ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR. 45 NOVEMBER 2008
THE RIGHT TO HEALTH
While those who can are starting to enjoy the fruits of their last harvest, others continue being denied even the right of access to what is to them an essential source of well-being. The criminalization of plants whose therapeutic value is well recognized is causing the most extreme contradictions between laws, their interpretation, reality and the right to health. This problem is widespread all over Europe, where a citizen doesn’t seem to be allowed to use a plant for his own personal well-being, if in fact that plant is included among those that are declared illegal (“controlled”) by International Conventions. On the contrary, he risks to be considered as a criminal.
While in Sri-Lanka the Ministry of Indigenous Medicine is getting ready to cultivate 4000 kg of medicinal cannabis, the EU approves a special funding for intensive tobacco farming, that once put on the market after industrial treatment will kill millions of people, but of course guarantees healthy profits for companies and governments.
In Italy, in spite of the present government’s repressive and anti-scientific climate on the issue of drugs, harvest parties are still taking place in many towns. The government’s deplorable ignorance is well illustrated by the statement of Giovanardi, the Subsecretary to the Presidency with a special mandate on drug policy, who recently confirmed that “all drugs are equal”, and that “even a single consumption will burn the user’s brain out” (enjoy the spot). The harvest parties are by contrast an attempt not to lose what in past years represented a possibility to put into practice, and to claim what should be a basic right of any citizen: to grow a plant that is part of the botanical heritage of the planet for his own personal use. In some cities, following a years-long tradition, part of the crop has been donated to patients.
The case of one of them, Fabrizio Pellegrini, a member of the Italian association P.I.C. (Pazienti Impazienti Cannabis), is a paradigm of the paradoxical situation that is currently affecting Italy. A concert pianist and a painter, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, Fabrizio is in possession of a medical prescription for medicinal cannabis granted by the Dutch Ministry of Health (Bedrocan), so he imported it at his own expenses through the City Health Service, and could safely enjoy therapy for a few months.
But due to the high cost to be paid, and to the scarce therapeutic continuity of this “institutional” cannabis, every spring he tried to grow for himself a few plants on his balcony, hardly enough for his own medical needs. He was never even allowed to see the end of the flowering process, since every year his home was the target of a police raid, a confiscation of his plants and the filing of a new criminal report. He was thus subjected to a dozen trials for cultivation, and has served 4 months in prison as a pre-trial safety measure. Just for refusing to buy cannabis on the black market (it’ s not a criminal offence, you shouldn’t mind to finance mafia and to put your health at risk instead of treating your pathology), and for not being well off enough to buy Bedrocan.
Fabrizio, after the methodical destruction of his private and professional life, faces today in Italy a concrete risk of being sentenced to many years of imprisonment. Based on the current regulations, he is not considered to be an ill citizen who has rights, but rather a dangerous recidivist criminal for whom the execution of a zero tolerance approach is a must. He cultivated cannabis, and should he skip jail because of his medical needs, he could repeat the crime in order to stop his suffering, since he already did so many times and for which he has already been sentenced definitive prison terms in two criminal proceedings.
In other European Countries too we are facing a glaring discrepancy regarding the guarantee to the right to health, which is more and more becoming a right for only first class citizens. Only those who possess large economic resources and meet the requirements of a doctor are granted access to legal medicinal cannabis, whereas the great majority of patients are forced into illegality if they want to benefit from the properties of a plant that cures them.
The right to health, acknowledged as fundamental by the various national Constitutions, by many International Civil Rights Treaties such as The International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations (art.12) and well in evidence in the Constitution of the World Health Organization, seems to be absent in a large part of Europe when the substance used to maintain or improve one’s own health is listed among “illegal” plants.
In fact, the same is true about the Coca plant, its long and proven history of medicinal and cultural use acknowledged by the UN itself in the Convention against Illicit Drug Trafficking of 1988, where Peru and Bolivia’s right to grow an amount limited to their domestic market is officially acknowledged. The possibility of utilization of mate and other products to treat cocaine addiction would be of great interest as well, since it has been noticed that cocaine craving is apparently reduced by it.
We hope that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), whose task is to monitor the human rights situation all over Europe, will put into practice the suggestion of the Commission for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament (Catania report, point 33rd), that a study on the impact of drug policies on human rights is inserted as soon as possible among its activities. We will initiate a strong lobby in order to ensure that this study is carried out.
Encod, in cooperation with the Basque government, is organizing a research program on the involvement of drug users associations in the design of drug policies in Europe. This research includes a questionnaire that users’ organizations are invited to answer, and a round table discussion to be held in Vitoria, Basque Country, Spain, on November 21 – 23. In collaboration with other organizations, the preparation of the Cannabis Tribunal in The Hague on December 1st and 2nd is also progressing.
Regarding Fabrizio, support actions are being prepared as well as a solidarity web auction for his paintings, in order to collect the necessary funds for this basic campaign. His next court hearing in Chieti has been scheduled a few days after December 10th, the international day for human rights, when he will be present at the dedication for his inclusion among the metallic templates comprising the monument “All potential targets” on a main square in Rome.
In order not to close this bulletin with a bitter taste in the mouth, we end with some recent good news for Italy, where two recent developments may provide a glimpse of hope at the judiciary level. The first is the re-opening by the court of Perugiaof the case of Aldo Bianzino] who misteriously died in prison the day after he was arrested for cultivating cannabis. The second might lead to the reconsideration of the sentence that was issued in April 2008 by the Cassation Court in which the equivalent relation between growing exclusively for personal consumption and simple possession was simply denied. But recently, a judge acquitted the members of a community inspired by American Indian culture of any charge for growing 79 cannabis plants. This fact may produce new opportunities to re-open the Cannabis Social Club debate on a national level.
An important judgment came from the Netherlands too, where the Supreme Court acquitted a Dutch citizen suffering from multiple sclerosis of the cultivation charge. But there, the patient’s appeal was against a 250 € fine…
By: Alessandra ViazziRepublish