ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
TIME TO ACT
What do pleasure and pain have in common? Current policy towards drugs. Prohibition has brought millions of people to their knees and whole societies are suffering. It is time to replace punitive approaches with new forms of drug treatment and drug policy.
Towards the end of 2011, it seems as if the values that we have known for many years have started to change completely. The financial crisis is an opportunity to come to terms with many inefficiencies in the political system, among others drug policy. It is now absolutely clear that this policy is not based on scientific and technical evidence, but on the desire to maintain and carry out punitive control of certain pleasure. Yes, pleasures! In the flood of discourse on drug policy we have completely ignored this fundamental truth. It seems that some people do not want to allow others to enjoy pleasure, even if this causes suffering and war.
It is now time to act. Globally it has become clear that current drug policies need to be redefined. Until recently it was mostly former politicians who were calling for a change in legislation. In the past weeks the current president of Colombia has started to do so. But these calls are facing difficulties. Long lasting prejudices towards drug users in general that are kept alive by public actors and even NGO’s that are working on so called “holistic” approaches, strengthen the perception that prohibition is the only answer.
During the 6th session of the EU Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy that was held in Brussels between the 10th. and 12th. of October, no consensus was possible among the participants, exactly because of this fundamental “gap” between approaches towards drug policies that are based on totally different concepts. The main cause of misunderstanding is that prohibitionist NGOs just can not comprehend that some people deliberately choose to use drugs and do this in a responsible way.
For these NGO’s, drug use is an illness or condition that must be prevented. They simply refuse to listen to people who explain to them that their main reason for taking drugs is to make life more enjoy- and, for some, more bearable. They close their eyes and ears when evidence is presented that cannabis and other drugs are extremely useful to treat and prevent diseases.
Prohibitionist NGO’s represent a tiny minority of people who are concerned by the drug issue. They are selected deliberately by the European Commission to participate in the Civil Society Forum, in order to prevent the CSF from reaching any consensus. Thus the Commission can continue to divide and rule, sending out messages like the Communication ‘Towards a Stronger Response to Drugs‘. In this preview of the announced EU Drug Strategy 2013-2020 the Commission promises to strengthen the policies which they know are not working, since this was proved by the research report that was published by the European Commission in 2010 . On the other hand, studies show that the total amount of income that could be generated by a combination of decriminalization of drugs (leading to a significant reduction in law enforcement) and legal regulation of the cannabis market in the EU is estimated between 35 and 60 billion euro (that is between 70 and 120 euro per capita per year). The Brussels bureaucrats don’t even care. Their sole purpose is to ensure the wasteful and damaging status quo.
The current global crisis is most of all a crisis of values. If we want to put the world back in order we must change our approaches to general issues. It is time to start a local call for amending drug laws. Policy and legislation concerning drugs should be changed in order to truly serve people. In particular, new legislation should be based on facts, not on the desire to repress.
In my own country, Slovenia, major changes are on their way. On October 15th, several groups, individuals and NGO’s occupied the square in Ljubljana where the stock market is located. Shortly afterwards social workers and students from the Faculty of Social Science began to organise workshops. One workshop that has been organised regularly is called “ Disintegration of Prohibition”. The results of these workshops were gathered and collected in a “Manifesto of new Drug Policies in Slovenia”. On 27 October we handed this Manifesto over to the Minister for Health, Mr Marušič .
Another part of the protest was a Smoke In. It was not interfered with by Police, who just kept a vigilant presence. Our request to lawmakers is to decriminalise drug use and cancel all sanctions against people who were victims of penalisation of drug use or possession of small quantities in the past. Dignity must be returned to people who have been marginalised by drug prohibition. They have to be able to re-integrate in their community.
We are calling for all activists and practitioners in the field of drug policy to actively support changes in legislation. Now it’s time to redefine the world.
By: Janko Belin (with the help of Peter Webster)