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Other countries should follow Norway’s bold move to decriminalise all drugs

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Norway’s massive oil fortune, which the Scandinavian country has invested in the globe’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has allowed the nation to introduce a slew of progressive policies that have led to its people enjoying one of the highest standards of living in world. The country regularly tops standard of living indices such as the United Nation’s annual Human Development Report, thanks in no small part to its generous welfare state, low levels of crime, focus on equality, lengthy maternal and parental leave and high levels of literacy. Compared to many other European Economic Area countries, drug consumption in Norway is relatively low, but despite its wealth, the nation still has issues with problem substance abuse. Surprisingly, the number of drug seizures taking place in the country has been on the rise over the past decade, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, suggesting the Norwegian government’s drug policy simply is not working, as is the case in many other countries.

While Norway has been pursuing a more progressive approach to drug policy for some time now, rolling out a programme allowing judges to sentence addicts to rehabilitation rather than jail in February last year, the country’s centre-right coalition this month finally accepted that prohibition simply does not work, voting to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. Explaining the move after the vote, Deputy Chairman of the Norwegian Parliament’s Health Committee Sveinung Stensland told Norwegian daily VG that the government was not seeking to legalise drugs, but to stop criminalising people who take them, instead shifting to a position where substance abuse is viewed as a public health issue as opposed to a criminal one. Under the country’s new drug policy plans, instead of facing a jail term and fines, people caught in possession of drugs will be offered treatment as a matter of course, moving the responsibility for dealing with drug users from law enforcement authorities and the judicial system to healthcare providers.

Some right-wing commentators in Norway have objected to the plans, arguing that prison terms and fines act as deterrents to people who might be tempted to use drugs. This is despite the fact that the trafficking and the dealing of drugs would remain criminal offences after decriminalisation comes into effect, with both activities attracting severe penalties in the most extreme cases. Those arguing against decriminalisation in Norway also seem happy to ignore the fact that the global “war on drugs” has proved an abject failure over the many decades over which it has been fought, with substance abuse remaining rife in almost every corner of the globe. Maintaining the status quo simply should not be an option, making Norway’s vote in favour of decriminalising all drugs a brave and necessary move that should hopefully persuade other governments to follow suit.

Norway is far from the first country to make such a move. While the Netherlands is perhaps most-commonly associated with tolerating substances such as marijuana, Switzerland has focused on harm reduction rather than the criminalisation of addicts since the 1980s. Perhaps most notably when it comes to Norway’s plans, Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001. Over the intervening years, the move has widely been seen as a success. Despite initial fears that the removal of punishments for the possession of narcotics might lead to an explosion in drug use across the country, evidence suggests that drug deaths and drug-related HIV infections have actually fallen in Portugal since the policy came in effect. In fact, data from the latest European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and drug addiction report shows that the consumption of most illegal substances among Portugal’s adult population appears to have been in decline over the course of the past decade.

Portugal is just beginning to see the positive results of its programme of decriminalisation, but slowly, evidence of a downward trend in the amount of harm caused by drugs in the country is beginning to emerge. It will likely take some time before a similar pattern is noted in Norway once its programme of decriminalisation is actioned, but the fact that the country has joined Portugal in recognising that punishing drug users is a huge waste of public resources provides hope that the beginning of the end of the failing war on drugs might be on the horizon. The sooner governments around the world accept that people will always want to consume mind-altering substances and that seeking to stop them from doing so is futile, the quicker the misery caused by criminalising their behaviour can be reversed. While it would take full legalisation, standardisation and the licensed sale of all drugs to eliminate the criminal marketplace that prohibition has created, decriminalisation is perhaps at the moment the best opportunity law makers have to make drug use safer, restore people’s rights to decide what they want to put in their bodies and ultimately save lives. While decimalisation is unpopular with electorates in many countries, politicians of substance must be prepared to take a hit at the ballot box to do what is right.

 

 

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Spanish police arrest major dark web cannabis dealer in Malaga

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Detectives from Spain’s national police force have arrested a man described as a major dark web cannabis dealer.

Officers detained the man in Malaga on suspicion of using three online tools designed to shield their users’ location, namely the Tor onion browser, encryption technology and the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

He was arrested following the linking of his home to the dark web cannabis supply conspiracy after police discovered the property was being used to prepare drug deals made on illicit hidden online marketplaces.

The operation that led to the man being detained began last year when Spanish officers began a probe into individuals using the dark web and other technology to sell drugs.

In a statement, police said the platforms on which dark web drug dealers sell their illicit products often have eBay-style rating and feedback systems, allowing traders to build their reputation by offering high levels of customer service.

Some dark web illicit marketplaces also offer buyers and sellers the opportunity to communicate and exchange information over instant chat services and in hidden online forums.

“Thanks to the investigation, one of the most active hashish online sellers has been arrested,” Policia Nacional said in a statement.

“The arrest was made at his home, located in the Malaga town of Mijas, when he was connected to the dark web.

“During the operation, officers seized 2kgs of herbal cannabis prepared for distribution in small packages, two computers, a telephone, envelopes and packaging material, a vacuum packing machine and cutting and weighing tools.

“The operation remains open for the identification and location of more than 60 online sellers who are being investigated.”

Separately, an investigation conducted by BuzzFeed and UK broadcaster Channel 4 has revealed that rapists are attacking gay and bisexual men in Britain after they have taken psychoactive drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) at so-called chem sex parties while they are comatose and livestreaming the assaults on the dark web.

A survey of 2,700 gay and bisexual men on which the investigation was partly based found that one in four had been sexually assaulted after taking the drug, which has been popular with gay and bisexual men since the 1990s.

One man told reporter Patrick Strudwick: “I know of somebody who was dead on the sofa at a sex party.

“The party went on for more than a day and nobody bothered to check on him. He’d been dead for two days after a G overdose…

“People say it’s like being drunk. It’s not. It’s like being dead, but still walking.”

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Bungling Australian airport worker who asked Google how to beat customs checks jailed for smuggling A$4 million of cocaine

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An Australian customs worker who searched for information online about how to outwit his airport security colleagues has been jailed for drug smuggling.

Sam Kul was handed a nine-year jail term at Victoria’s County Court after being convicted of attempting to import 4kgs of pure cocaine worth an estimated A$4 million ($2.86 million) into the country through Melbourne Airport in April 2017.

Kul, who worked as security contractor at the same airport, was found by police to have used his mobile phone to make searches such as “does customs check every bag Australia” and “bringing a million dollars through airport” prior to launching his smuggling plot.

Others searches he made included “can money be seen on airport scanners” and “how to browse privately on Samsung”.

The court was told that Kul turned to drug trafficking when he encountered problems paying off debt he took out to buy a luxury Mercedes sports car, which he is said to have acquired in order to impress his girlfriend.

The 36-year-old claimed he was the victim of a set up, and believed he was sneaking cash into the country in the fake base of a Parada bag in which the cocaine was discovered.

Kul was told he must serve a minimum of six years behind bars before being eligible to apply for parole.

The offences he was convicted of carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Trail judge Trevor Wraight rejected prosecutors’ claims that Kul’s airport security job had helped him plan the trafficking conspiracy, ruling that the defendant had merely been acting as courier.

As well as struggling to maintain payments on a loan taken out to pay for an “overly extravagant” Mercedes-AMG, Kul was also behind on his mortgage payments when he agreed to smuggle cocaine into the country, for which he believed he would be paid A$20,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

A report published last month by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission revealed that the country’s inhabitants consume more than four tonnes of cocaine every year, despite the fact that the drug can cost as much as A$600 per gram there.

“Since 2008–09, the annual median purity of analysed cocaine samples has ranged between 9.5% and 64.5%,” the report said.

“In 2017–18, the annual median purity ranged from 42.1% in Queensland to 62% in New South Wales.”

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Prosecutors in US charge scores of crooked ‘pill mill’ medics with diversion of millions of opioid tablets

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US investigators have charged 41 people with offences related to the diversion of millions of prescription pills from legitimate supply chains.

The medical workers from Texas, who included pharmacists, pharmacy owners and clinic managers, were charged following a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation targeting so-called “pill mills”, a term coined to describe facilities at which crooked medical professionals illegally dish out prescription medication.

In total, those charged after the crackdown were said to have been responsible for the diversion of more than 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone and carisoprodol tablets.

The operation saw DEA officers execute 36 warrants, conducting searches at 15 pharmacies and six “pill mill” clinics.

DEA agents taking part in the effort additionally served immediate suspension orders on seven pharmacies and two providers involved in dispensing controlled substances without legitimate medical purpose.

It is alleged that the medical professionals charged as a result of the operation issued prescriptions in the knowledge that there was no clinical need for them to do so, and that they acted outside of their usual course of professional practice.

In some cases, prosecutors contend that drugs prescribed in the pill mill conspiracy ended up in the hands of street dealers, who are alleged to have trafficked them to locations throughout the state.

Perrye Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Houston Field Office, commented: “Opioid abuse has a devastating and far reaching effect on our society.

“The doctors, nurses and pharmacists in this case allegedly misused their positions, violating the trust of the public they took an oath to serve.

“Together with their co-conspirators, these medical professionals released millions of highly addictive drugs onto the streets of our community.

“FBI Houston remains committed to working alongside our federal, state, and local partners to combat this epidemic and protect our neighbourhoods.”

Pill mills are thought to have played a significant role in America’s ongoing opioid crisis, with unscrupulous walk-in clinics across the country dishing out powerful prescription pills as though they were sweets for years.

An ongoing US government crackdown on pill mills and the overprescribing of opioid medication by legitimate medical professionals over the course of the past decade is thought to have left many addicts with little choice but to turn to street versions of substances such as fentanyl.

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