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 (~€2,799) per month.
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.