ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR. 47 JANUARY 2009
AN UPHILL BATTLE
At the turn of the year 2008 2009 we look both backward and forward.
Did we accomplish lasting changes at all the meetings, conferences,
symposia, and by all our other activities in 2008? It is of course
impossible to know for sure.
We did manage to focus the attention of the international drug policy
forum (that is, all the functionaries, politicians, volunteers, experts,
and citizens with an interest in drug policy) on the most important
issues: Harm Reduction, Human Rights, and last but not least Regulation,
after the Repeal of Prohibition.
The international situation is less stable than it has been for a long
time, both economically and in the wider political sense. Will this
prove to be helpful for our cause, or will it slow us down? The current
economic crisis cannot fail to remind us of the 1930´s when US Liquor
Prohibition was repealed. Certainly, this came about in part because of
the economic necessities. Will we see this scenario replayed on a global
scale in the UN drug policy theatre? Or has the global drug war become
untouchable due to its pervasive corruptive power, and sacrosanct by its
popular but false claim of moral righteousness?
We will probably get the beginning of the answer to these questions in
March 2009 when the “Year of Reflection” on the results of UNGASS 1998
will come to a conclusion. Admittedly, UNODC’s own evaluation was partly
honest: the objectives of UNGASS 1998 have not been met.
However, the triumphant conclusion of Costa’s evaluation, that the
global drug problem has been “contained” by international drug control,
is as shallow as it is false.
False, because this alleged containment has only occurred in a few of
the highly developed countries, while elsewhere drug-prohibition-related
problems continue to increase. Shallow, because there is no reason to
see stabilizing of use levels, even where it did happen, as a consequence of
whatever policy. After the introduction of a new intoxicant or euphoric
drug, levels of use climb for some time, often many years, and then
level off simply because the demand has been satisfied. Reaching a
plateau is not a success of drug policy. It is a natural occurrence.
This is one of the changes that has taken place in the last few years
in the argumentation, in the line of reasoning in the drug policy
debate: the influence of repression on levels of drug use has
definitively been exposed as a myth.
The same goes for another crucial argument: the acknowledgment that the
health risks of drug use do not require prohibition, but regulation.
This reversal of one of the core justifications of prohibition is
spreading slowly but steadily. Together, these two insights are
sufficient for many interested citizens to see the futility and
harmfulness of drug prohibition.
The problem is that few politicians are ready to accept this debunking
of drug prohibition mythology. Most politicians know that repression
causes enormous harmful side effects, and they may be ready to
understand that prohibition will not lead to control of the drug
markets, but too many of them still see these policies as essential
instruments for their political careers. The big question is how long it
will still take before they fully grasp the inconvenient truth that drug
prohibition no longer can be justified by reasonable argumentation.
This was clearly demonstrated this year by UNODC Director Costa’s
failure to explain the low to average levels of cannabis use in the
Netherlands. And at the recent Cannabis Tribunal in The Hague the
arguments brought forward by Christian Democratic politicians were
formally judged to be no more than feelings, impressions, moral
convictions, and lacking argumentative value.
At the UN, as within the EU, it will continue to be an uphill battle. In our
experiences in the individual European countries, we find enough support
and progress to maintain the strength and conviction to continue this
battle, but we should be prepared for serious disappointments. The
balance of political power is in constant change all over the world,
from Western domination to forms of cooperation between states in which
regional powers will play larger roles.
With an expected change of policy in the USA this may lead to different
options. China is slowly opening up for Harm Reduction, for instance,
but that does not imply any improvement in the protection of civil
rights of drug users. In the European Union, the struggle between
proponents of more centralization or decentralization continues.
when the probable acceptance of the Lisbon treaty will effectively end
individual countries’ juridical independency, power division between
local, regional and national governments will continue to be [an area] of
conflict. This is shown by the preference for pragmatic solutions such
as the Cannabis Social Clubs in the Basque and Catalan regions, and by
the open defiance of the Dutch national government’s plan to further
restrict the coffeeshops by the majority of those city governments that
actually have problems due to the semi-illegal status of cannabis.
In the coming year, ENCOD’s efforts will stay focussed on demonstrating
the inconsistencies between policies and local realities, on pleading
for understanding of these realities, and on strengthening the movement
of people who dedicate themselves to promoting just and effective drug
By Fredrick Polak (with the help of Peter Webster)Republish