ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
NO MORE TIME TO WASTE, PROHIBITION HAS FAILED
In the aftermath of the disappointing 2012 session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), there is a widespread social, scientific and political reaction favoring the reform and modernization of the global drug control system.
The global drug control system was created, supposedly, to make the world a safer and healthier place by “eliminating or significantly reducing” supply and demand of illicit drugs. As indicated by many reports and most notably the “Reuter- Trautmann Report” that was funded by the European Commission, fifty years of prohibition have brought the exact opposite result: the increase of both demand and supply. Since prohibitive policies have failed in their primary objectives, with costs far exceeding any benefits, there is an urgent need to reform them in favor of legal regulation.
Even a number of former higher US officials, whose predecessors inititiated this criminal policy, declared recently that the war on drugs has failed, with high costs to society and the economy (increased incarcerations, deaths, harm to users, criminality related to drug abuse and costs of repression), while providing extraordinary revenues for organized crime and resulting in increased state and social corruption.
The effects of prohibition are immense. The 2011 Report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) states that Europe faces new challenges regarding the patterns of drug use and trafficking, while “there are worrying indications of developments in the synthetic drugs market and, more generally, in the way drug consumers now use a wider set of substances. Polydrug use, including the combination of illicit drugs with alcohol, and sometimes, medicines and non-controlled substances, has become the dominant pattern of drug use in Europe.”
According to official data of the “UNODC World Drug Report 2010”, since 1998 the global potential opium production has increased by 78%, while cocaine and cannabis production show increasing trends each year. In Europe the number of cocaine users has doubled during the last decade, while it is estimated that globally between 155 and 250 million people (3.5 to 5.7% of the population aged 15-64) used illicit substances at least once in 2008. The report estimates that there were 5 million users of cocaine and 3.5 million of opiate users of in Europe, while between 16 and 38 million people globally were problematic drug users in 2008, representing 10% to 15% of all people who used drugs that year. Cannabis users globally are estimated at 190 million and in Europe around 30 million people. According to the same report the annual turnover of the global illicit drug market is estimated at 400 billion USD, while the annual turnover of the European cannabis market exceeds 35 billion USD.
According to a 2008 report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) the cost of prohibition, i.e. the public expenditure related to drug policy implementation at a European level reaches 34-40 billion Euros annually (90% representing control and enforcement and only 10% health and prevention). The same report mentions that at a European level 60% of the incarcerated users for drug offenses are cannabis users accused of possession.
In my own country, Greece, the impacts of prohibition and repressive drug policies over the past decade are more than overwhelming. Polydrug problematic use is out of control and is expected to increase dramatically due to the ongoing economic crisis, because of increased consumption by young people and marginal groups (i.e. unemployed) and decreased health related public spending. In 2011 almost half of the total prison population were incarcerated for drug related offenses and the majority of them for possession and use, while there was a dramatic increase by 1000% of the HIV/AIDS infections among heroin users. A new synthetic drug (Shisa) made out of chemical detergents has prevailed especially among migrant opiate users in city centers, six thousand people wait in line for reitox programmes with methadone, while registered problematic heroin users exceed 27.000 people, living in dreadful conditions.
A few months ago we almost had a victory but the unstable political system and the austerity bail outs did not let it happen. After seven years of intense campaigning and lobbying we managed to have the introduction of a new draft drug law in the Greek Parliament, one that would not provide permanent solutions but was nevertheless moving in the right direction, since it would decriminalize use and possession of all drugs and would render self cultivation of cannabis for personal use as a minor offense. Unfortunately, a conservative minority objected strenuously and even though the draft law passed the Parliament committee it did not reach the Plenary. We all look forward to a progressive governance coalition, after the next elections, that would unblock the new drug law.
Our demands are more crucial than ever.
End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of drug users
Experiment with alternative models of legal regulation of drugs, especially for Cannabis (the best practice of Cannabis Social Clubs as implemented in Belgium and Spain needs to be further promoted).
Offer public health and treatment services to those in need.
Ensure that a variety of treatment modalities are available, including heroin-assisted treatment programs, syringe exchange and other harm reduction programmes.
Provide scientifically unbiased information on prevention and harm reduction
Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation.
In Latin America there are many initiatives lately by former and current presidents of state, towards a model of legal regulation in order to combat organized crime. The president of Costa Rica declared recently that legalization of drugs in Latin America would lead to decreased violence and criminality related to drug trafficking, following the example of the Guatemalan president, while the presidents of Mexico and Colombia have also expressed opinions along this line.
The Presidents of Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama recently held also a historic Drug Legalization Summit and for the first time, regional heads of state have met explicitly to discuss ending the war on drugs as we know it.
To conclude, spasmodic repression reactions like the introduction of the weedpass in Netherlands lately, clearly depict the signs of a dying beast. Until the truth shines, which is the best prevention, we will cultivate our fundamental rights and fight for the obvious.
By Michalis Theodoropoulos
Member of ENCOD board, MEP Assistant for the Greens in the European Parliament