ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
A STONE IN THE SHOE
The Encod General Assembly that took place from 24 to 26 June 2011 in Prague (Czech Republic) provided a rich and profound insight into the capacities and perspectives of the European citizens movement for an end to the war on drugs. More than 20 members from 10 countries shared their experiences in local, national and international settings, and designed a common strategy for the next 12 months.
The question that was central to the agenda was: “how can we as a coalition of citizens make the most effective use of our limited resources to challenge drug prohibition?” Although the national drug policy climates in European countries are extremely diverse and difficult to compare, the position from which Encod members act to influence this climate is the same. Drug prohibition is not only a failure, it is a criminal policy that deliberately hurts public interests such as health, peace, social cohesion and respect for human rights. Due to the fact that the political establishment in the Western world is depending on prohibition as a basic pillar of its power structure, it will need a genuine reform of this structure in order to abolish it. This reform can only be initiated by a movement of citizens. In the mean time, governments and strong economical forces will attempt to neutralize its force.
One example of how citizens’ initiatives can take the lead in the drug policy debate is the formation of Cannabis Social Clubs, associations that provide for the demand for the personal use of cannabis by their members. In Spain and to a lesser degree, Belgium, Cannabis Social Clubs are a success story. They have proved that it is very well possible to regulate the cannabis market for adults in a transparent way, protecting the right of consumers to obtain a clean product without having to resort to the illegal market. However, due to the lack of a clear legal framework that defines the margins in which these Clubs may operate, some people whose only aim is to generate financial profit are using the concept to install fake clubs. It seems that powerful financial interests are behind a strategy to explore several ways to run a Cannabis Social Club in Spain, with the aim of setting up large scale private companies that will erase the concept of small scale clubs.
On the other hand, the Dutch government has discovered the club concept as well. In its desire to limit the access to coffeeshops to Dutch residents, it has proposed a plan to convert the privately owned coffeeshops into closed clubs that are only accessible to members. The city government of Utrecht has started a procedure in order to set up a scientific experiment with a Cannabis Social Club, that would function alongside the 14 existing coffeeshops. So while entrepreneurs in Spain are trying to convert Cannabis Social Clubs from associations into private companies, Dutch authorities are doing exactly the opposite. Both are efforts to gain control over the cannabis market, without necessarily defending consumer interests.
In the coming months, a working group formed by Encod members will look into the possibility of creating a European code of conduct for Cannabis Social Clubs, that would be based on the original intention of the initiative: to enable adult people to create a non-profit, closed circuit of production, distribution and consumption of cannabis. The idea would be to create a definition for Cannabis Social Clubs that subscribe to this code of conduct in order to draw a clear line between real and fake CSC’s. Thus, current and future Cannabis Social Clubs can convince local and national public opinion as well as authorities who may be skeptical about the CSC proposal at first sight.
Our experiences at the two international forums where Encod intends to raise the voice of citizens, the Vienna NGO Committee at the United Nations and the EU Civil Society Forum in Brussels, were largely discussed at the GA. We decided to form a special working group that will prepare our presence at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna in 2012, this time in an unconventional way. Meanwhile we are willing to adhere to the initiatives that others may take to set up a public manifestation in front of the UN building.
The decision whether or not, and if yes under which conditions we should stay in the EU Civil Society Forum, took some more time. The large majority of participants agreed with the conclusion of Fredrick Polak who defended the decision to stay, while several concurred with the critical observations of Joep Oomen who suggested that Encod should suspend its presence in the CSF until the circumstances would be changed. A compromise was found in the agreement that for the next sessions of the CSF, we should carry out a “stone in the shoe” strategy. Our representatives will not only continue the diplomatic approach in trying to get drug regulation on the agenda of the European Union, they will also highlight the lack of transparency, democracy and effectiveness of the CSF.
The representatives to the CSF will be appointed by the new Steering Committee that was elected without much discussion. While Fredrick Polak and Jorge Roque will continue as SC members, Marisa Felicissimo and Pedro Quesada step down and will be replaced by Hanka Gabrielova (Czech Republic), Boaz Wachtel (Israel), Janko Belin (Slovenia) and Louis Everaerts (Belgium). Congratulations to them, and to all Encod members for having a new group of experienced activists who will lead the organisation during the next two years.
The General Assembly warmly welcomed the decision taken by the Bolivian government on 23 June to denounce the UN Single Convention, and to re-subscribe to it with a reservation for all articles where the traditional consumption of coca leaves is mentioned. The week before during an event that Encod helped to organize in Antwerp, Belgium, a new association has been created, with the aim of establishing a small scale, fair trade distribution circuit for organically grown coca leaves and traditional coca derivates to consumers in Europe. Like the Cannabis Social Clubs, the legal import of coca to Europe can become an alternative to the illegal market, because it offers a legal outlet to producers and at the same time shows European citizens how cocaine can be consumed in a responsible way, without creating harm to oneself and others.
Other activities that will be carried out by Encod in the coming year include the organization of a public hearing around the coca issue in the European Parliament, support campaigns for drug war prisoners and – if conditions allow – a Europe wide campaign for the withdrawal from the UN Single Convention in 2012, one century after the groundwork for these Conventions started during the International Opium Conference in The Hague. In the meantime, we will do everything to ensure our presence at the hempfairs that are organized through Europe.
Next year’s General Assembly will take place in Antwerpen, Belgium, in the new Encod headquarters. I hope to see many of you there.
By Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)