“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
Third Zoom meeting of the NordAN network on narcotic drugs
June 20, 2023, 13.00-15.00 CET
Welcome and Introduction by Peter Moilanen from the Narkotikapolitiskt Center (Moderator)
Speaker 1: "Unveiling Recovery Pathways: A comparative study of the Sweden, UK, and the Balkans" by Mulka Nisic
Speaker 2: "Drug Policy and Use Situation in Finland" by Kim Kannussaari from EHYT
Short Country Updates
Q&A and Open Discussion
Mulka Nisic, University of Derby
Presentation focused on the Life in Recovery Survey, a study aimed at enhancing understanding of individuals recovering from substance abuse across various countries, including Sweden, the UK, and the Balkan countries. The webinar highlighted the need for peer-reviewed, evidence-based data in recovery science and emphasized the importance of recovery not only for the individuals but also for the communities they are part of.
The survey found that females were more likely to participate in Sweden, with an overrepresentation in polydrug use and an average drug use onset of 13.5 years. The study also showed high rates of adverse childhood experiences and stigma associated with substance abuse.
The survey revealed that transition to recovery is marked by a significant drop in mental health problems, criminal justice system involvement, and other social issues. However, persistent tobacco use and unresolved mental health issues remained prevalent.
A cross-country comparison showed that Swedish participants were more likely to seek help from residential rehabs and 12-step programs and less likely to engage with peer-based approaches. It was noted that Swedish participants were more likely to succeed at quitting after one or two attempts compared to their UK and Balkan counterparts.
The study revealed that a significant portion of respondents from all countries suffered from anxiety, mood disorders, and chronic pain, often managed with potentially addictive medications. This points to a need for improved engagement with peer-based approaches in Sweden and for further research and interventions addressing chronic pain and mental health comorbidities in those in recovery.
An alarming finding was the high prevalence of domestic humiliation and insult among Swedish participants, with many reporting feeling unloved or coming from a troubled family background, aspects that often persisted into recovery. The data suggested a need for viewing addiction as a family issue rather than an individual's problem and advocating for a healthcare approach that promotes healthier and more supportive family environments.
The key takeaways from the Swedish sample indicated a strong female presence, a preference for residential treatments over community and peer support, and higher rates of criminal justice involvement and family violence during the active addiction phase. Despite the decrease in these rates during recovery, the decline was not as steep as desired.
In summary, the webinar underscored the importance of viewing recovery from substance abuse as a community-wide issue that necessitates a multidisciplinary approach. The findings, though not exhaustive, were groundbreaking and pivotal for policy-making, demonstrating the substantial positive impact that recovery can have on communities.
The Life in Recovery Survey provided vital insight into the experiences of individuals recovering from substance abuse across different countries. It emphasized the importance of recovery not only for the individual but also for the broader community, underscoring the need for evidence-based, peer-reviewed data in recovery science.
Cross-country differences were apparent, with Swedish participants more likely to seek help from residential rehabs and 12-step programs, and less likely to engage with peer-based approaches. Swedish participants also showed a higher success rate in quitting after one or two attempts compared to participants from the UK and the Balkans.
A significant concern across all surveyed countries was the high prevalence of anxiety, mood disorders, and chronic pain. This highlights the need for better engagement with peer-based approaches in Sweden and more research into addressing mental health comorbidities and chronic pain in individuals recovering from substance abuse.
The data revealed concerning levels of domestic humiliation, insult, and family violence among participants, particularly in Sweden. Many respondents reported feeling unloved or coming from troubled family backgrounds. These findings emphasize the importance of viewing addiction as a family issue, requiring healthcare approaches that promote healthier and supportive family environments.
The study demonstrates the wide-reaching benefits of recovery to the community, including boosting local economies and contributing to the educational landscape. It further stresses the need for policies to view addiction as a community issue, not just an individual's problem. This perspective is essential to support professionals in understanding and facilitating the recovery process more effectively.
Kim Kannussaari, EHYT ry (Finland)
Kim´s presentation focused on the escalating issue of drug use in Finland, especially in relation to cannabis. In 2021, Finland experienced the highest number of drug-related deaths since 2006, with opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol often implicated. Most victims were found to be long-term drug users with associated mental health problems and a low socioeconomic background.
To combat this problem, Finland has formed an expert group, advocating for various interventions. These include improving access to opioid substitution treatments, establishing drug consumption rooms, expanding the needle exchange program, piloting a take-home naloxone program, and encouraging professionals and drug users to stay informed about changes in the drug market. The importance of improving cooperation with the police and reducing the negative stigma associated with drug use was also highlighted.
The prevalence of drug use was found to be high, with cannabis being the most common. It was reported that the casual use of cannabis is quite popular among the Finnish population, while regular use is considerably lower. An interesting trend observed was the increasing acceptance of drug consumption rooms and the decriminalization of cannabis among the Finnish population. However, this sentiment isn't reflected in the government's stance.
Two policy reform initiatives are currently under consideration: one for experimenting with drug consumption rooms and another for legalizing and taxing cannabis. Despite the government's apparent inaction, they have emphasized preventing drug use among young people and reducing drug-related deaths. Notably, the government has shown interest in recovery-focused programs, such as 12-step programs, over harm reduction services.
The topic of CBD products and their legality was also broached, with the selling of THC-free cannabis seeds and flowers beginning in Finnish stores. Despite the legal gray area, the selling of these CBD products is seen as an attempt to advocate for the legalization of cannabis.
Questions raised included the effectiveness of the current healthcare system's contacts in addressing drug misuse, the complexities of establishing drug consumption rooms, and the role of political parties in advocating for drug decriminalization or legalization. A key point was made regarding the potential harm of normalizing cannabis use, especially considering recent studies highlighting its potential harm to fetuses, surpassing that of tobacco and alcohol.
The need for drug prevention efforts in Finland was acknowledged, despite the challenges associated with incorporating the experiences of former drug users into professional strategies. Concerns were raised that the reorganization of Finland's Social and Health sector might lead to a decrease in such preventative activities, mirroring a trend observed in Sweden.
High Drug-Related Deaths in Finland: In 2021, Finland experienced its highest number of drug-related deaths since 2006, largely due to opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. The victims were predominantly long-term drug users, often with co-occurring mental health problems and a low socioeconomic status.
Increasing Acceptance of Drug Reforms: Despite these issues, public sentiment in Finland is gradually leaning towards accepting drug consumption rooms and the decriminalization of cannabis. However, this view is not yet mirrored by the government.
Current Policy Reform Initiatives: The government is currently considering two initiatives: experimenting with drug consumption rooms and legalizing and taxing cannabis. Yet, there is a clear focus on preventing drug use among young people and mitigating drug-related deaths, with an emphasis on recovery-focused programs.
Emergence of CBD Market: In Finland, stores have begun selling THC-free cannabis seeds and flowers, effectively CBD products, in an effort to advocate for the legalization of cannabis. Despite the legal gray area, this shows a significant shift in the cannabis scene.
Concerns Over Normalizing Cannabis Use: There is an ongoing debate about the potential harm of normalizing cannabis use, especially given recent studies suggesting it might cause more harm to fetuses than tobacco and alcohol. This highlights the importance of considering the wider societal impact when discussing drug reform policies.
Second Zoom meeting of the NordAN network on narcotic drugs
December 15, 2022
Peter Moilanen, Narkotikapolitiskt Center, host of the meeting - German cannabis legalization update
Nijole Gostautaite Midttun, National Coalition for Tobacco and Alcohol Control - The curious case of regulating hemp in Lithuania
Christopher Schmitz, Danske Cannabis Behandlere - Danish cannabis drug policy and legalization debate
Christopher Schmitz, Danske Cannabis Behandlere - Danish cannabis drug policy and legalization debate
Christopher Schmitz made it clear that he has not formed an opinion on whether cannabis should be legalized or not. He is presenting evidence-based information on the topic. He mentioned that he is also fact-driven in his work as a clinician and in the matter of legalization. His approach is not based on personal opinions, but rather on evidence. During the presentation, Christopher covered the current situation in Denmark, the arguments for and against legalization, and the proposal for medical cannabis and decriminalization. He started by discussing the current situation in Denmark and the arguments made by the pro-legalization movement, which he refers to as the three pillars of arguments. He gave an overview of these arguments and offered counterarguments.
There have been several proposals for the legalization of cannabis in Denmark in the past, including a new proposal made by addiction experts recently. It is possible that the politicians will consider this proposal. Denmark recently got a new government, and it is unclear how this will affect the legalization debate.
Christopher Schmitz is actively involved in the legalization debate, both in his work as a clinician and through media interviews and appearances. He considers this topic to be important because he has seen the negative effects of cannabis on families and individuals. Even if cannabis is legalized, Christopher believes it is important to address the adverse health effects of this widely popular substance. Cannabis is currently illegal in Denmark for all purposes, including import, export, smoking, selling, buying, and production. Despite this, there is a black market for cannabis in Copenhagen, specifically on a street known as Pusher Street. There is a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis in Denmark, but it is still being sold and used. In 2018, five out of nine parliamentary parties in Denmark proposed a state-controlled legalization scheme, but a minority within the parliament rejected it. There have also been three proposals to legalize cannabis in Copenhagen alone, but they have also been rejected.
On 1 January 2018, an experimental scheme with medical cannabis came into force. The scheme allows doctors to prescribe a new type of cannabis product that has not previously been legal in Denmark. The trial scheme runs until 31 December 2025. The purpose of the trial scheme is to give patients a legal opportunity to test treatment with medical cannabis if they have not benefited from approved medicine. The relevant indications are:
Painful spasms due to multiple sclerosis, painful spasms due to spinal cord injury, nausea after chemotherapy, neuropathic pain, which means pain due to disease in the brain, spinal cord or nerves. The Danish doctors have expressed their lack of support for medical cannabis due to the lack of beneficial medical evidence.
Despite the push for legalization in Denmark, particularly from politicians in Copenhagen, cannabis is still illegal. The politicians in Copenhagen are particularly interested in legalization or decriminalization due to the high levels of drug-related violence and shootings in the city. Recently, politicians have proposed the decriminalization of not only cannabis, but all drugs. They have cited the Netherlands and Portugal as successful examples of European decriminalization, but the reality is not as simple as they present it. In fact, the arguments for legalization or decriminalization in Denmark are built on false information. The drug policy in Denmark, specifically regarding cannabis, is uninformed. Christopher believes that the best way forward is to look into the evidence, not only in the Netherlands and Portugal but also abroad, such as in the US. He observes that for some reason, the politicians do not seem to care about or at least do not want to discuss the evidence.
Christopher believes that the legalization of marijuana has resulted in a "perfect catastrophe" and that the arguments made by pro-legalization and decriminalization movements are strange and hard to understand. He notes that the first argument that legalization will end organized crime is problematic because it suggests that the state can both legalize the substance and caution people about the risks. The second argument that tax revenue from legalization can be used for treatment and prevention activities is also problematic. The third argument, that legalization will not result in more smokers, is contradicted by evidence that the illegal market is growing. Christopher Schmitz notes that experiences with legalization have shown an increase in consumption and a decrease in risk perception, particularly among young people. He acknowledges that it is possible to cherrypick studies to support a certain viewpoint, but he has tried to look at the evidence objectively. Christopher expressed concern that young people are particularly at risk due to the decrease in their risk perception and increased use.
Cannabis is currently illegal in Denmark for all purposes, including import, export, smoking, selling, buying, and production.
There is a black market for cannabis in Copenhagen, specifically on a street known as Pusher Street.
In 2018, five out of nine parliamentary parties in Denmark proposed a state-controlled legalization scheme, but it was rejected by a minority within the parliament.
Medical cannabis has been legalized in Denmark since December 2017, but it is only available to terminal patients with severe nerve system failure or similar conditions.
The politicians in Copenhagen are particularly interested in legalization or decriminalization due to the high levels of drug-related violence and shootings in the city.
Nijole Gostautaite Midttun, National Coalition for Tobacco and Alcohol Control - The curious case of regulating hemp in Lithuania
Nijole Gostautaite Midttun's presentation is about the regulation of Lithuanian hemp. It is interesting because the Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition views it as a way to circumvent regulations related to cannabis prohibition or legalization. Nijole has issued statements and even complained to the European Union about the situation.
Currently, there are discussions in Lithuania about the decriminalization of cannabis possession for personal use. It is not currently criminal to use cannabis, but possession can result in criminal charges. Before 2013, there was no law on hemp in Lithuania. Hemp is traditionally an agricultural plant used for various purposes, including yarn and animal fodder. It was criminalized during Soviet times.
Nijole stated that there have been many efforts to revitalize the use of hemp in Lithuania due to its traditional status and perceived health benefits. It was not until 2013 that the law on hemp was passed, regulating the planting, testing, and usage of the plant.
Since the law was enacted, the number of hemp plantations in Lithuania has rapidly increased, reaching over 9,000 hectares in 2019, which is approximately 18% of all hemp plantations in the European Union at the time. Nijole also mentioned that international companies, such as Aurora Cannabis, have invested in hemp processing in Lithuania. Cannabis processing, or hemp processing, is a complex industry in the country as the plant is referred to as hemp in Lithuanian rather than cannabis.
Nijole mentioned that although some plants may be similar, the legal status and foreign investment in hemp in Lithuania has changed rapidly since the plant was legalized. Small changes to the law have been made since 2013, allowing for the growth of additional varieties and purposes for the plant. There have also been exemptions made for certain types of hemp and permission granted for the growth of experimental varieties. However, there has been debate and back and forth between different committees and amendments proposed, but these have not been particularly liberalizing.
In 2020, there was a significant push to pass a law in Lithuania that allowed for the production of drugs from hemp, a plant typically grown for agricultural purposes. The law included a provision for intermediary products produced during the process of turning hemp into a final product, which could contain unlimited amounts of THC.
This led to controversy and complaints, with advocacy on both sides. Despite this, the law was passed and sent to the European Commission for review through the notification process. Lithuania received a response to this process from the European Commission and Italy, with instructions to change certain terms and definitions, comply with EU regulations and THC levels, and make other adjustments.
Nijole explained that a status quo period was imposed in Lithuania until November 9th, 2020, during which time the government was required to provide detailed answers and potentially make changes to the controversial law allowing for the production of drugs from hemp. Despite this, the Lithuanian Parliament chose not to respond to the questions and concerns raised by the European Commission and Italy.
This led to a complaint being filed by the Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition, an NGO, with the European Commission. The complaint highlighted that the final version of the law allows for the production of intermediary hemp products with unlimited amounts of THC, which exceeds the regulatory limit of 0.2 in raw materials and can be stored in hemp production facilities. The European Commission responded, stating that upon careful analysis of the law, it was determined that the intention of the law was not to liberalize the use of cannabis.
She noted that the European Commission responded to the notification process for the controversial law on hemp production in Lithuania from the Director General for Migration and Home Affairs, Internal Security, Organized Crime, and Drugs. The response indicated that the allowable THC level in final products should not exceed 0.2, a requirement that was not previously understood by Lithuanian authorities.
Nijole also mentioned that the letters from the European Commission regarding the notification process for the law should be publicly available, but have not been found in the public database. Despite this, it appears that the law was considered to be properly notified by the European Commission, but there has been no indication of any further action taken according to proper procedure. Nijole also mentioned that even parliament members responsible for the notification process were unaware that the law had been fully notified.
The notification process for the controversial law on hemp production in Lithuania has not been completed, even though the law has been in effect for over half a year. The regulatory authorities in the country have not received any communication regarding the law, and the current version of the law includes an Article 6 that allows for the production of intermediary products with THC levels exceeding the permitted limit of 0.2%, as long as special permission is obtained. Nijole also mentioned that the presentation on the subject was temporarily frozen, but has since resumed.
In Lithuania, it is possible to obtain a permit from regulatory authorities to produce THC extracts and hold them as intermediary products, as long as a fee is paid. The law outlines rules for how these intermediary products should be accounted for, stored, checked, and eventually destroyed or handled as waste. This has raised concerns because the notification process for the law was not completed and the European Commission has not properly responded to the issue. Despite this, Lithuania is currently the only country with a significant amount of hemp production that enables to use hemp in this way.
In Lithuania, the law allows for the production of high levels of THC extracts, raising concerns that it will be used by international companies to turn the country into a hub for THC production and potentially bypass laws in other countries. The promised economic innovations, such as using hemp to fight climate change and build infrastructure, have not come to fruition. Instead, products such as CBD hash and hemp flowers for smoking have emerged, with little evidence that they actually originated in Lithuania.
There are also concerns that the law is being used as a cover for the production of illegal cannabis products, as it is unlikely that hemp with high levels of THC could be grown in Lithuania due to a lack of sunlight. Nijole stated that it is not warm enough in Lithuania for cannabis to be grown there, so any cannabis that is present is likely to have been imported.
Currently, the law in Lithuania allows for the experimentation with unlisted varieties of hemp, and it is possible to grow up to 20 plants for testing purposes. However, Nijole pointed out that there are weak control institutions in place and a lack of coordination among the various institutions responsible for regulating hemp. She also mentioned that the regulation of hemp creates the illusion of control and is motivated by economic considerations, as there are supposedly large factories using hemp from local farms. However, Nijole said that the evidence for this is still unclear.
There are several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved, including those from the industry that are actively pushing for this. These NGOs also have partnerships with Canadians. This is a significant business venture. By coincidence, the hemp business in question is deeply rooted in an area with a history of organized crime, specifically in Lithuania and with connections to Scandinavia in the amphetamine trade and other illegal drugs in terms of both production and distribution.
Despite this, the issue at hand is supposedly unrelated to the decriminalization of drugs and is instead an agricultural law. However, it is believed that this law could potentially allow for the bypassing of regulations in Europe and Lithuania. It is unclear how to proceed with this as the European Commission's organized crime unit has stated that there has been a misunderstanding and that everything is fine.
There are discussions in Lithuania about the decriminalization of cannabis possession for personal use.
Before 2013, there was no law on hemp in Lithuania.
The number of hemp plantations in Lithuania has rapidly increased since the law was passed in 2013.
International companies have invested in hemp processing in Lithuania.
Small changes to the law have been made since 2013, allowing for the growth of additional varieties and purposes for the plant.
In 2020, a law was passed in Lithuania allowing for the production of drugs from hemp, which led to controversy and a complaint being filed with the European Commission.
The European Commission responded to the notification process for the controversial law on hemp production in Lithuania, stating that the intention of the law was not to liberalize the use of cannabis.
The Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition has filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice regarding the law.
Peter Moilanen, Narkotikapolitiskt Center, host of the meeting - German cannabis legalization update
Peter Moilanen discussed the situation in Germany concerning the legalization of cannabis on a commercial basis. The German government is in favour of this, but the opposition includes doctors, pharma sceptics, and the Christian Democrats. The minority in the government is pro-legalization, and an agreement was made between the three parties in the coalition to propose the legalization. However, the social democrats were against it. The current question is whether the proposal will go through the notification process.
Peter and Staffan Hübinette, together with colleagues in Brussels, visited parliamentary members in Brussels and learned that the proposal might violate EU law and the EU treaty. As a result, the German government is travelling to Brussels to argue for the notification of the proposal. The Christian Democrats are also travelling to Brussels to argue against the notification because they believe it is not good for Europe or Germany.
Peter stated that the process for the proposal has not yet been seen and it is not known when it will be presented to the commission. It is speculated that there are private discussions occurring with the commission, possibly because Germany is a significant country in the European Union and has a large economy. It has been noted that Luxembourg previously proposed the commercial legalization of cannabis, but only allowed for homegrown cannabis.
Staffan added that there is currently an alliance of five countries, including Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, who are coordinating their efforts in Brussels to legalize cannabis. It is important to pay attention to the notification process in Germany, as the commission will have three months to respond once the notification is received. It is crucial to be aware of what other countries say in this process.
Peter noted that Sweden would be chairing the European Union in the spring and there will be a conference on drug policy in May. However, the notification process and response from the European Commission will likely occur before then. It is important to pay attention to this issue and inform governments about it in a short period of time after the holiday season.
Peter and Stefan also discussed the importance of providing opinions during the notification process, which can take several months. It is important for countries to find out who in the government will be responsible for providing opinions and make sure that an opinion is provided. In the case of Lithuania, there were no opinions provided except for Italy. Peter noted that it is unusual for a law not to receive any responses, particularly when Parliamentarians and regulatory institutions have written letters opposing the notification.
Peter emphasized the importance of obtaining opinions during the notification process. If the majority of the opinions are negative, it will be difficult for the notification to be approved. Peter suggested building a coalition and learning about the process in one's own country.
The German government is in favour of legalizing cannabis on a commercial basis, but there is opposition from doctors, pharma sceptics, and the Christian Democrats.
The minority in the government supports legalization and an agreement was made between the three parties in the coalition to propose it, but the social democrats are against it.
The proposal may violate EU law and the EU treaty, and the German government is travelling to Brussels to argue for its notification.
There is currently an alliance of five countries working to legalize cannabis in Brussels, including Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.
It is important to pay attention to the notification process in Germany and provide opinions, as the commission will have three months to respond. It is also crucial to be aware of what other countries say in the process and build a coalition.
First Zoom meeting - May 4, 2022
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.