“Things are happening in the field of narcotic drug policy all around the world. As countries are having problems with the increasing availability of drugs and high drug-related deaths, countries are trying to find new solutions to the issues.
The solutions affect the Nordic and Baltic countries whether they are legalizing or in other ways trying to liberalize drugs or if they try new solutions to decrease availability and demand and develop treatment and health care.
It is time to join ourselves as NordAN members in a network where we can exchange experiences from our own countries and learn from other initiatives, whether it is good or bad. From that, we then can make progress in the field of narcotic drug policy.
We offer our members to join the new NordAN Network on Narcotic Drugs. On two occasions per year, we digitally discuss these issues together, and at the NordAN conference, we get together for a cup of coffee.”
PETER MOILANEN, NordAN board member, the Secretary-General of the Narkotikapolitiskt Center in Sweden
First Zoom meeting - May 4, 2022
Ain Peil, from the Department of Public Order and Criminal Policy in the Estonian Ministry of Interior, introduced the new drug strategy of Estonia.
Stig Erik Sørheim from Actis (Norway) spoke about the latest developments in Norwegian drug policy.
Staffan Hübinette, a teacher, author, and senior advisor at the Narkotikapolitiskt Center discussed the cannabis industry in Europe.
Estonia has a new strategy for illegal drugs. Ain Peil himself has responsible for drafting this document. The government commission adopted this document, which has been in the works for the last nine years, a little more than a year ago. Estonian Drug Policy 2030 is a strategic document which sets Estonia’s most important goals in the field of illicit drugs, which we can work together on over the next decade.
Before the Strategy, Estonia had a white paper on the drug prevention policy for 2014-2018. It was followed by an evaluation of the Estonian drug policy so far. It also raised the question, do we need a special drug strategy? The evaluation concluded that there is a need for a strategy for the next period.
The principles presented in this document are intended to be implemented primarily by state institutions, while close cooperation with all the stakeholders is required.
The main points of reference (examples were taken from EU and other countries): ESTONIAN DRUG POLICY IS AMBITIOUS
It was set out that we need to know where we want to be in the next ten years. So by 2030 the use of drugs AND RELATED HARMS ARE ON A PERMANENT DECLINE IN ESTONIA.
By 2030, people who use drugs RECEIVE COMPREHENSIVE AND NECESSARY HELP IN ESTONIA
By 2030, services and interventions in the area of drug use have become A NATURAL PART OF HEALTH, SOCIAL, EDUCATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT SERVICES IN ESTONIA.
The aim was to make this document a tool for advocacy. Estonia is still lacking behind in our attitudes toward people who use drugs. We still see stigmatization, not in my backyard mentality etc. One of the goals of the document is to change these attitudes. However, the document doesn’t always lay out the exact steps to achieve these goals. So this document should help find these answers.
We know that there is a lack of services and people who work with people using drugs. The document also lays out how we plan to work in this field. For instance: “We will agree at the state level what our roles and responsibilities are and will jointly maintain this as a priority area, ensuring the necessary resources.”
Objectives and priorities. We had a long list of things that needed to be improved, continued, or started. And we realized that our resources would be lacking all the time, which gave us a need for a smaller list of priorities. So we set out five goals—prevention, Support and Treatment, Harms, Market and Supply, Laws and Criminal Justice. Under the Harms goal, for instance, we set out that by 2030, no one will die in Estonia as a result of drug use, and that should be a priority goal for all partners working with this Strategy. This is very ambitious and perhaps even unrealistic in some sense, but this should be the goal we are moving towards to.
The Strategy then also lists questions under each of these goals that should be answered in order for to the Strategy to work. For instance, under the Prevention goal, we ask, “How do we ensure basic and further training for preventive work specialists?”. Or under Market and Supply, we raise the question, “How do we adapt to global cannabis trends?”. How to explain why the global trends are different to the direction we have chosen, for example. The document explains in more detail why these goals were chosen.
The advocacy goals of the document include working towards more sustainable funding for evidence-based prevention. Many of our current interventions are not evidence-based, and many of them are funded by EU funds and not by our own state budget. We know, for instance, that there is a need for more targeted services for people who use cannabis or cocaine. We need services of safer consumption for those who use drugs.
Stig Erik Sørheim
The previous Government promised a drug policy reform that shifted the responsibility for reactions to the use and possession of drugs from the justice sector to the health sector (i.e. decriminalization). The main goal is to reduce stigma and barriers to helping (heavy) users. An appointed committee published a report on how this reform could be implemented in December 2019. The report's main points were decriminalization that there would be no sanctions for drug use, if Police caught anyone for minor drug crimes, they could send them to a local drug advisory body and any further steps would require consent from the person.
The proposal was very liberal, more liberal than in Portugal, for instance. And there were clearly some concerns about it. A few main points of concern were: lack of follow up for young people, lessened intervention by the Police and thus fewer people would be sent to these advisory bodies, people could possess relatively large quantities of drugs without any consequences, and also the proposal didn't offer any additional resources for child care services, mental health, housing, treatment, aftercare.
It was the minority government behind that proposal, which was kind of a take it or leave it proposal, and it failed in the Parliament. But it did come out that there is a broader consensus on the understanding that drug users shouldn't be punished, and the Parliament also agreed with part of the proposal, namely the establishment of these local advisory bodies.
After the election in the fall of 2021, a new minority coalition promised a broader «prevention and treatment reform». A parliamentary coalition once again submitted the earlier proposal, but it failed the second time. The discussion in Norway has revolved around that drug policy reform, but there hasn't been any genuine interest in negotiating and finding a compromise solution. All or nothing.
At the moment, the old law still applies. Drug use is still criminalized in Norway, but there are significant changes, even though the proposed drug reform has failed.
In the hearing before the decision in Parliament, it became clear that there was significant disagreement concerning the role and mandate of the Police. 9. April 2021, the Higher Prosecuting Authorities issued a letter to «clarify» the rules. The presented guidelines clarified that the Police cannot search mobile phones in use-cases, which were sometimes used, for instance to identify if the person was the one selling or buying drugs. The Police cannot take urine/blood tests to prove drug use. In other words, they cannot confirm the use of drugs. The Police cannot use forcible means, limiting thus the work of the Police. And they are personally liable if they make these mistakes.
The conclusion after that letter was that the practice before April 9 was different from the principles laid out in the letter from the Higher Prosecuting Authorities. Some argued that they were always illegal, meaning that thousands of people were forced illegally to do different things. Also, compensation was demanded to these people. Others argued that the HPA had changed the practice and that these new guidelines do not apply before the date they were issued.
The Higher Prosecuting Authorities say they have not changed the principles and that deviation from this is illegal. The question is if they have changed the assessment of what is proportionate (for instance, if demanding a urine test is proportionate)? Some regional prosecuting authorities argue that the letter was a change of practice and that the courts approved the old practice, the prosecuting authorities, the Police and the Police University College.
These technical issues have real consequences. Police appear to be confused as to what rules apply. As a result, they are less motivated to intervene and more likely to call the prosecutor's office for warrants even where they could use their own professional discretion. As a result, there is a significant drop in drug seizures from 2020 to 2021 (- 23%).
The courts have also changed their practice, reflecting the political debate in the Parliament, which gave a clear message that people with substance use disorders (SUD) should not be punished for the use and possession of drugs. The Courts – including the Supreme Court - have taken this political agreement into consideration.
Use/possession of up to 5 grams → guilty, but no punishment
Possession above this limit → reduced penalties, less use of prison
These examples are mostly limited to people with SUD, but then comes the question of how you decide who has SUD. Court cases have dealt with clear examples, in other words if you have a long history of health problems, long history of criminal justice background, then these have a good indication that people have SUD.
In addition to courts and Police, some local governments have started implementing drug policy reports. For example, the Labour-led Oslo has voted to "implement as much as they can" of the conservative coalition's reform. But that all has to be in the current legal framework meaning it cannot be decriminalization. The goal is all who are caught using/possessing drugs will be offered help instead of punishment. Several other bigger cities are discussing similar measures. Bigger cities are pro drug policy reform and smaller areas are not that interested in it.
The Government is preparing a white paper on "prevention and treatment reform" for the Parliament next year. We still don't know what the content of that will be. But they have said that it won't be proposing general decriminalization. They are happy to have specific rules for people with SUD, but they don't want to decriminalize recreational use among adults or experimental use among young people.
The presentation is about the cannabis industry or the Big Marijuana industry and legalization in Europe. Staffan referred to a Bloomberg article, “Bankers are Circling Europe´s Growing Cannabis Market”. European Cannabis Calendar shows big events in big European cities. One of these will be in June in London for Cannabis industry leaders. In Stockholm, we will have (May 27), Medical Cannabis Conference, arranged by one of the Swedish medical cannabis companies, representing four big cannabis industries. This is the first time Sweden organizing a public conference.
One company in Sweden is Enexis; this is an investment company which is investing only in cannabis plant-based industries. They wish to create Stockholm as a centre for the cannabis business.
Germany´s plan to legalize cannabis is also making headlines. It is believed to create a domino effect for the rest of the continent, as Germany is the largest economy in Europe.
A good source of information on what is going on with the cannabis industry are the Global Cannabis Report and The European Cannabis Report. A couple of weeks ago another company published a report “Recreational Europe”, which is also a good source to understand what is going on in Europe. The report also explains the domino-effect of legalization, how it started from Colorado and Washington in the USA (2012) and other States have followed. While these developments have taken place in North-America, things have happened also in Europe in the shadows, so to speak.
We do have a new situation now in Europe. While the focus has been on legalization in the US and Canada, medical cannabis has been established in Europe. Quite many companies in Europe have established the medical cannabis industry. Production, business, marketing and online retail sales infrastructure in place hemp, CDB and medical products. US and Canadian Big M invest in, cooperate with and by European companies. The European market is bigger than the North American market. German, Danish, Portuguese and other governments invest in and support medical growth and production.
Cannabis is no longer a tabu, no longer a subculture among youth normalized in business and politics. We see massive marketing and normalization, focusing on health, wellness, beauty and recreation. There are new products and techniques - edibles, vaping- concentrated on new target groups, especially young women.
In Europe, we see that five countries have or will legalize it - Malta (2021), Switzerland (2022), Luxemburg, Netherlands and Germany (2023-2025). Germany is a gamechanger and will create a domino effect. The cannabis industry is optimistic and euphoric. They know that the medical market is limited and that the recreational market gives big profits.
For them, the UN Single Convention is just a paper and doesn't give a" collective security" any more. So now it's up to each country to develop its own drug policy.
Our home work
1. We have to discuss the perception of cannabis. The industry wants to present it as something not harmful and not addictive. More like a medicine. The science has problems to get the research perspective visible. So, we will have to step up.
2. They say that this will benefit society – taxes, less gang violence etc. We will need new arguments. So far we have argued mainly that cannabis is risky and harmful and that´s why it should be forbidden. But we don have, for instance, analyses of costs and benefits. The new government in Germany a new study was published that concluded that this will be a 4.7 billion win for German State, from tax income and less costs for criminal system. But it didn´t count harms. They focus only on benefits, and we will have to analyze the costs.
3. What is the concept of medical cannabis. The industry wants to widen it into all cannabis, not only medical cannabis. So there should always be that question on what does a person mean with medical cannabis.
4. Where should we draw the red line? When we have many CBD products, for example, legal, why should cannabis be illegal? And should all cannabis products be illegal? Now we have a whole range of products and we need to think where to draw the red line, so to speak.
5. We have to review the cannabis coalitions. In Sweden we have 4 or 5 companies, in the CBD and healthcare business with cannabis. They want to lobby for more liberal regulations. The coalition means not only industries, but we have to identify also mainstream media, which are pro-legalizers. We also have activist groups which are working hard for legalisations. We have to identify how that coalition look like. It is especially important to make our politicians aware of what is going on, because they don´t know it. In Europe the infrastructure is already here and if Germany will legalise, the domino-effect will affect other countries and it can go very fast.
6. We need to cooperate and use our resources very carefully.