ENCOD BULLETIN OF DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
THOSE CRAZY PEOPLE WHO CHANGE THE WORLD
The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do it. – Jack Kerouac
Nine years ago, in 2005, when we realised the first Athens Legalize Cannabis Protestival as part of the Global Marijuana March, everybody thought that we were crazy. Drug consumption and drug policy reform was a taboo issue that was stigmatised by a large part of the Greek society. Nobody wanted to talk about it. Nine years later, in the aftermath of the 9th Legalize Protestival that gathered about 30.000 people, everybody has the feeling that we are crazy enough to change the world around us, slowly but steadily. The drug law reform campaign “Coalition to change drug policies” has reached a peak point this year. Unfortunately the politicians did not manage to take a leap of faith and support a substantial and progressive policy reform. Greek society, though, is ready for it.
The antiprohibition movement is more than 25 years old in Greece and in 2013 we almost achieved a historic victory. We almost achieved a victory because we believed for a second that the politicians would for once take a decision based on scientific data and best practices in the EU, instead of ideology and moral panic. Unfortunately we were mistaken. The new drug law (4139/2013) that was introduced in the beginning of 2013 does not decriminalize drug use, although the initial draft law that was introduced in 2011 in the Greek Parliament was calling for it. After two long years of deliberation, campaigning and redrafting, the new law was weakened dramatically by the conservative political spectrum that holds a fragile majority in the Greek parliament at the moment.
As a result, drug users are still considered as criminals facing 5 months imprisonment for possession and personal use of drugs, although they have secured the right to treatment. If you are an opiate user you can go to rehab instead of prison, but if you are a cannabis user you have to declare to the public prosecutor and the judge that it is your first time. If not, you will be punished and obliged to buy your freedom in the end, with your criminal record marked even for one gram. Only if you are lucky, you will not spend a night in detention.
Moreover, the new law does not specify quantities for personal use, making the implementation of the law open to personal judgements. Self-cultivation and possession of cannabis plants justified for personal use are treated with the same punishment, i.e. 5 months imprisonment (previously 1 year if personal use was justified, or 10 years if personal use was not justified).
Although there was a minor rationalization of the penal punishments, according to EU law (Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA), Greece still has one of the toughest regimes in penalizing drug trafficking, with penalties ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. One of the positive aspects of the new law is that it finally declassifies hemp from the illegal substances and paves the way for its legal cultivation and processing.
Unfortunately the new law missed a historic chance to set the basis for a fair, just, humane and efficient drug policy during a period of a multidimensional crisis that has worsened living conditions for drug users and pushes more people into problematic use and criminality. The new law does not tackle corruption or excessive use of funds for law enforcement instead of treatment. Neither does it address reduction of harm or criminality. The new law will potentially contribute to the temporary decongestion of prisons, but certainly will not contribute to the de-stigmatization of users or the safeguarding of public health. The legislator and the state still consider that the use of substances and the dependence on them is an issue of public security and policing rather than an issue of public health and dignity. This is why we still spend in Greece 80% of the total drug related funds on law enforcement and only 20% on treatment and prevention.
On the other hand, we did not miss our chance to raise awareness and heat up the public debate on the issue. Our festival and campaign gathered quite some media attention this year, both positive and negative. The fact that we realized three international events with 12 distinguished speakers from various EU countries and 12 highly acclaimed Greek speakers, as well as the fact that four political parties support our campaign gave rise to an increased media and public support that cannot be ignored. We managed to spread widely our message that users are not criminals. Criminal are the prohibitive and repressive policies that do not tackle supply and demand, but rather increase corruption, illegality, harm and the profits of organized crime.
Until the truth shines, which is the best prevention, we will continue to cultivate our rights and freedoms.
By Michalis Theodoropoulos, ENCOD SC, Greece
News from the secretariat
From 21 to 23 June, the General Assembly will take place in Bermeo, Spain. The three main issues in this assembly will be the election of a new Steering Committee, the formation of a European platform of Cannabis Social Clubs and the next step towards the establishment of an Authentic Civil Society Forum on Drug Policies in Europe.
In the coming weeks, more information on these issues will be made available to all members. If you cannot attend the GA in Bermeo, you may be able to follow a live streaming of the event on the Internet (please let us know if you want to receive the instructions to attend this live streaming). Encod members who cannot participate can give their mandate to vote to another member who will be at the GA, through a message to the secretariat.
This is Encods bulletin nr. 100. We thank everyone who has made this achievement possible.