So begins the lyrics of the Norwegian national anthem. As a drug addict, though, I have not felt much of this love from my country for as long as I can remember. My government have harassed, punished and chased me and the likes of me since we adopted the American War on Drugs nearly 50 years ago. During the last five years alone, the weakest and most isolated patient group in the country - drug addicts - have been fined for the total amount of 48 million Norwegian kroners, which amounts to 5 million pounds or 6 million dollars. Addicts have been arrested for use and possession, had their lives worsened and destroyed by a punitive regime in the name of good moral and signal policy. But not anymore, if we are to believe today's remarks made by our Minister of Health Bent Høie from the governing conservative party. As drug policy reformists, with or without drugs in our bloodstream - our long time adversary, which only months ago held a speech in New York at the UNGASS, where he stood his ground and defended the prevalent regime, has now turned almost 180 degrees and declares that he will advise his party and the government to put an end to the War on Drugs in Norway. Yes, there are many things still not perfect, and even though he in his announcement mentions Portugal as an inspiration, we are not this far as of yet, but we are on our way!
Even though he still insists on drugs being illegal, and even though we as addicts still are going to be under the threat of forced urine controls and other alternative forms of punishment, he has made an unambiguous promise to us that the harassment and punishment in form of unmanageable fines and imprisonment for use of drugs, is going to end.
We are a large group of people, within media, activism, politics, academia and culture - and not to forget within the group of active drug users - who have for years worked diligently, and almost against all odds, to persuade him and his colleagues to reverse the punitive approach towards drugs and addicts. And if you had asked any of us as late as earlier this year, none would have dreamt of Mr Høie to come out of the closet, so to speak (he is openly gay himself), as a progressive drug policy reformer. When we met in NY during the UNGASS we barely spoke, but communicated through the media, even though our hotels were next door to each other. He to me and my fellow addicts through his speech where he, even though as mentioned earlier stood his ground, hinted at an emerging movement in the direction of less of a justice - and more of a health political approach when it comes to drug and addiction issues. I replied, through an article in the newspaper Morgenbladet, where I am employed as a columnist: "Bent Høie, you tried in a courageous manner in the UN."
For these remarks I received some criticism from my hard-liner activist colleagues, accusing me of giving him too much credit. They were quick to remind me that his "third way" - which refers to some kind of a median position between the most progressive countries such as Portugal, Canada and Uruguay on the one hand and, in drug war-terms, the "axis of evil" countries such as Philippines, China, Indonesia and Iran on the other, is an illusory one, and that his speech was full of political rhetoric on the verge of being hypocritical, all the time he as the Minister of Health is largely responsible for chasing drug addicts and silently let pass the fact that the government, as I have mentioned, during the last five years have criminalized the patient group which I represent and handed out five million pounds worth of fines to my brothers and sisters living in large part on the street in cities like Oslo and Bergen, with armed police running after them, as they are merely trying to obtain their illegal medicine.
The criticism struck me, and at our next encounter, backstage at the morning news show on the biggest commercial TV channel TV 2, I reminded him that if he would not soon put words into action I would publicly accuse him of being responsible for the inhumane predicament in which he and his colleagues are putting me and my fellow addicts in by criminalizing and punishing us for medicating ourselves. He gave me a hug and told me that he is listening, but that he still firmly believes that the prohibitionist line is the way to go about things, because of the fact that the positive and deterrent effects of criminalizing addicts outweighs the negative consequences for us as individuals and society as a whole. I replied that I thought his analysis was wrong, and even though I was glad to hear that he is monitoring the situation and on a daily basis reinvestigates his viewpoints, I read it as a clear hint that he was about to move towards a new approach, he was just not ready to tell me yet.
In a combination of disappointment and apathy as a result of my and my colleagues' unrelenting efforts to make him change his mind and thus take control of the drug sector as opposed to share this responsibility with his peer in the Justice Department Anders Anundsen (this guy deserves his own article, but that is another story) seems to bear no fruit, I returned to my keyboard and hammered down an article where I slammed him and his boss, our prime minister Erna Solberg, for not being more vocal and speak up against Duterte's delegation, which at the time was at a congress center in Oslo brokering a peace treaty with the Maoist Guerrilla with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as mediators, and I again reminded him that his third way is a rhetorical cop out. Either you are with us or you are against us, I wrote, intendedly echoing the words of former President of The United States - our century-long drug-political role model - George Bush before engaging in the - in parallel to the war on drugs - one of the most futile, treacherous and devastating wars in our modern history, the Iraq War. There is in theory, I continued, no principal difference between President Duterte sending his death squads out to kill addicts in broad daylight, and your government encouraging the police to chase and harass the addicts of your own country by handing out prison sentences and fines for acts only hurting the individual who puts the drugs in their own veins or up their own noses. For this I also received harsh criticism, this time from my less confrontative activist colleagues, and I was labeled as unprofessional and irrational; the reality in the Philippines and in Norway is not even in the same ballpark: Filipino death squads can not and should not be likened to Norwegian police, even though bearing arms, when handing out fines for illegal use of drugs.
Of course, this is in effect true, being killed and being fined is not relatable and my critique of Mr Høie may well have been disproportionate, but at the same time I still believe the principle is the same: punishing sick people and criminalizing a patient group is both counterintuitive and inhumane. There is in theory no principal difference, even though the different punitive approaches do not bear much resemblance in practice. I'll much rather pay up with silver than by lead, but I do not think I should pay anything at all, at least not in judicial terms. Me and my fellow addicts of all countries deserve to be helped, and treated as patients, not as criminals. We should be recognized not only as human beings with the same rights as all others, but also viewed upon as potential resources, that even without being able to kick our habits overnight should be put to work, and be integrated in society whilst we are receiving help for our illness, and not be stigmatized and pushed away either by being incarcerated, fined or socially ostracized by the mainstream as being identified by the majority as human beings with an inherent moral fallacy as opposed to people in need of help and encouragement. Well, Mr Høie, today is the day I on behalf of over 10.000 of my fellow addicts in Norway finally can and will identify you as a minister of health also for us, not only working to benefit the health of people with cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. Today we can take in the fact that you, as the most powerful health politician, finally, sees us, both as human beings with resources that society can benefit from, but also as fully worthy patients who now can wake up each day feeling assured that we are not going to be chased, fined or put in prison for self-medicating, and that it is you Mr. Høie who will see to that, and that you will protect us and care for us in the same way that you diligently have done for all other patient groups in this country during your time in office. Today we can finally sing the national anthem together and without shame, guilt or fright join you in uttering the words: "Yes we love this country". Because we today for the first time, at your announcement finally feel that the country loves us too.