THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 34 OCTOBER 2007
FREEDOM TO BREATHE
‘If the greenhouse effect were to be reversed by a ban on all fossil fuels and their derivatives, and if no more trees were allowed to be felled in order to prevent further deforestation, then there would be one
natural resource able to supply the greater part of the world’s demand for products such as fuels, paper, food, textiles and construction material. Meanwhile, the soil and the atmosphere on Earth can be restored and pollution reduced. This sustainable resource does it all at one time: hemp.’
In 1998, the Dutch company Hempflax wagered an amount of 100.000 euros to anyone who can provide proof to the contrary of this proposition. Until today nobody has been able to refute it. Meanwhile, research and evidence show that hemp could very well be the answer to our “addiction to oil”. It can be grown almost anywhere, on land where other crops cannot be grown and without significant input of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. It is renewable, biodegradable and does not generate any toxic byproducts of emission. Hemp is simple and safe to transport and could create employment in sustainable agriculture and (small-scale) industry.
If our governments and the United Nations were truly concerned with global warming, we could expect them to invest in the production and use of industrial hemp as a possible solution to this problem. Instead, this activity is being actively thwarted by most authorities, a consequence of the prohibition of cannabis, which was installed by the US government after intense lobby efforts by oil and synthetical fibre companies in the 1930s.
As a result, those who promote the use of this plant are stigmatised and criminalized. One of them, André Fürst, owner of the Chanvre-Info company in Switzerland, was arrested on September 9th. Fürst was condemned earlier this year
to serve a prison sentence of 29 months for trading hemp products (such as tea, essential oil etc.) with THC levels that were higher than allowed.
If he would have acted as a drug dealer and kept silent, there is a good
chance he would not have been bothered at all. His “crime” consisted in promoting a responsible and intelligent use of hemp, and ensuring an independent voice for a rational approach to drugs in the media, at official conferences, parliament hearings in Switzerland and outside. In an effort to silence this voice Swiss authorities chose to apply the hardest possible sentence. Please sign the letter asking to review this sentence.
While the war on cannabis and hemp is stepping up in Europe, the political support for the controlled distribution of heroin is increasing. On september 21st, German regional authorities, including those of Chancellor Angela Merkels own party, the Christian-Democratic Union, expressed their support for expanding the trials with heroin distribution that have been carried out in 7 German cities since 2002. Authorities have concluded that the trials have reduced drug consumption overall and enabled users to end contact with drug dealers. Also in Denmark, political support for a heroin trial is increasing.
Of course this is excellent news for the thousands of heroin users who will benefit from these programmes. However, it also shows the bizarre rationale behind drug prohibition. On the one hand, governments use the argument that the prohibition of cannabis is legitimate as the drug is becoming more harmful. On the other, they acknowledge that legal access to heroin, which has always been considered as a harmful drug, actually helps people to reduce risks. In short, the question of whether drugs are more or less harmful does not seem to be important anymore. The important question seems to be how to maintain drug prohibition as a political dogma.
To maintain the prohibition of drugs, the amount of public expenditure spent on law enforcement, military operations and private security firms in the United States and Europe together is considered to be more than 15 billion euro per year (which is more than 40 million euro a day). Furthermore, prohibition of hemp, coca leaves or opium and their derivates serves the interests of pharmaceutical, alcohol and oil companies, whose products could become less attractive once better and cheaper alternatives would be allowed on the market.
In the absence of a real political debate on the pros and cons of drug prohibition, it is in fact just a relatively tiny group of UN and government officials who are in charge of taking decisions on drug control policies that affect the entire world population. They are carrying the least burden and enjoy the greatest benefits of the current situation. At the bottom of the pyramid, formed by the citizens who are affected by these decisons, the situation is exactly the opposite. The people who are hit hardest by the negative effects of the drugs phenomenon have least access to the decision-making level.
In March 2008 we will have an opportunity to put the media spotlights on this situation. At the meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, the results will be presented of the ten year UN strategy to obtain the “elimination or significant reduction” of the cultivation of plants like hemp, coca and opium in the world, agreed upon in 1998.
Meanwhile, the UN is planning to carry out a consultation of “civil society” in
the process of reviewing these results. The Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs, allied to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (see photo) will organise a three day NGO forum called “Beyond 2008” in July. At this event, 300 representatives from NGOs from around the world will be invited to comment on the UN drug strategy.
These representatives will be selected through several rounds of consultations that will take place around the world with the funding of the Canadian and some European governments as well as private funders such as the Open Society Institute. The consultations will be limited to organisations who can show “tangible achievements in the field of drug control, with particular emphasis on contributions to the 1998 UNGASS Action Plan”. The goal of the dialogue is to “review best practices related to collaboration mechanisms among NGOs, governments and UN agencies” and “ to adopt a series of high order principles, drawn from the Conventions and their commentaries that would serve as a guide for future deliberations on drug policy”.
It is quite obvious that this is not the dialogue that we have been waiting for. Its purpose is clearly to ensure that whatever message leaves the room, supports the global strategy against drugs. In a true dialogue, what should be questioned is the bottom line of drug policies: prohibition. In the past years, we have seen too many examples of the way in which the UN bureacracy, governments and prohibitionist lobbyists are using exaggerations, wrong statistics, bad science, superstition, even outright deception and manipulation in order to avoid this crucial question.
Therefore, ENCODs plan remains to continue with the organisation of a public event in Vienna in March 2008, at the time when the CND meeting takes place. The aim of this event will be to unite citizens from
the entire world who wish to end the prohibition of drugs. A policy that deprives people from the freedom to choose their own substances to improve their health and wellbeing is doomed to fail. It should be revised, not refined. In the case of hemp, the survival of the planet could be at stake.
By: Joep Oomen