ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
THINK INSIDE THE BOX
From 25 to 27 September, the Encod General Assembly of Members took place in Proeftuin ‘De Luwte’, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The GA was attended by 36 participants from 11 countries, all eager to promote drug policies that take into account the rights of consumers and small producers, and benefit society as a whole.
The main question on this year’s GA was whether Encod still has a plus value for this goal, and if yes how should we convince more people of this. Whereas European public opinion is slowly evolving towards acceptance of drug use and authorities are more and more inclined to apply pragmatic policies, many organisations of health professionals and academic observers have popped up playing the role that Encod used to play. Likewise, within the Cannabis Social Club movement that we helped to establish in various countries, our role has become rather modest: today many people interprete the term CSC in their own way and do not recognise the value of being a member of a European platform that defends a common interest.
In fact we had three challenges to meet: How to ensure the recognizeability of Encod among the large number of organisations which currently say they are lobbying for regulation or harm reduction at an international scale. How to increase the attractiveness of an Encod membership to both individual citizens and groups of drug policy activists? And how to continue to promote non-profit models for distribution of cannabis now that the CSC concept has become so vulnerable to efforts by commercial highjackers?
In order to answer the last question we dedicated one day entirely to the situation of Cannabis Social Clubs in Europe. We learned that in Austria, CSC’s have evolved into a mere nickname of all kinds of private initiatives, that are not officially registered nor monitored by a group of members. Also in France, Germany, United Kingdom and Italy many different interpretations exist: some people are working underground, following all principles but not acting openly, while others are presenting the concept as a campaign tool to attract other activists and media. Only a few of them have registered officially but none of these is actually growing any cannabis. The only countries with CSC’s operating according to the Encod Code of Conduct are Belgium, Slovenia, Spain and the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands CSC Tree of Life in Amsterdam has been met with scepticism by many, but thanks to a positive attitude on behalf of municipal authorities the club has not yet experienced any interference by the legal apparatus. Their current strategy is to obtain a licence for growing for the members of the club in the framework of a scientific research to study the effects of regulated cannabis production on consumers. In Slovenia, two Cannabis Social Clubs are operating more or less with the authorisation of local and national authorities. Both clubs are following the Encod Code of Conduct but they have not registered yet. In Belgium the expectation is that soon, a third club will be added to the two existing CSC’s, which will enable them to establish a national federation and a more serious presence at the political level. Finally in Spain, the phenomenon has run out of control. Spanish Encod members estimate that only 20% of the groups that call themselves Cannabis Social Clubs are working correctly, the rest have become a façade for a commercial operation.
We concluded that if we had ever imagined Encod to operate as a European agency for certification and control for Cannabis Social Clubs, we should bury that ambition. However, it is satisfying to see so many people have embraced the concept and started to act on the basis of it in order to obtain a step forward towards a proper regulatory framework in their country. Without blaming anyone who does not follow the original Encod code of conduct of a non-profit CSC, we still want to continue promoting that model, as well as the even better way to regulate cannabis: Freedom to Farm – meaning the right of any adult person to (home-)grow plants for their own personal use.
Homegrowers and members of CSC’s who operate without any legal security inside their country may benefit from the fact that a European coordination legitimises the concept. Referring to European laws and conventions, Encod can empower these people in various ways, spreading information on how to grow and where to obtain materials to ensure a safe homegrow, contacts to other cannabis activists who may be willing to advise and accompany such an initiative and recommendations for responsible use. Encod will make the commitment that if one of its members gets into legal problems while homegrowing or establishing a CSC that follows the Encod code of conduct, he/she will receive all the political and moral support he needs to reduce the consequences (such as high lawyer costs).
In the coming months we are planning to launch this campaign, which both promotes initiatives by European citizens to challenge prohibition and develop an alternative to the illegal market and may stimulate more people to become an Encod member, under the title ‘Think Inside the Box’. Therefore the website for EU CSC’s will be converted into a promotion site for this purpose.
Concerning our recognizeability at the international level, many members agree that Encods role inside the official dialogues at EU or UN level is limited. On one hand, these dialogues are steered from above and do not fulfill the basic criteria for a genuine exchange of opinions between authorities and civil society. On the other, in the past 10 years various organisations have been set up specifically to play a role in these events. They operate often with much more resources and better conditions than we do.
This does not mean Encod has nothing to contribute to the public debate on international drug policy. We will continue to show where citizens who are mostly affected and concerned by drug policies usually stand in the drug debate: outside on the street, with a message of truth: the drug war is not based on a mistake, but on deliberate intentions of governments protecting a confluence of interests – and hope: one day a legal framework will be adopted for drugs that ensures principles as transparency, accountability, fair trade, environmental safety and public health orientation.
The first action we envisage in this field is a pop up conference centre in front of the UN Building in New York during the days of the coming UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, 19-21 April 2016. Together with activists from North and South America, we will approach both delegates to UNGASS as well as the media and anyone who wants to hear it, that we believe UN should make conventions on health or human rights, but not on drugs. During three days, we plan to offer a programme with speakers from the whole world denouncing the impact of current policies and presenting the perspectives of a global policy shift, interrupted only by the traditional 4.20 rally on 20.04.2016.
In order to ensure a decent representation of European civil society in New York next year, we will carry out an urgent fundraising campaign directed to all our (former) members and in fact every citizen who believes the voiceless should have a voice at UNGASS. Ideally, an amount of 50.000 euros should be found before the end of the year. Especially because we usually do not make this kind of urgency request, we count on the support from all of you who read this bulletin.
Finally we also elected a new Steering Committee. Elina Hanninen of Finland, and Derrick Bergman from the Netherlands stepped down definitively from the SC, whereas Enrico Fletzer (Italy), Janko Belin (Slovenia) and Joep Oomen (Belgium) continued to lead the organization together with newcomers Maja Kohek (Slovenia) and Steffen Geyer (Germany).
We could not have had a better closure for the GA than Sunday night, 27 September, when a red moon surged above Amsterdam. These ‘blood moons’ – a natural phenomenon that occurs every few years – have been known throughout history as a sign of a big change or event about to happen.
Text: Joep Oomen
NEWS FROM THE SECRETARIAT
Encod will participate in the Cultiva Hemp Fair in Vienna between 2 and 4 October.