THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 38 FEBRUARY 2008
A DIABOLICAL STALEMATE
From 10 to 14 March 2008, delegates from 53 governments who together form the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), will meet in Vienna to discuss the progress made in the efforts “to eliminate or significantly reduce the illicit manufacture, marketing and trafficking of psychotropic substances”. In June 1998, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in New York agreed to prolong the global war on drugs for another ten years, after the US government with the help of then Executive Director of the UN Drug Control Agency Pino Arlacchi had successfully neutralised the efforts of NGO’s and countries like Mexico to carry out a serious evaluation of the impact of this policy that has been in place since 1961.
The figures in the report that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime will present to the CND in March leave no doubt: the 10 year strategy has failed. Since 1998 the global production of cannabis, cocaine and opium have all increased, the latter even reaching record levels since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 broke the rule of the Taliban.
Pino Arlacchi was probably the only person who, apart from the Taliban, seriously believed the 1998 commitments were achievable. He was dismissed in 2002 after a litany of scandals involving corruption and nepotism had badly discredited the reputation of his agency. To the rest of the world, the objectives of the 1998 plan for a more drug free world in 2008 looked much the same as the military orders of the generals in the first world war (1914 – 1918): for years they insisted in continuing a trench warfare that every soldier who had been two days in the field knew was completely useless. But unlike the first world war, not many soldiers in the war on drugs risk their life. On the contrary, they risk to loose their status and income if they start doubting the credibility of the operation, which according to Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, costs the world’s taxpayers roughly 70 billion euro a year. That is more than 2.000 euros per second.
Arlacchi’s replacement, Antonio Maria Costa, introduced the term “containment” to describe what according to him should be understood as the real objective of global drug control. Forget about reduction, what we are after is stabilisation of the phenomenon. The term containment comes from another war of the 20th Century: for years it was the US Administration’s strategy to “contain” the Soviet Union within its own borders, acting rigorously against what it conceived as the Soviets’ efforts to increase the areas under their influence.
“Containment” isn’t necessarily less bloody than outright warfare: it was this strategy that maintained the war in Vietnam for years after its senselessness had become clear to most analysts. But somehow, it sounds nicer, and what’s more, it avoids annoying questions, as it is much easier to maintain that a problem has been “contained” than “reduced”.
Formally the March CND meeting is meant to mark the start of a “year of reflection” on the course of future drug policies. However, this has not stopped the UNODC from presenting in advance on January 4, 2008 a strategy “to keep the world safe from drugs” for the next 4 years, which repeats the same hollow phrases as previously. With the critical date of March 2008 coming nearer, the UNODC’s objective is clearly to maintain a diabolical stalemate: we can speak about drugs, but we can not discuss or even think about the real problem to be solved: an outdated legislation that is increasingly impossible to enforce without massive violations of human rights.
Delegates come to Vienna to repeat the same meaningless speeches they have been listening to for years, with future perspectives that everybody knows are completely unrealistic. Where drug policies are concerned, our governments turn into a kind of implementing agency for a policy that is mostly aimed at maintaining itself. Their approach is not inspired by the situation they face, it is essentially dependent on, or better said, addicted to the attitudes held by the major concentrations of political and economic power in the world. If the latter would consider that legalizing drugs would serve their interests, prohibition would collapse practically overnight.
ENCOD is proud to organise a massive call for an end to the war on drugs, one of the most absurd enterprises in the history of humanity. In the weekend before the CND meeting starts, we will send a message meant to penetrate the walls of the Vienna International Centre. On Friday 7 March, a Drug Peace March (thousands are expected) will claim the Freedom to Farm: the right of any adult in the world to grow cannabis, coca, opium and other plants with beneficial applications for personal use and non-commercial purposes. In order to break the consensus behind the war on drugs, only one courageous government is needed to strike out the prohibition of plants. As a result, a whole different spectrum of opportunities would arise to build our drug policies on reason and compassion, on respect for human dignity and the future of the planet.
On Saturday 8 March the programme continues with a conference that brings together some outstanding experts on the ins and outs of global drug policies. Peter Webster will describe the hidden motives behind drug prohibition, throwing lights on the lessons that we as human beings may need to learn before we can return to live in a saner world. Peter Rausch, Christian Rätsch and Jochen Gartz will summarise the effects of illegal psychoactive substances on the mind, so it will become clear exactly what kind of mental processes are being made illegal when drugs are prohibited. After dinner, Beatriz Negrety Condori will describe the indigenous political movement that made an end to 500 years of white colonialism in Bolivia, with the coca leaf being the heart and soul of this remarkably peaceful revolution. Afterwards, Virginia Montañes and Joep Oomen will comment the possibilities that the drug policy reform movement may one day provoke a similar effect in Europe. The night will be closed with jazz by Austrian singer Alex as well as ethnobeat from Italy’s Peppe Voltarelli.
Sunday, 9 March, will start with a session involving Dr. Kurt Blaas, the main advocate for medical cannabis in Austria and Martin Barriuso, the prominent spokesperson of Pannagh, the first Cannabis Social Club that operates with the authorization of local legal authorities in the Basque Country, Spain. Afterwards, Clifford Thornton (photo) will explain that the war on drugs is an essential part of one huge lie: in fact we are facing a war on poor people, primarily people of color. And Raimondo Pavarin will illustrate what this means in the local setting of a Northern Italian town.
After lunch, Dana Beal, Jacques de Schrijver and Boaz Wachtel will give us insight on the latest developments on the use of iboga and ibogaine, or how an age old African ritual can be adapted to modern Western needs. Finally, the microphones will be opened for any voice that wishes to make a statement. Every participant will be able to speak and listen in German, English and Spanish.
We look very much forward to meeting you in Vienna. Travels can be arranged cheaply through budget airways flying on Bratislava (which is a 50 minutes train ride from Vienna). You will find in Vienna, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, hotels and pensions offering reasonable conditions for fair prices.
Join us in the effort to break the diabolical stalemate.
By Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)