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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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London drug dealers jailed after frustrated residents forced police to take action with street art

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More than 20 drug dealers have been sentenced after frustrated residents in two London boroughs forced police to take action against them.

People living in Tower Hamlets and Hackney felt they had no option but to take matters into their own hands after police failed to prevent “brazen drug dealing” in the vicinity of their homes, which they claim resulted in needles and blood being left in residential buildings by addicts.

Teaming up with a group of artists calling themselves the Columbia Road Cartel in September last year, the angry residents launched a campaign that involved fake “drug dealer only” signposts and parking bays signs being put up in areas where dealing was rife.

The signs, which were designed to look as though they were legitimate, carried warnings such as “give way to oncoming drug dealers” and “crack pick-up point”.

Speaking with the BBC, Penny Creed, vice-chair of the Columbia Road Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said last year: “Eight to 10 users congregate on a street waiting for dealers to come past and buy from their car windows.

“Cars and mopeds are mounting kerbs and driving very erratically.

“One local resident’s stepson was knocked over by a drug dealer.

“Users are also accessing some of the residential blocks to use in stairwells, where they often leave needles or even blood.”

Now, the England and Wales Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that 23 drug dealers from the area have been prosecuted as a result of the campaign.

Over the last week, those involved in the fourth and final prosecution of drug dealers from the area were sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Julian Haynes, 33, was jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs, while Brendan Vickers, 26, was handed a three-year sentence after admitting conspiracy to supply class A drugs and two counts of possessing a controlled class A drug with intent.

Jonathan Shepherd, from the CPS, said: “Dealing drugs such as heroin can have devastating consequences for vulnerable people and local communities.

“These defendants showed little consideration for those around them – often openly dealing drugs in the day in front of young children and encouraging aggressive drug users to loiter in the area.

“The different phone lines represented a coordinated effort between various drugs operations to work together to deal dangerous drugs, in effect blighting the local community to such an extent that they felt they had to take action.”

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Woman carrying cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly arrested by Argentine police

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Law enforcement officers in Argentina have arrested a woman close to the South American country’s border with Chile for attempting to smuggle cannabis concealed inside a fake baby bump.

The woman was searched after police discovered that her travelling companion was in possession of a smaller quantity of cannabis while the pair were on a long-distance coach journey from the city of Mendoza to Caleta Olivia in province of Santa Cruz.

After stopping the pair at a police checkpoint in Valle de Uco close to Mendoza, police found that the woman had hidden 15 packages of cannabis in her bogus baby bump.

The man with whom she was travelling was discovered to be in possession of two packages of the drug in his hand luggage.

Police stopped the pair while conducting routine checks on passengers using the coach route.

In total, the woman and the man were found to be carrying in excess of 4.5kgs of cannabis.

The improvised fake pregnancy bump was held together with a starch-based paste and secured to the woman’s stomach to make it appear as though she was with child.

Posting a picture of the fake baby belly on Twitter, Argentine security minister Patricia Bullrich told her followers: “She made a belly with glue, and hid 15 packages of marijuana inside it while pretending to be pregnant and attempted to move it from Mendoza to Santa Cruz .

“Police arrested the false pregnant woman and her accomplice, preventing her from trafficking the drugs she was carrying.”

In a statement, Argentine police said: “While carrying out control checks, officers stopped a group travelling from Mendoza to Caleta Olivia.

“During the inspection, police observed that a passenger was carrying a black bag that contained two brick-like packages.

“Continuing with their inspection, officers came across a young woman who had a lump in her belly, pretending to be pregnant.

“The two passengers were asked to get off the bus and were later arrested.”

In September 2013, the BBC reported that police in Colombia had arrested a Canadian woman when she attempted to board a flight to Toronto while wearing a fake baby belly that was filled with cocaine.

Police said the woman was searched after she became agitated when asked by a customs officer how far along she was with her pregnancy.

She was found be carrying two sealed bags that contained 2kgs of cocaine.

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Dutch trucker charged with drug trafficking after UK customs find huge haul of cocaine wrapped in frozen meat

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Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) have charged a Dutch truck driver with attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated £20 million ($25.7 million) into Britain while it was hidden in frozen meat.

The agency, which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, launched an investigation after customs officers stopped the driver’s truck when it arrived at Harwich International Port in Essex on a ferry from the Hook of Holland on Monday.

While inspecting the load the truck was carrying, investigators discovered multiple packages containing a total of over 200kgs of cocaine that had been wrapped in frozen meat.

The driver, named as 48-year-old Robert Tromp from the Netherlands, was charged with an importation offence, and appeared before Colchester magistrates on Tuesday, where he was remanded in custody until his next appearance at Chelmsford Crown Court on 12 December.

Commenting on Tromp’s arrest, NCA Branch Commander Jacque Beer said: “While forensic checks are still being carried out on this seizure, it is likely that the total haul would have had a street value in excess of £20 million once cut and sold at a street purity level.

“Our investigation into those responsible is continuing, but we can say that this will have put a big dent in the profits of the criminal network likely to be behind it and caused them substantial disruption.

“The illicit drug trade is a key driver behind the gang violence and exploitation we see on UK streets, which is why we, along with partners like Border Force, are determined to do all we can to stop drugs at source and protect the public. This was an excellent detection by our Border Force colleagues.”

Drug traffickers routinely hide their illicit shipments in consignments of food, not least on account of the fact that perishable goods are often fast-tracked through customs checks.

At the end of last month, two drug traffickers from the Netherlands were jailed for a total of more than 11 years by a UK court for attempting to smuggle more than half a tonne of cannabis into Britain by hiding it in consignments of grated pizza cheese and salad.

Dominic Leema and Henrik Ruben were caught after trying to smuggle the drugs through the port of Dover in the south of England, and were said to have been part of a wider organised crime network that used an industrial estate unit to extract the cannabis from the cheese.

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