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Normal people: cannabis and policy in Norway

Ester Nafstad, Manager of Norwegian cannabis advocacy body Normal, tells MCN publication about the chapter’s goals and the need for reform of cannabis policy in Norway.

Established in 1994, Normal is the Norwegian arm of international cannabis law reform campaign group NORML. Ester Nafstad, Manager of Normal, tells MCN about the chapter’s goals and the need for cannabis policy reform in Norway.

What are the main objectives of Normal Norge? What does Normal do to support patients and campaign for policy change?

Our objectives include monitoring the development towards legalisation and decriminalisation of cannabis in other countries, and participating in debate and conception of drug policy at home. In addition, we strive to act as a resource for cannabis users and work for the rights of innocent victims of punitive policies or intrusive and undemocratic government sanctions.

Some examples of what we do include:

  • Representing Norwegian cannabis users in parliamentary hearings;
  • Facilitating cannabis research – we have recently launched a report in English about the negative consequences of control in the enforcement of current Norwegian law regarding cannabis;
  • Publishing articles in our magazine På Høy Tid (‘It’s High Time’);
  • Framing different aspects of cannabis in Norwegian media;
  • Organising open gatherings and presentations where local people can participate;
  • Working on setting up local activist groups around the country; and
  • Answering a steady flow of questions coming in from cannabis users.

What is the legal status of cannabis in Norway?

All recreational use of cannabis is illegal. Medical cannabis is legal, but it is still but difficult to acquire.

A programme of reform to Norwegian drug policy is underway; and is expected to take effect in early 2021. Once the reform, which is inspired by Portugal’s policy on drugs, is implemented, all personal use of drugs and possession of small amounts for individual use will be decriminalised. The full details of these changes are not yet ready, however.

How has the law evolved since Normal was first established?

The law has pretty much been the same, but the public debate has evolved a lot – particularly since around 2010, when some scientists called for cannabis to be legalised. They argued that its status as an illegal drug led to a more harmful cannabis culture. Since then, more and more politicians have argued for legalisation; and organisations like Normal and other bodies advocating reform have taken a larger role in the debate.

A petition signed by several cannabis advocacy organisations, politicians and scientists was published in one of Norway’s largest newspapers in late 2018, calling for the government to stop the punishment of people who use drugs: this caused the health minister to demand the decriminalisation of all drug use in Norway. The reform was decided and, as mentioned above, is expected to be implemented next year.

What are the main challenges facing patients trying to access medical cannabis?

There is still little knowledge among doctors and other healthcare workers when it comes to medical cannabis. Patients often report they are looked upon with suspicion after bringing up the topic of medical cannabis with their practitioners.

A patient needs a recommendation from a specialist to receive a prescription: this is something that prolongs the process. The only patients who get a recommendation are those who are severely ill, such as cancer patients or children with complicated epilepsy conditions.

Typically the financial cost of medications and healthcare is covered by the welfare system, but this is not the case with medical cannabis. For some patients and families the cost can be as high as 30,000 Norwegian kroner (

These challenges are causing most people who in need of medical cannabis to get treatment in another European country, most commonly in the Netherlands. The Schengen agreement allows European citizens to travel across borders with up to one month’s supply of prescription medicines; this means they have to take the trip once every month.

What changes would you like to see implemented into cannabis policy in Norway?

We do think that the anticipated drug policy reform will solve a number of issues: hopefully it will reduce the stigma attached to drug use and make help for those who need it more widely accessible – but it will not do anything to solve the problems which are associated with an unregulated criminal market. In our consultative input to the government we have advised for further measures to address these issues, for example by permitting the growth of cannabis for personal consumption or the introduction of cannabis social clubs, following the Spanish and Swiss models.

Do you think Scandinavian laws on cannabis will become less strict in the future?

Yes, we do believe that the Scandinavian countries will find a more progressive way of dealing with cannabis. The public debate on cannabis is moving forward.

Ester Nafstad
Manager
Normal
www.normalnorge.no

This article is for issue 3 of Medical Cannabis Network. Click here to get your free subscription today.

Ester Nafstad, Manager of Norwegian cannabis advocacy body Normal, tells MCN publication about the chapter’s goals and the need for reform of cannabis policy in Norway.

The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Norway

Norway is the land of fjords, mountains, glaciers and stunning landscapes. Norway’s national parks offer some of the most spectacular views in Europe, so many tourists who are going to Norway and are cannabis enthusiasts would like to get baked and enjoy nature at its best.

But are tourists allowed to use weed? Is cannabis legal in Norway? Let’s find out.

Is cannabis legal in Norway?

Norway has a tough stance on cannabis. The production, processing, distribution, sale, purchase and possession of drugs are criminal offences in Norway, according to the 2016 Consolidated Act on Controlled Substances.

One of the interesting things about the Norwegian drug laws is that they do not differentiate between cannabis and other drugs. Possession of cannabis for personal use is usually punished with a fine if the quantity does not exceed 15 grams. The size of the fine depends on the quantity of cannabis involved and previous offences.

Using drugs such as marijuana in restaurants, public places or places that are frequented by children or young people is seen as a significant aggravating offence and can lead to a prison sentence.

It’s estimated that about 24.5 percent of Norway’s population aged 16 to 64 have tried cannabis in their lifetime. Further, about 10.1 percent of young adults aged 16 to 34 admitted to using cannabis at least once in 2017.

However, Norway was the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs. The Norwegian parliament voted to decriminalise drugs in 2017, after a historic vote. Sveinung Stensland, who acted as deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee at the time of the vote, said ‘[i] t is important to emphasize that we do not legalize cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalize. […] Those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.’

But even though drug use has been decriminalised, drug users might still face legal action for using drugs like cannabis, given the current circumstances. They might not be charged with drug use, but they might still be charged with drug possession. And unfortunately, they might also be stigmatised.

In Norway, the authorities can revoke a person’s right to drive administratively, without sentencing. Actively operating a vehicle while intoxicated is not a requirement for the revocation. The sole consideration is the general sobriety of the person involved.

According to Norwegian law, doctors have the duty to inform authorities about their suspicions regarding a person’s general sobriety. And it seems that cannabis users are far more likely to lose their right to drive than those who use other intoxicants, such as alcohol.

About 14.3 percent of Norwegian cannabis users lost their right to drive or encountered difficulties in keeping it, even though they didn’t drive under the influence of marijuana. Now, this might not seem like an important consequence at a first glance, but in a country with long distances between cities and rural areas, being able to drive might be crucial in maintaining your employment status or social life.

So, even though cannabis use is no longer illegal in Norway, weed is still frowned upon, and using it might lead to unpleasant consequences.

The status of medical cannabis in Norway

Medical cannabis was legalised in Norway back in 2016 . Patients looking for treatment can legally buy Sativex and Bedrocan if they have a prescription.

Doctors are allowed to prescribe cannabis treatments if they work as specialists in a hospital, and they have to get approval from the Norwegian Ministry of Health to prescribe cannabis products with a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration higher than 1 percent.

If they want to prescribe cannabis products, doctors also have to prove that they tried all other forms of treatment without success.

Norway doesn’t have a list of health conditions that are eligible for cannabis treatments, so doctors have the liberty to choose when to prescribe one. Cannabis-based treatments are usually prescribed to patients who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) or who are going through cancer treatments.

Different non-governmental organisations like NORML stated that cannabis treatments are too hard to access in Norway. The organisation highlighted the fact that many doctors don’t know much about cannabis, and in some cases, can even be hostile toward patients who ask about marijuana treatments.

However, the Norwegian government is taking steps to address these issues. The Norwegian Medicines Agency and the Ministry of Health have teamed up to provide education on the benefits of cannabis treatment to hospital doctors.

Is CBD legal in Norway?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in Norway, although it might be more difficult to purchase. Norway is not a member of the European Union, so the country has set its own regulations regarding cannabidiol products.

According to Norwegian law, CBD products are legal as long as they do not contain any THC. This law is different from the EU-wide directive that allows citizens of member states to consume CBD products that have a THC concentration of up to 0.2 percent.

Hemp cultivation and production are illegal in Norway. Even though the Norwegians have a long history of using hemp for the production of sailcloth or ropes, the plant was banned in 1964. Despite the fact that CBD, an extract that’s produced from hemp, is now legal, the plant is still banned.

Will Norway legalise marijuana soon?

Norway has recently decriminalised the use of drugs in an attempt to help its citizens receive the treatment they need to overcome their drug problems. While some people see the drug decriminalisation as a step toward cannabis legalisation, this might be far from the truth.

When the authorities decriminalised the use of drugs in Norway, they also mentioned that they’re not legalising any drugs, which includes marijuana.

Here’s the thing. Cannabis is currently not an important topic for Norwegian politicians. There are some politicians that bring up the topic now and again, but they generally lack the support they would need to pass a bill in this direction.

And given the fact that only a small part of the Norwegian society is actually interested in legalising cannabis, the politicians are not pressured to change their present stances on this issue.

Nevertheless, change might come, but later rather than sooner. And that change might come from one of Norway’s friends and neighbours — Denmark. Denmark is making huge strides toward being the largest cannabis producer in Europe, and it might be the first Scandinavian country to legalise cannabis.

If Denmark legalises cannabis and has impressive results, the Norwegian authorities might be tempted to do the same. Until then, the topic of cannabis legalisation in Norway is nothing but a pipe dream.

Norway has some spectacular views, so many tourists who are cannabis enthusiasts want to get high and enjoy nature. But is marijuana legal in Norway?