Norway to decriminalise drugs

Norway's parliament has voted to decriminalise drug use.

Users caught with small amounts of drugs - from marijuana to heroin, and everything in between - won't be arrested or charged, but instead be offered treatment.

The move was inspired by a recent trip to Portugal by a government health committee. Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001, and has seen use plummet since then.

"[We will] stop punishing people who struggle, but instead give them help and treatment," said Nicolas Wilkinson, health spokesman for the Socialist Left Party, one of the four parties that backed the change in policy.

"It has started a political process, [but] it's just the starting point."

The exact legislation hasn't been written yet, but it's expected to keep manufacture, sale and distribution illegal, while use is dealt with by the health sector - not justice.

"It is important to emphasise that we do not legalise cannabis and other drugs, but we decriminalise," said health committee chairman Sveinung Stensland.

"The change will take some time, but that means a changed vision:  Those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment."

The Scandinavian country's Justice Minister has previously said if drugs were decriminalised, users who failed to follow through with treatment might still face criminal charges.

"If the terms of the programme are violated, the convicts must serve an ordinary prison term," Anders Anundsen said last year.