more appeasing debate in this ‘paradigm shift that everyone supports’. After all, we are dealing with a ‘paradigm shift’ that consists of huge blinders, one where the moral panic nourished by ACTIS continues, and the fact that the organisation is happy with the proposed restructuring is indicative of how weak and ineffective the Norwegian drug reform really is. All things considered, it is nothing more than putting a little make-up on a corpse, and the Norwegian people deserve better.
So do the persecuted. As confirmed by the report of the Royal Commission, rights are involved, and it is the responsibility of the state to document that the prohibition regime is necessary in a modern society.
Thus, it is more startling that ACTIS has managed to make FHN, a user organisation, agree that everyone should be good friends. That ‘the drug reform will be adopted with broad support in the community of NGOs’ is no consolation to the thousands of Norwegians who will have their lives destroyed due to the continuation of the drug prohibition, nor those who care about the rule of law. Instead, the persecuted remain without an effective remedy — and if not even the representatives of drug users have the courage to oppose wanton persecution, what is the drug reform community worth?