ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
DISMANTLING THE DRUG POLICY STATUS QUO
The pyramid of harms and benefits of drug policy
The status quo in the drug policy debate is a result of the fact that drug prohibition and illegal drug trafficking are in no sense opposing forces. They maintain each other mutually. They are two instruments of the same dominating political and economic empire, with two large stakeholders: the criminal industry and the security industry, both profoundly rooted in the public and private sectors.
The illegal status of drugs is a convenient tool for the repressive control over hundreds of millions of citizens, the violation of their human rights, the militarisation of their societies, the domination of their culture and the destruction of their natural resources. All this on the basis of arguments that seem well-intentioned in the eyes of the public opinion, such as the protection of people’s health and the security of the planet.
Since many years, political, legal and health authorities who deal with the drug issue in Europe have started to understand that prohibition is counterproductive. Like tight-rope walkers, they are balancing on the tension between the law and the pragmatic application of the law, where it is virtually impossible to prosecute such a massive phenomenon as drug consumption. However, on the question whether this tension should lead to legal reform, no European country seems ready to go any further then merely cosmetic adjustments.
Meanwhile, those who suffer most from disfunctioning drug policies are ordinary citizens with no access to decision-making levels. yet, while authorities perpetuate the debate on whether or not to have a debate on drugs, these citizens are increasingly becoming involved in the architecture of future policies. However, it takes a while to dismantle the status quo.
In France, the debate on the legal status of cannabis was recently enlivened by national minister of Education Vincent Peillon, who argued in favor of a new regulated system on drugs in reaction to two major cases of corruption. After Peillon’s words, many journalists and politicians expressed their support, but Prime minister Ayrault decided to close the discussion. But then Health minister Marisol Touraine commented that the opening of injection rooms would be amongst her primary concerns.
In Italy a national encounter of drug policy reform activists took place in a huge factory of the US multinational J.Colors in Pisa. A few days before the Milan riot police had disrupted an illegal rave, attacking the party-goers in the middle of the night. But the main issue of the meeting concerned the organization of Cannabis Social Clubs in Italy, possibly starting with groups of patients growing for their own use.
In Spain drug policy activists are raising alarm on the consequences of huge cutbacks on drug programmes, a consequence of austerity measures. In its analysis of the new measures, ENLACE, the Federation of Andalusian civil society organisations working on harm reduction, deplores the fact that civil society organisations will be affected most: “We carry out a necessary job in a professional way, creating networks in neighbourhoods and villages. However, year after year, less money is available for our work. Many workers have not received their wages, several of them are putting in their own money to fill the gap that the government is leaving”.
In the Czech Republic the amendment of the law to enable the medical use of cannabis goes into third reading in Parliament. When it has been approved it will go to the Senate for approval and then to the president for his signature. The law foresees that medical cannabis should be made fully accessible to patients with the best possible control and scientific monitoring by the State Institute for Drug Control. Cultivation of cannabis by patients may become legal after a year, from January 1, 2014.
In Germany, expectations and discussions on decriminalization and legalization of cannabis are developing in a positive direction, but authorities’ reactions have been disappointing. No proposal has seriously been taken into consideration.
It is still unclear what will be the future of the weedpass now that a new Dutch government has come to power. The new government has the same people at the ministry of security and justice, and they are trying to keep their plans alive. Fortunately, there is widespread and strong resistance to the law in the largest cities, and also from many mid-size ones, and it still is unclear what the outcome will be. In the coming weeks the verdicts in a number of court cases against coffeeshops will be made public. This may influence the further course of Dutch drug policy. Minister Opstelten (Security and Justice) continues to say that his policies have a national scope, but that local fine-tuning will be possible. So we simply don’t know how this will end.
Meanwhile, drug policies in Belgium are being reformulated from the bottom to the top: Cannabis Social Club “Trekt uw Plant” is rapidly increasing its membership. Around 300 Belgians now have the possibility to obtain a harvested cannabis plant from the organisation, and several groups are on the brink of starting a CSC of their own.
The example of the CSC ‘s in Belgium and Spain continues to inspire activists in other countries to look for a horizon beyond the current status quo. In early November, a workshop on how to set up a CSC took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia. for the moment, Slovenian cannabis activists are still very much involved in the activities to free Bozidar Radisic, but when that battle is over, the set up of a CSC could be next.
On November 30th, the CSC concept will be explained during the Harvest Party of the Social Centre of Turin, Italy, and on December 1st, a General Assembly of the French federation of CSC’s will take place in Paris.
By Joep Oomen (thanks to Enrico Fletzer, Farid Ghehioueche, Fredrick Polak, Hanka Gabrielova, Ingrid Wunn and Peter Webster)