VG article: How dangerous is it really?

Activists claim recent research shows LSD is far less dangerous than previously believed. This can be decided today in the Supreme Court.

Published 17 August 2017
Read original Norwegian article here in VG, written by Håkon F. Høydal

At 11 o’clock today lawyer John Chr. Elden stands before the judges in the Supreme Court to argue that LSD isn’t as dangerous as so many believe it to be. For the first time since 1999 Norway’s supreme judicial authority are to consider the penalty level of importing LSD.

Once again it’s up to the court of justice to settle a debate. - This is not the first time this happens, Mr Elden says.

- Legal professionals are always responsible to settle the difficult professional debates in Norway. In the 1950’s the Norwegian Supreme Court even managed to settle whether or not Hell exists in Christianity. It they managed that, they will manage this as well, he tells Norwegian daily, VG.

Modern research claims that LSD is far less risky than what we believed it to be in the last millenium. That means the penalty level must be adjusted accordingly, says Mr Elden.

Court of justice changes politics

The more risky the court finds a drug to be, the higher the penalty. Mr. Elden wishes to argue that LSD is far less dangerous than what the courts of justice have believed so far, and that his client should receive a shorter sentence than the one he received in the Appellate Court.

- Modern research claims that LSD is far less risky than what we believed it to be in the last millenium. That means the penalty level must be adjusted accordingly, says Mr Elden.

The outcome of today’s case will impact all future cases regarding LSD, but might also impact the debate concerning drugs, he believes. It has happened - and is happening - in other debates.

- Since the year 2000 the debate of what constitutes as rape and what the penalties should be, has gone back and forth between the Supreme Court and the Norwegian Parliament. The Supreme Court decides how the law works, but the Parliament decides how it should be. The Parliament often does this when they see the effect in a specific case. The Parliament might consider whether LSD should be legal in the same line as alcohol, if they come to the conclusion that it isn't as dangerous as previously believed, Mr Elden says.

 

LSD AND ALCOHOL: Mr. John Chr. Elden believes the consequences of today’s case in the Supreme Court can be big, if they agree with his argument. - The Parliament might consider whether they should legalise LSD as they did alcohol, based on the absent level of risk, he says. Photo: HELGE MIKALSEN, VG

LSD AND ALCOHOL: Mr. John Chr. Elden believes the consequences of today’s case in the Supreme Court can be big, if they agree with his argument. - The Parliament might consider whether they should legalise LSD as they did alcohol, based on the absent level of risk, he says. Photo: HELGE MIKALSEN, VG

LSD is an artificially made hallucinogen made for the first time in 1938. It was a popular drug in the alternative movement during the 60s and 70s. Back then it was also used in psychiatric treatments - even in Norway. Researchers have started looking at LSD again, to explore the possibilities of using LSD in treatment for alcoholism among other things.

Guilty, but refuses to be punished.

Mr Elden’s client was found guilty importing 13.1 milligram LSD, which is about 131 user doses.

- I am without a doubt guilty, says the man.

- But I bought it for personal use, and I believe it is far less dangerous than for instance hashish. This case revolves around how dangerous it is for the society that 131 user doses of LSD were imported into the country, he says.

He ordered the LSD on the Internet and had it delivered by mail. It was detected by the customs service.

The District Court sentenced him to 120 hours community punishment. This was adjusted downwards to 75 hours in the Appellate Court. - It’s still not enough, claims his lawyer, Mr. Elden.

In the appeal to the Supreme Court Mr. Elden asks them to look at the penalty level based on the last 20 years of research on LSD, and that they consider it in the same line as cannabis.

- We disagree that the penalty level should be reduced as much as the defence claims, says public prosecutor Mr. Andreas Schei.

- The Supreme Court must decide whether it should be considered more low-impact than hashish. We both agree that the penalty should be reduced. The question is how much, Mr. Elden says.

DISAGREE: Be believe the Appellate Court were keeping a sensible level when they compared LSD to amphetamine, public prosecutor Mr. Andreas Schei says. Photo: TERJE PEDERSEN, NTB SCANPIX

DISAGREE: Be believe the Appellate Court were keeping a sensible level when they compared LSD to amphetamine, public prosecutor Mr. Andreas Schei says. Photo: TERJE PEDERSEN, NTB SCANPIX

Sensible level

Public prosecutor Andreas Schei disagrees completely. They accepted the judgment in the Appellate Court, he says.

- We disagree that the penalty level should be reduced as much as the defence claims. We believe the Appellate Court were keeping a sensible level when they compared LSD to amphetamine, Mr. Schei says.

The Supreme Court hasn’t considered LSD since 1999. We have to go back to the 1970s to find similar cases.

- I guess it’s because it hasn’t been used that much. It seems like it's on its way up, Mr. Schei says.

Liliana Bachs, the assistant division manager for forensic medicine at the University of Oslo, is the expert witness appointed by the Supreme Court, just as the Appellate Court did. She does not wish to comment on this case before she has been before the Supreme Court, but points out that this is not an unusual case for her.

- There is nothing unusual about this case. I have stood before the Supreme Court 3 or 4 times before, where they have asked me to consider other substances, such as diazepam or clonazepam, and where they have considered adjusting the penalty level.

You can also read: Norway on top with MDMA in Europe

Former Supreme Court judge, Mr. Ketil Lund, is the legal advisor for the EmmaSofia foundation. They are working to decriminalize the use of hallucinogens such as LSD. He thinks it’s positive that the Supreme Court wants to examine the penalty level.

- IMPORTANT: - Mr. Ketil Lund, former Supreme Court Judge, looks forward to the judgement in the Supreme Court. - It says something about the Supreme Court’s ability and will to change the law and match it with reality, he says. Photo: OLAV OLSEN

- IMPORTANT: - Mr. Ketil Lund, former Supreme Court Judge, looks forward to the judgement in the Supreme Court. - It says something about the Supreme Court’s ability and will to change the law and match it with reality, he says. Photo: OLAV OLSEN

- The expert knowledge hasn’t been based on reliable science. At least when it comes to psychedelics, such as LSD. As a judge, I have heard researchers express an interpretation of the risk concerning MDMA without any root in reality, he says.

- Based on false facts

Mr. Lund believe today's case is important.

- It says something about the Supreme Court’s ability and will to change the law and match it with reality. It can be transmitted by either maintaining or softening the very destructive regime we have today when it comes to drugs, he believes.

He is critical of the decisions the Supreme Court has made in the substance field.

- The Supreme Court is very careful when it comes to challenging the legislator, even when the laws are base on false facts. The moderate adjustments they have made when lowering the penalty levels does not reflect new knowledge and understanding. And it is of course a problem that the ones who have been responsible for the development of this regime of punishment, have invested interests in this that makes it difficult to change their standpoint. This applies to politicians, judges, bureaucrats and researchers, Mr. Lund says.

- Activism

Mr. Jørgen Bramness - specialist in psychiatry and senior researcher Norwegian National Advisory Unit on Concurrent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders, is well aware of the debate of how dangerous some hallucinogens are.

- It will attract great attention in our environment if the Supreme Court downgrade the risk profile of LSD. There are many activists fighting for the judicial system to downgrade the risk of several drugs, such as LSD.

Mr. Bramness agrees with Mr. Lund’s critique when it comes to the penalty levels of drug offences.

- We are in the situation where there is a movement in understanding how we should pass judgement on drug offences. Within the research community there is a consensus that Norway has a very strict level of penalty when it comes to drug offences. Maybe it is high time the Supreme Court considers this.

Read original Norwegian article here in VG, written by Håkon F. Høydal

Published 17 August 2017