ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT
The Mayas may have been right after all. In retrospect, December 2012 has had the potential to be seen as a pivotal month in the passage towards a new era. Looking back on 2012 as well as forwards to 2013, there are a striking number of signals that indicate the world as we know it is coming to an end. That does not necessarily mean that Armageddon awaits us. There stille remain a few opportunities for human kind to avoid mass destruction and build a sustainable future for the next generations. To know what these opportunities are, it is enough to make a careful reading of lessons of the past.
The environmental crisis teaches us that a system that maximises profits jeopardises the relationship between man and nature. The desire of some to dominate nature in order to satisfy their own personal needs and greeds, has created a monster, in the form of huge corporations that almost without control suck the blood of the earth: natural resources such as oil, wood and water. Obviously the planet is preparing a nature-driven correction of this men-made imbalance.
The political crisis teaches us that the Western world is becoming more and more like a Potemkin-village, built only to impress. North America and Europe love to be considered worldwide as the champions of democracy, but the deplorable way in which their politicians have handled the lives of those who have democratically elected them and pay their wages is astonishing. The implosion of king size capitalism is underway, and it will affect mostly those in the West. We have become used to thinking as an individual and may have hardships finding collective answers to our problems.
The moral crisis teaches us that those in power have no answers to the most alarming signs of dysfunctionality in our system: young people reacting unambiguously to the lack of opportunities that the future holds for them, by dropping out of school or even by committing suicide or multiple homicide. What if Adam Lanza, the Newtown school shooter, would have used cannabis? It would have been allover in the press. At the moment almost no media picked up the suggestion that Lanza, due to a personality disorder, was likely to have been on totally legal, mind-altering psychiatric drugs. President Obama’s only reaction to the conclusion that it has failed to protect the most vulnerable, is to start a modest debate on gun control. However nearly every mass shooting that has taken place in America over the last two decades has had a link to psychiatric medication.
One of the most common side effects of certain psychiatric drugs is violent outbursts and thoughts of suicide. Yet nobody ever discusses the right of pharmaceutical companies to spread these drugs to children and youngsters as if they were candies. Meanwhile, public opinion remains flooded by messages that cannabis is dangerous. It is quite possible that Adam Lanza would not have acted this way if he would have smoked cannabis, as it is commonly known that it increases a person’s ability to develop empathy and put one’s problems in the right perspective.
The ethical crisis teaches us that where public health is dealt with by private corporations selling harmful products while natural alternatives with a proven track record of thousands of years continue to be prohibited, there is something fundamentally wrong with our concept of health, and we will pay the price of that.
In this scenario, what can we expect of the latest campaign for drug policy reform that was launched in December, with the well chosen title: ‘Breaking the Taboo?’ Will a campaign supported by (ex-)presidents, multibillionaires, entrepreneurs and representatives of the cultural elite be more effective than those of street activists who have been trying to make the same point for the last 25 years? The answer can only be discovered in parliaments and cabinet rooms, but strangely enough most people, once entered there, when they hear the word drug policy, they put their heads in the sand and do not respond regardless of what anyone says.
Sometimes the exceptions confirm the rule. The clash between UK prime minister David Cameron and vice prime minister Nick Clegg is such an exception. For the first time a clear dispute on the course of drug policies on such a high level has leaked into the public domain. UK activists may put their hopes on the strength of Nick Clegg’s spine, a crucial part of a politician’s body. But as in the rest of Europe, real changes will not come from above as a Christmas present. They require hard work on the ground by people who are directly involved in the heart of the problem and create solutions from the bottom up.
And so the question arises: how should activists best use their energy in 2013? Must we continue to satisfy ourselves with so-called improvements in policies described as harm reduction, while the simple fact of growing one cannabis plant remains a crime? Must we continue to believe in the credibility of so – called forums for dialogue with civil society such as the ones that are organized by the UN and EU, while the sole purpose of these events is to silence critical voices?
Ironically, the only real steps forward that we have been able to celebrate this year are those of American States where citizens have used their right to vote for a ballot initiative that makes cannabis as legal as alcohol and tobacco. In Europe we do not have the same option. In order to force our political system to give up prohibition, we need to shape the alternative in their face. Setting up clubs that organize a closed circuit for producers and consumers of cannabis (or other substances such as coca leaves) is not only a way to help people in their most urgent needs – it also shows that legalisation is a holistic concept. It is not only the taboo on drugs that should be broken, but also the free market dogma as the only way to settle economic transactions. That does not mean that drugs can not be produced and distributed by commercial enterprises, but they should operate within a framework of transparency and social control.
Next year, in which Encod will celebrate its 20th birthday, will show an increasing tension between on one hand, the need to invest in direct action such as the Cannabis Social Club campaign and on the other, the amount of time we are devoting to the so-called dialogues with civil society in Vienna and Brussels. How can we make optimal use of our best resources to develop and implement a common and coherent strategy that makes best use of the options that our so-called democracies offer us? Meanwhile we must realise that the drug policy that we desire may first become reality once the world as we know it has definitively come to an end.
Happy New Year!
By Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)