ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NR 67 SEPTEMBER 2010
TIME TO DISCUSS THE ALTERNATIVES
If the purpose of drug policy is to make toxic substances available to anyone who wants them in a flourishing market economy controlled by murderous criminal gangs, the current arrangements are working well. If, however, the goal is to reduce the amount of drugs being consumed and limit the harm associated with addiction, it is surely time to tear up the current policy. It has failed.
From: The Guardian
We are willing to assume that it all started with good intentions. The other side of good intentions is that they can be treacherous. Drug policy based on penal law has had and continues to have many harmful consequences and few if any positive ones. That is why Encod has been campaigning for a radical change in drug policy since its birth.
In 2008, the European Commission started a large scale project to evaluate the effects of the “global drug control system”. The reason for this step was that UNODC (United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime) had no plan for an independent evaluation of the outcome of UNGASS 1998. The Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007, also known as the Reuter/Trautmann-report was published so shortly before the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2009 however, that it could not have any impact on the proceedings of that meeting.
The R/T-Report can be summed up in one sentence: drug prohibition is a costly way to make a serious problem worse, and to create a list of serious new problems on the side. (Exactly what we and many others have been saying for years.)
One would expect that the European Commission, the authority that had commissioned the report, would actively promote discussion on this important report. As far as we know there has only been one internal discussion – followed by silence. There is no official acknowledgment of how the Commission values the report, or to which insight the findings have lead.
In February 2010, Encod arranged a public meeting about the report at the European Parliament with the support of Member of European Parliament Michail TREMOPOULOS. There we not only endorsed the conclusions of R/T-report, we also added a political conclusion: it is not acceptable when discussion and study of alternative regulatory systems for drug control remain taboo in the political arena.
EU drug policy is lame, because the EU adheres to the official UN fiction that prohibition is the best policy to diminish the health and social risks of drugs, and avoids any discussion of alternative policies.
How can the international drug conventions be changed? There is a small body of literature on a number of existing options. I extracted the following from Transform´s Blueprint for Regulation (2009):
Modification, amendment, denunciation are official methods, but these are less likely to be useful because the majority of member states would have too many possibilities to resist.
Most promising seems to be the following:
According to the Law on Treaties (1969) all treaties cease to be binding when a fundamental change has occurred since the time of signing (rebus sic stantibus). (Under Bush, the USA has used this option to withdraw from the ABM and ICC treaties, against protests from many friendly countries.)
The alternative position paper on Harm Reduction that was presented at the 2009 CND by 26 member states, led by Germany can be the beginning of a movement to disregard the treaties on the ground that there is no longer consensus on the most basic issues in international drug policy.
Another question that we have to think about is how this multifaced problem should be discussed. After all, the drugs phenomenon has not only medical and criminological aspects, but also social, cultural, psychological, legal, economic, moral, educational and still other aspects. They must all be reckoned with, but to be able to decide on the system of regulation, these aspects do not all have equal weight. Certainly discussion will be needed on questions such as: how deep do we have to delve into these different areas? And, which role must their outcome have in the decision making process?
One statement needs to be made here already: there must be no automatic links between the harmfulness of a substance and the degree and nature of control. Of course, the health risks of a substance or group of substances must be well known to be able to determine the best regulatory system. Too often these two issues, harmfulness and system of control, are confused or seen as automatically linked – except for two of the four most harmful drugs: alcohol and tobacco.
We can no longer accept the refusal to discuss alternative methods and policies. The time has come for civil society, represented by the organizations that form the Civil Society Forum on Drug Policies in the EU, to start a study of and debate on alternative drug control systems.
This is a call to all members of the Civil Society Forum to participate in this project. Other parties are of course free to refuse to cooperate, but that will not prevent us from carrying out this plan. We are of the opinion that funding for this project by the EC is a logical step and obligation, stemming naturally from the report R/T.
By: Fredrick Polak
Do you think ENCOD should participate in this Forum at all? Please give your opinion in our survey: