Drug decriminalization

From punishment to help. An investigation of the discursive content of the Norwegian drug decriminalization reform and the debate surrounding this.


The purpose of this project is to investigate how drugs, drug users and drug problems are constituted, represented and problematized in Norway, where the government has proposed a bill to decriminalize drug possession for personal use.


In 2017 the Norwegian government proposed that drug possession for personal use should be decriminalized and that the drug problem should be transferred from the criminal justice system to the health services. The ambition was to go “from punishment to help”, which was the title of the report subsequently published by the government’s expert committee in 2019. Based on this the government proposed a bill in 2021 that would decriminalize drug possession for personal use. The proposal, which is the first of its kind in a Nordic country in recent years, has led to a fundamental debate about the purpose, effectiveness and appropriateness of both the existing drug legislation and the proposed reform. Thus, the case provides an excellent opportunity to shed light on the assumptions and logics of drug policies based on criminalization and to what extent decriminalization breaks with these.

Worldwide policy responses to drug use are still largely based on prohibition, criminalization and punishment. However, several United Nations agencies, such as the UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Programme and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have repeatedly called for decriminalization, given the great human and economic costs connected to criminalization. Consequently, several governments are beginning to question the effectiveness of prohibition and punishment and are changing their policies in new directions. Against this background, this research project will investigate the proposal to decriminalize drug possession in Norway.

The study

The study is based on policy documents produced in connection to the preparation of the proposal for the Norwegian drug decriminalization reform, including an expert committee report, the government’s reform proposal and official hearing statements. Furthermore, we will also investigate public statements in the media about the reform by government officials, policy actors and experts.

The project runs from May 1st 2021 to April 15th 2022.


The project is financially supported by Nordic Research Council for Criminology (NSfK).