ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 62 APRIL 2010
In this bulletin I will discuss two topics of current interest.
In the first place, both the hearing at the European Parliament (23 February) and the meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna (8 – 12 March) illustrated the “Catch 22” situation of the decision making process of both the EU and the UN when it concerns drug policy.
Secondly the question is what should be the position of Encod in the coming period, in national capitals, at the European Union in Brussels, and at the United Nations in Vienna.
On 25 and 26 February I represented Encod at a meeting in Budapest that was organized by HCLU, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, to discuss cooperation and planning between groups that want to end drug prohibition. Present were Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, International Network of People who Use Drugs, Release, Street Lawyers Denmark and Transform. The idea of organizing a big European conference, like the International Harm Reduction Association Conference, was discarded, because that would probably mean preaching to the converted. In the coming period, we want to focus on coordinating campaigns, advocacy, countering propaganda, framing the issues. One of the goals of this group will be to create a campaign-theme of a general nature that can be used in all countries, but also adjusted to public attitudes and political realities, and combined with specific local/regional themes.
A lot of information has been spread already on the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in March. It was not easy to follow what happened there, but it soon became clear that nothing of real importance was at stake this year. The most important “result” of CND 2009 was an unexpected public outbreak of disagreement. This led to the historic letter of interpretation (of Harm Reduction) presented by Germany on behalf of the majority of EU countries and a few non-EU member states. The alleged global consensus on drug prohibition was shattered for the first time publicly.
The good news of this year’s CND is that this situation has become institutionalized. The disagreements have deepened and hardened. The USA has softened its positions somewhat, more in words than in deeds, but the hard-line prohibitionist position has already been taken over by an informal coalition of Russia, Japan, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nigeria and Colombia. These countries want even harder repression, whereas most EU countries and a number of Latin American countries are openly critical of the INCB and want more liberal policies.
Time and again, in what has become a new ritual at the CND, on both sides a number of countries keep coming up with opposing proposals and standard objections. Mostly, this ends in a compromise that changes little or nothing to the existing situation, or in a decision to carry out research.
This last option was the outcome of the proposal by Japan to include cannabis seeds in the schedules of prohibited substances. Germany and a few other members objected, because they saw no serious problem and did not want to hinder the industrial hemp trade. The final decision was to study the issue, to find out whether there is a problem and what the harm of the seeds is. As far as I know, the general impression is that this will not lead to worldwide prohibition of cannabis seeds. Many countries are aware that a ban will cause more problems than it can solve.
My conclusion is that we are in a Catch 22 situation. In discussions about drug policy reform in national capitals we are referred to the supranational organizations. The mantra is that nothing can be changed without consent from Brussels and Vienna. However, whatever we propose both at the European Union (Commission, Parliament) and at the UN, we are told that they can only work according to their mandate, and since no country asked for a change of the drug treaties (the only exception being Bolivia’s request to take the obligation to prohibit traditional coca leaf consumption out of the conventions) they cannot take into account such a proposal.
Some well-meaning organizations place their hope and expectations for improvement in a new international consensus in which Human Rights and Harm Reduction will be fully and consistently applied. The situation having developed into what it is now, I think it will be both easier and more productive to work towards the definitive collapse of the remains of the consensus.
The following is meant as a proposal for discussion within Encod, and in the first place within the lobby working group. Your opinions are expected at firstname.lastname@example.org (if you are not a member of the lobby working group yet, see here how to become one) .
Trying to improve our message, and in line with the “Budapest conclusions”, I formulate a line of reasoning for general use, which can be combined with arguments pertaining to local and regional problems and situations.
1. Drug prohibition should be recognized as a violation of human rights. Drug use entails real health risks, but these risks are of a nature that requires a “soft paternalistic” legal regulatory approach. Prohibition is an unjust and unnecessarily hard paternalistic approach, which leaves drug regulation to the mobs.
2. The international drug conventions never had any scientific basis. Their central assumption is that prohibition will significantly diminish drug use and the trade in “controlled” substances.
3. It has become abundantly clear that this assumption is false. Levels of drug use and addiction have no or a negligible relationship to the intensity of repression and to government policies in general. The “Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007” (short version), edited by Peter Reuter and Franz Trautmann, published by the European Commission in March 2009 has shown this again.
4. An important conclusion can be drawn from this. There is no need to fear an explosion of drug use after regulation of the drug markets. Experiences in the Netherlands (with decriminalized access to cannabis) and in Portugal (with general decriminalization of use and possession for personal use) have confirmed this.
5. On the other hand, drug prohibition caused and continues to cause enormous harm on a global scale, while no or negligible positive results have been achieved.
6. Efforts to liberalize national drug legislations are systematically blocked by referring to the international drug conventions. The application of international drug prohibition is usually legitimized by an alleged global consensus. However, in the last decades, within the CND fundamental and apparently unsolvable disagreements have come into existence about the nature and direction of drug policy.
7. This situation is making it impossible for individual countries and groups of countries to develop policies that they want to introduce, on the basis of long term experience and sound experimentation.
8. The conclusion is that the international drug treaties have become irrelevant, and worse, an obstacle for progress.
9. The international drug conventions can no longer serve as the basis for national, and even less for international policies. The global “drug control system” must be replaced by national drug policies. It can safely be expected that these will be developed in close consultation and cooperation between neighbouring countries.
10. REGULATION must be placed on the political agenda.