THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 28. APRIL 2007
A MATTER OF PRINCIPLES
Drug policy reformers try to change laws which are based on ideological principles, not on evidence. Therefore our battle is a difficult one. Departing from a position where we are considered, at best, as idealists, at worst as criminals, we have to counter moral arguments with facts, prejudice with transparency, ignorance with information. To establish a small opening in the wall of international drug prohibition that will provoke the collapse of the entire structure we need to remain patient, creative and above all, positive.
At the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, concluded on March 16 in Vienna, a decision was taken to include NGO feedback to the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs that will take place in 2009. At this meeting, it is claimed, “an objective, scientific and balanced” assessment will be made on the global drug situation. Of course the organisations and people who will be officially allowed to give this feedback will be carefully selected by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. One of UNODCs preferred dialogue partners in Europe is the platform European Cities Against Drugs (ECAD), created by Swedish policemen and consisting of local authorities who are all supporters of a zero tolerance approach. NGO feedback is now an accepted principle of good governance. But as long as it is limited to the circle of those who share the same mistaken points of departure of policy-makers, we will need to find other ways to get our message across.
In the coming month, the European Commission will present its framework for a dialogue with civil society on drug policy in the EU. Before the dialogue will start (second half of 2007) there will be a discussion on it in the European Parliament, where Giusto Catania will be in charge of writing the report. ENCOD is currently working on a draft proposal for the structure of this dialogue, which should be as inclusive and accessible as possible.
Around Europe, citizens who wish to obtain a transparent and regulated system to provide cannabis to consumers are still treated as criminals. On March 6, four members of the French association, Barracanna, were tried in court for the sale of cannabis seeds, presenting cannabis in a positive way and personal use of cannabis. Barracanna delivered the seeds and other material to grow cannabis essentially to people who grow for their own consumption. Nevertheless the prosecutor requested 15 months of prison for the association’s chairman and 12 months for the 3 members. The verdict will be known on 3 May.
On March 9, ’Cannabis Gran’ Pat Tabram (68 years old) was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and a 1.500 euro fine for growing and providing cannabis to medical users in the UK. The jury was told by the judge that they could not even consider the medical use of cannabis, so they had to return a guilty verdict based on the evidence alone.
On March 28, Antwerp prosecutor Olivier Lins requested the dissolution of the association ’Trekt Uw Plant’, set up by Belgian activists to enable people to grow their cannabis in a collective plantation within a safe and healthy environment. Trekt Uw Plant operates on the basis of 1 plant per adult member, which is allowed by a ministerial guideline of January 2005. However Lins wants Trekt Uw Plant to be condemned as a criminal organisation, which has been deliberately set up to violate the law. The case will be sentenced on 25 april.
How to understand the reaction of legal authorities in these three initiatives? Who benefits from punishing people who are trying to establish a safe and healthy alternative to the illegal drugs market? Who profits from the continuing lack of regulation and control, whose pockets are filled with the approximately 400 billion EURO that is produced by the illegal drugs economy on a yearly basis?
Does the criminalisation of activists who clearly lack any criminal intentions correspond to a hidden agenda?
Confusion is further created by the traditional media, who appear to have no problem selling dubious and manipulated information when it concerns drugs, as long as the “correct” message is presented. On March 18, the British Independent On Sunday published a leader in which they ’appologised’ for their position against cannabis prohibition taken ten years ago. According to the IOS, “evidence” now suggested that the potency of cannabis had dramatically increased, so the current illegal status of cannabis would be justified by the health risks.
The IOS got it seriously wrong. Health risks are caused precisely due to the fact that drugs are illegal. No serious advocates for drug policy reform would maintain that any drug is safe. All drug use involves risks and that is precisely why they need to be appropriately regulated and controlled.
Finally, contradictory messages are coming from scientists when cannabis is concerned. The medical magazine ’The Lancet’ reported on 23 March that alcohol and tobacco can be considered as more harmful than cannabis. Would anyone argue that these products should be prohibited? Prohibition has never worked and has always increased potency of the prohibited substances and violence associated with their sales. Under prohibition laws in the US in the 1920’s, alcohol became horribly dangerous and its potency went through the roof. When will we truly learn from this mistake?
ENCOD will continue to fight moral entrepreneurism with reason, repressive approaches with positive alternatives. We will follow closely the debate on drugs and civil society in the European Union. Several ENCOD members are involved in several editions of the Global Marihuana March that this year will take place in approximately 200 cities around the world, on 5 or 6 May.
And finally, we are planning to hold the General Assembly of ENCOD Members in Antwerp on the 22, 23 and 24 of June 2007. All members will receive an invitation in April.
By: Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster).