ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
A TREND THAT WILL STOP THE PROHIBITIONIST TRAIN
A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of the Cannabis Social Club. Both the need to break the chains of prohibition and bring the production and distribution of cannabis under a more transparent and accountable control regime are forcing citizens across the EU to invent solutions to problems that politicians are unable to solve.
In Spain and Belgium, legal authorities tolerate the presence of Cannabis Social Clubs, local venues that provide their members with cannabis in a non-profit setting. Local politicians are embracing this model as a basis for a definitive regulation of the cannabis market. Thanks to positive media reports, public opinion seems to have accepted this silent legalization. But national politicians are still hesitating. As always in Europe, their eyes and ears are fixed on what the large countries will decide.
In that sense, developments in France are interesting. In the public selection campaign for the presidential candidate of the Socialist party that took place in 2011, the subject of cannabis popped up regularly. The issue polarised the media and public interest. Three days before the first presidential round in May 2012, in one of his last attempts to prevent his defeat, Sarkozy targeted Hollande, warning that if “socialists came back to power they will legalize cannabis”. Again, three days before parliamentarian elections in June, the newly appointed Minister of Housing made a clear media statement as a Green Party leader, explaining that her political force aims “not only to decriminalize drug use but also to legalize cannabis”.
On several occasions during his campaign, President Hollande stated that “he is opposed to decriminalisation, and a solution to the drug problem should be found at the European level”. Before the elections, it was a way to avoid right wing criticisms, as well as to set the challenge at another level, beyond national boundaries. But since
he has come to power, an initiative could be expected to put these words into practice.
Two other interesting things happened as well. Six days after Hollande’s election, on May 12, the French Global Marijuana March gathered more than two thousands people in Paris and several hundreds in dozens of cities ; and on June 16th, an initiative was taken to set up the first French Cannabis Social Club. We are two months later now, and a major movement is growing around the CSC, increasing the debate to the level of a concrete alternative for politicians to implement.
Thus, in the coming Socialist Party congress, a resolution that would facilitate Cannabis Social Clubs and another to make medicinal cannabis legally available will be proposed. Former home affairs minister Daniel Vaillant and several other well-known persons in favour of cannabis regulation are expected to support them.
In addition, two major initiatives have taken place to reignite the French drug debate. An open letter from a policeman to the President has marked the establishment of a French branch of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Drug Prohibition). And a wide coalition of organisations working for harm reduction was formed in favour of a petition for a “new policy on addictions”. The proposal to set up safe injection rooms that was buried by the last government has now been relaunched and it could be that these become available in a few French cities in the near future.
In Germany, Chancellor Merkel hosted a meeting in early July with the authors of the petition on cannabis regulation that had been signed by more than 70,000 people. On August 11, the Hanfparade for ‘Freedom, Health and Justice’ drew thousands to Berlin; several other parades for cannabis regulation are planned for the month of September.
In the Netherlands on August 18, a “cannabis bus tour” was launched in 23 cities among other initiatives to support the call for a cannabis friendly vote on general election day on september 12th. These elections are crucial for the future of the “Wietpas”, the restriction of the access to coffeeshops only to Dutch residents. This measure was introduced in the South of the Netherlands on May 1st, and would be extended to the rest of the country by January 1st, 2013. If the future Dutch government sticks to this agenda, Amsterdam will be flooded by street dealers to provide cannabis to the millions of tourists who visit the city not only for its museums and channel tours. If it decides to abolish the “wietpas” and also if coffeeshops in the South will be re-opened to foreign residents, it might be the start of a definitive regulation of the cannabis chain in the Netherlands.
In Slovenia, at the end of August, an international congress was held on the positive applications of hemp and cannabis, with the participation of a large number of international experts. A modification in the drug law earlier this year has opened up the theoretical possibility of a Cannabis Social Club, and Slovenian activists are exploring the concrete forms in which the dream could become reality.
Outside Europe, similar signals indicate the trend that could be described as: everyone is fed up with prohibition, but nobody dares to be the first to legalise. In the United States, ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusettes, Montana, Oregon and Washington will put cannabis regulation on the agenda. In South America, the president of Uruguay has announced a legislative initiative early next year that is expected to lead to the first ‘state owned’ production and distribution system for cannabis.
The challenge for cannabis activists is clear. A genuine reform of cannabis policies has to grow from the bottom up. When defining and managing their own model of organising the cannabis chain, citizens will have to take the lead and show the way to most politicians and scientists who still find themselves locked into the prohibitionist framework. With every step they take, activists need to understand the heavy responsibility that lies on their shoulders: if they commit serious errors, either prohibitionists or pharmaceutical companies will use this as an argument to reinforce a total ban or make a sole exception for pharmaceutical cannabis products.
In the coming months, ENCOD plans to widely promote the CSC model with a newly updated leaflet in different languages, and a participation in events in Spain, Belgium, France, Slovenia and Czech Republic. From September 14 to 16, the CSC model will be explained in detail during the first International Cannabis Social Forum, associated with the Hemp Expo Grow in Irun (Spain). On September 26, Belgian CSC Trekt Uw Plant will present its request to the city government of Antwerpen to facilitate a green house to cultivate for its 300 members. The green house would be maintained by 12 full time employees, and produce more than 100.000 euro in yearly rent for the city of Antwerpen.
On October 19, ENCOD will participate in the symposium on Cannabinoïds in Medecine that will be organised in the EU Parliament in Strassbourg, France. This will make clear that whatever the public health sector thinks of cannabis, it should take care of what patients need and say. Early November ENCOD will co-operate with an event at the Faculty of Social Science in Ljubljana, intending to explain and support the CSC model in Slovenia. And from 9 to 11 November, we will be present at the largest International Hemp Fair in Eastern Europe, Cannafest in Prague.
Additionnally, the ENCOD secretariat is involved in other activities as well. Due to the loss of our webmaster Christian, other people had to be found to take the lead in the redesign of the ENCOD website. In this new website, an inventory of ENCOD members will be included. The Steering Committee is considering an initiative based on the advocacy letters that were discussed during the General Assembly. With ENCOD support, the Association ‘Friends of the Coca Leaf’ is planning several events in the coming months that will be announced on their new website. And last but not least, we soon hope to announce the setup of the ENCOD Action Fund, where ENCOD members can apply for support for small projects aimed at enlivening the debate on drug policy in their country.
By: Farid Ghehioueche and Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)