THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 27. MARCH 2007
ONE YEAR LEFT
In March next year, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is supposed to present the results of a strategy to ‘eliminate or significantly reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs’, agreed upon during the Special Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) in New York in 1998. Those who have followed the situation in the past ten years know that the only thing that governments have managed to reduce significantly has been the public attention for the enormous failure that official drug policies have caused. It is not difficult for authorities to fool many people (i.e. the official media) for a long time. But it is impossible to fool all people all the time.
According to the UN Conventions of 1961 and 1988, the world should have been drug-free already in resp. 1986 and 2000. Like was the case back then, international drug control efforts will not be able to produce any significant progress. In 2008, the official explanation for this failure will be that ‘not enough has been invested’. Government delegates and UN bureaucrats will applaud the international consensus behind drug prohibition, set a new deadline in 2020 and have a drink.
ENCOD has always maintained that Vienna 2008 could be the perfect opportunity for citizens opposed to the war on drugs to join forces in an effort to change the course of history. But how likely is this collaboration to take place, and what is needed to initiate it, one year before?
Some organisations might be involved in the initiative of the Vienna NGO Committee, a group with strong connections to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to organise a number of regional consultations in order to prepare “2008”. The consultations are financed by the European Commission and the government of the United Kingdom. The organisations have to suscribe to the 1998 Action Plan and they need to declare themselves either totally or partially in accordance with the aim of a ‘drug free society’, or they need to be a “youth organisation”. In other words, the UNODC will maintain a firm control in order not to let anything come out of these meetings that could challenge the consensus.
Other organisations such as the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of 25 NGOs and think tanks, are focussing their approach on individual governments in order to promote an independent and rigorous academic review of the UN drug control system.
If such a review would take place, it may well be assumed that the conclusions would serve to undermine the basic logic behind current drug policies. However, national governments in Europe are still unlikely to show the political will to draw this conclusion. Diplomats are not really interested to challenge international conventions, no matter on which subject.
Some people draw the conclusion that it may be better not to pay any attention to the 2008 deadline at all. Ignoring it would be more healthy than making useless efforts to influence the process. We might better focus our energies on local actions – such as the efforts to change the classification of substances in local legislation or increase the acceptance of drug regulation among the population. Concrete local proposals for improvement (such as the Cannabis Social Club concept) can easily be turned down with the argument that national or international obligations do not allow them. But they can be accepted by public opinion, and thus the support for drug policy reform would grow bottom up, as one of the decisive elements in a cultural transformation process towards a more open and tolerant society.
In the 14 years of its existence, ENCOD has always pretended to stimulate both local actions, by offering ways to exchange and communicate among our members, as well as international lobby activities, by ensuring our presence at the highest levels of drug policy-making. In our message, we identify the right to grow all natural plants for personal use and non-commercial purposes as the start of a zero point one tolerance policy on drugs that could be extended by local and/or national governments if they decide to do so. We also insist on the fact that drug policies should promote health and safety for all involved and their surroundings, and that prohibiting drugs is obtaining exactly the opposite.
This message is not new. In fact it is a question of common sense. The group of bureaucrats that is still willing to show up and represent the ‘consensus’ behind current drug policies, is becoming smaller and smaller. And the frustration of local authorities who have to deal with the consequences is becoming bigger and bigger. They have to get the chance to speak up, as well as various members of the national and European Parliaments who think the same way.
Vienna 2008 is an opportunity to call for the start of a new drug policy by organising around Europe local happenings involving culture and humour, informative events with the participation of politicians and experts, and in Vienna a fair of legal and healthy products made of prohibited plants and possibly a large demonstration outside the UN Headquarters. There are no limits to what we could imagine collectively.
The coming months will be crucial to define if and how ENCOD can play a role in preparing the Vienna campaign. The ENCOD secretariat is focussing its efforts to ensure the funding of the budget for 2007 – so the organisation of the 2008 events could take off in June. We count on all current members to accomplish with their membership obligations and invite every European citizen, organisation, shop or company that wishes to support us to become a member.
Before 1 July, a General Assembly of Members will be held where a final decision will be taken with regards to the future of ENCOD and the Vienna campaign. Practical and realistic proposals are needed here. Let’s make sure we won’t be fooled again.
By: Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster) – www.encod.org