On 10 and 11 May 2004, ENCOD was invited to attend the official conference “The Way Forward”, on a new European Union strategy on illicit drugs, which was held in the Hotel Conrad, Dublin, Ireland. Read the experiences of our representative and the speech that was distributed on our behalf.
THE HARD WAY FORWARD TO ANOTHER DRUG POLICY
REPORT OF THE EUROPEAN NGO COUNCIL ON DRUG POLICY ON THE EUROPEAN UNION CONFERENCE ON A NEW STRATEGY ON DRUGS
10/11 MAY 2004 – DUBLIN, IRELAND
My presence at the Conference followed an invitation of the organisers (Irish government (current EU-presidency) together with the Dutch government, the next EU -presidency) to inform about the position of European NGO’s working on drugs issues. The result was that some governments re-acted on this presence as if I had come to open the box of Pandora.
The audience consisted of about 200 people: mostly civil servants from all the 25 EU Member States, some from candidate countries Rumania, Bulgaria and Turkey, some representatives of European Institutions (European Commission, Europol, European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction), some obsevers from third governments (Norway, United States) and two NGO representatives (TNI, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and ENCOD).
The conference was meant to draw the first global guidelines for the next EU Drug Strategy Plan (2005 – 2012) which has to be designed during Autumn of 2004 and finally approved in the springtime of 2005.
I was asked to participate in a plenary panel session on Monday morning, just after the opening speeches. This panel consisted of four people: one representative of the UK police, two Irish doctors and me. We all had about 6 minutes to speak during the entire panel session. I was the only panel member to propose a fundamental change of logic in drug policy, with which I referred to the need to start creating political ‘room for manoevre’ for policies that are not based on prohibition.
The panel discussion also contained the screening of a video film in which 8 people were interviewed. They were Tomas Zabranski (Czech expert), Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt (UK activist), Mike Trace (UK expert), Ian Oliver (UNDCP consultant), Jan van der Tas (NL activist), David Liddell (UK harm reduction), Danny Kushlick (UK activist) and Krzysztof Krajewski (Polish expert). The interviews all concluded with a call on the audience to work towards a review of existing policies.
After this the floor was opened to discussions and the first three governments to re-act (Belgium, Italy and Greece) immediately protested against my presence. The Belgian government even used the word “scandalised” to describe their feelings on my presentation and the content of the video, accusing the organisers to be extremely biased in their choice of speakers. They also felt scandalised by the fact that ENCOD had dared to use the EU symbol in our flyer.
This incident influenced the entire conference. In the corridor, a lot of discussion was going on concerning the fact that our ideas had been allowed to enter the conference room.
After lunch, in the workshops that followed the plenary session, it was clear that some governments (especially Sweden, Italy, France and even Germany) were quite outraged about the fact that the call for change in drug policies had been at the center of attention in the morning. This meant that in the workshops (Demand Reduction, Law Enforcement, Information & Evaluation and International Co-operation) several representatives acted with a high degree of Pavlov: every time the word harm reduction was mentioned, they would fly up and state that this could not be the objective of EU drug policy, which still had to be based on reduction of consumption etc.
Meanwhile, several representatives came to me and said that on a personal title, they agreed with lots of the things we were saying. Especially the representatives of the new EU Member States were very positive, saying that they did not agree with the Belgian representative. They said they knew all too well how ‘civil society’ is treated by authorities and that the future is ours.
Meanwhile the 100 copies of the statement I had with me disappeared quite quickly from the information table. I had quite positive talks with delegates of the Irish, Dutch, Slovenian, Czech, Finnish, Cypriote, Slovak, Bulgarian and Hungarian, European Commission and Council of Europe delegations and even a constructive conversation with someone from the Swedish Ministry of Justice, who also said that he found the drug debate too dogmatic
THE FIGHT FOR MONEY
What resulted clearly from the conference is that most governments are aware that in the 1990s, there has been a shift in drug policies from repression to harm reduction. They are of course aware that this shift has not been enough to solve the problems, and that a second shift is needed from harm reduction to legal regulation. But in order to do this, they need to have the tools to question the current approach within the law enforcement apparatus. And that is a problem, as the law enforcement lobby is well established.
In the workshop there was a lot of talking about the need to investigate and evaluate health related initiatives: prevention, treatment, new health hazards concerning ATS (Amphetmanie Type Stimulants) and cannabis (French and Germany both highlighted the “increasing health problems of cannabis consumption), harm reduction initiatives and so on.
The conclusion of these talks was usually that the European Commission should invest more money, the EC then pointed at the EMCDDA, and the EMCDDA pointed again at the member states. Conclusion: we want research but others should pay for it.
This way, the participants escaped the real discussion: about the result of current policies on drug consumption (according to a Dutch researcher, there is virtually no impact at all from any kind of policies on drug consumption), about ways to use each other’s research results (for instance on heroin distribution in Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Spain) in order to save money in stead of investing more etc.
But also, there was virtually no talking at all about the need to evaluate law enforcement. Here the discussion went more in the direction of enlarging co-operation between European police forces, supporting Europol, and designing new action plans to “new threats” such as ATS production and trafficking. Again this would create the need to use more money (see above).
Again in personal conversations, one could feel however that even repressive governments (like Denmark and Sweden) do not have a real response to the argument that more law enforcement on drugs means more money to organised crime. They typically respond by saying that we do not have a proposal of how to do things in a post-prohibition system, and as long as we do not have answers to many questions on how such a system could function they will never take us serious…
THE LACK OF DIALOGUE
For someone from civil society, representing a large contingent of tax payers, it was quite astonishing to see that the participants at the event were not able to reach any kind of clear consensus on even the most minimal definitions on what should be considered as ideal outcomes of a new EU drug strategy. This was perhaps partly because the organisers had been a bit too ambitious in defining these objectives. Although it is remarkable to see that a formulation like “Improving the effectiveness and sustainability of drug prevention aimed at vulnerable young people and by increasing awareness about drug related risks through the dissemination of reliable information of high quality among young people in the age of 12 to 25” could already raise many discussion points.
Mainly, the lack of results can be explained by the reluctance of certain governments (especially Sweden, Italy, and interstingly enough, Belgium, France and germany) to enter in a real discussion. Their goal seemed mainly to sabotise the debate, to make sure no mention was made that would open the Pandora box…
Of course this left a bitter aftertaste among all participants. In the closing remarks, Europol and EMCDDA representatives could make a final call for more money to do law enforcement and research. But the real question is if there will be room for further dialogue with civil society on the drug issue, as this dialogue seems to be the only way to close the box of panodre, that is: to ovbtain a real view on the harms of drug prohibition and start reforming the policies.
But this dialogue is going to come. Especially the presence of the new Member states is interesting in this aspect. Still they are reluctant to join the discussion (as someone said: “they have taken a seat in the bus but do not try to come closer to the steering wheel”) also because they are used to obey orders (first from Moscow, now from Brussels), but if they do, it is quite sure that they will come with many questions, as they are aware of the difficulties that prohibition is bringing.
Also some kind of dialogue took place with the United States government. Its representative, called David Murray, already had been annoyed by the lack of receptiveness among participants for his ideas about how the EU should copy the succesfull approach of the US in drug law enforcement. But when the ENCOD-representative challenged the success of the US drug war and suggested that he was only defending it because that was his job, Mr. Murray responded literally: “That is an insult, you son of a bitch”.
My conclusion of this conference is that the debate on drug policies is arriving to the EU forum. Prohibitionist governments are slowly becoming nervous at the direction the process is taking, and will do everything to block it. But they are also aware that they do not have any responses to some of our arguments, and some individual people among government apparatus are increasingly aware that they need to go into debate with us in order to find the true response.
It will now be very interesting to see how the reactions will be on the results of the evaluation of the current EU Action Plan (to be published in October 2004) and what the Dutch Presidency will do with those results in order to design the guidelines for the new strategy, which has to be concluded in December 2004. The first Action Plan 2005-2008 will then be adopted in the springtime of 2005.
ENCOD will surely follow this process and perhaps, if we get funding, organise an event in the autumn of 2004 to comment this EU strategic process with a broad range of NGO’s from all around Europe.
By: Joep Oomen
A CHANCE FOR EUROPE
THE WAY TOWARDS JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUG POLICIES
STATEMENT OF THE EUROPEAN NGO COUNCIL ON DRUG POLICY TO THE EUROPEAN UNION CONFERENCE ON A NEW STRATEGY ON DRUGS
10/11 MAY 2004 – DUBLIN, IRELAND
This statement is presented to you by ENCOD, a collective of non-governmental organisations representing a large contingent of European citizens who are affected and concerned by current drug policies, and who wish to replace them with policies that are more just and more effective. At this moment ENCOD consists of 75 member organisations.
We are grateful for the opportunity to speak on this conference as one of the first non-governmental representatives to do so. As a consequence of our organisation’s independence, however, you may well hear some things that you are unaccustomed to at these kinds of events. We sincerely hope you will be able to give fair and thoughtful consideration to our suggestions for designing the global guidelines for a new 8 year plan on drugs in the European Union.
Lessons from the past
The current 5 year plan, the one that was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 1999, articulated some clear objectives. Therefore, it is now possible to measure the progress made by EU institutions and member states. These announced objectives were:
a significant reduction of availability of illicit drugs,
a significant reduction in prevalence of illicit drug use,
a significant reduction of drug related health damage, drug related crime, money laundering and trafficking of precursor chemicals, and
an increase in the number of successfully treated drug addicts.
All the best available evidence suggests that of these 6 objectives, only one can be said to have met with some success: an increase in the number of persons treated. But isn’t this is a dubious achievement, if we recognise that many of the individuals who go into treatment do so only because they wish to avoid sanctions or fines after being detained by police for minor quantities of illicit drugs? Can we point to success if in fact many of these people do not really need treatment at all, as surveys in several countries reveal to be the case?
According to the latest figures of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, production and consumption of illicit drugs has increased again since 1998. Also thanks to figures from UNODC, it can be calculated that every second, more than 12.500 EUROs changes hands worldwide through the sale of illegal drugs. Since production costs are known to represent less than 1% of this amount, it becomes quite obvious why the illicit drug trade is a key engine behind organised crime and, as we have seen recently, terrorism. We must insist that it is only the illegality of drugs, and thus the easy and large profits to be made in their trafficking, that connects drugs with terrorism and organised crime, which are using our bank system to launder money and attack the democratic roots of our societies.
According to calculations of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, in the 1990s approx. 3.6 billion EUROs was spent annually on drug related law enforcement in just 11 countries of the European Union. That means 10 million EUROs a day. Experts maintain that police operations against international drug trafficking could only be successful in reducing the profits of the trade if they are able to seize 70 to 80 % of the produced amounts. At the moment, they are not able to intercept more than 10-20%, and some authorities insist even this is a gross over-estimation. And even if they succeeded in stopping more drug shipments, the resulting impact would very likely be only temporary, and a change of smuggling routes and drug-production areas would soon see a restoration of the drug flow. In the meantime, more impure and even bogus drugs would be seen on the streets, with probable adverse health consequences for drug users. In the long run, prohibition cannot succeed in reducing the drug problem, much less solving it. History shows that in fact the opposite is true.
Local authorities show the way
This EU summit on drugs is the first one that counts with the presence of the new member states from Central and Eastern Europe. Here, the gradual integration with Western Europe has unfortunately led to increased drug use, demand for treatment, increase of HIV/AIDS and other bloodborne diseases and problems related to drug trafficking. The drug phenomenon appears to be a part of the general process of globalisation, which means it is difficult to control. But the harms related to it can be controlled in a better way, as is the case in many EU countries today.
Within the circles of political, legal and health authorities that deal with the issue in Europe on a local level, it is now well understood that persecution of drug consumption is counterproductive. Like tight-rope walkers, local authorities are balancing on the tension between the law, which is still designed to eliminate drug use through policing and prohibition, and the pragmatic application of law, where prohibition has already been replaced by harm reduction almost everywhere in Europe.
This tension creates rather absurd situations. It is absurd to allow people to possess three grammes of cannabis but not allow them to buy it. It is absurd to provide someone with sterile needles but not with good quality heroin for a price that does not require him or her to commit crimes and prostitution.
The combination of prohibition and harm reduction must sooner or later collapse. Local authorities will end up opposing their national colleagues, above all in situations where the circumstances become worse, as has been the case in the past few years. In Italy in February this year, regional authorities openly disagreed with a law proposal introduced by Interior Minister Fini, who wanted to re-criminalise drug consumption that had been decriminalised in 1993 following a referendum. In the Netherlands a new directive of the national government to decrease the number of coffeeshops in the country was frustrated by the resistance of municipalities that host such shops, and did not want them to disappear.
Local authorities have a much better knowledge of the drug issue; and that is because they have become used to listening to people who are in daily contact with local reality. They are aware of the impact of their decisions on the lives of normal people. They know that harm reduction is the key to tackling the issue of problematic drug consumption. The characteristics of this problematic consumption have not changed for the past 5 years. As was recognised by the director of the EMCDDA in the 2002 annual report, this proves the success of harm reduction, considering the fact that drug use itself has increased.
On the other hand, international agencies such as the UNODC, do not worry about being held accountable by citizens. Therefore they continue to warn against the practices of harm reduction, insisting on dubious arguments, such as that it would lead to an increase of drug use. This argument is nothing else but a seed of panic, that cannot be backed up by statistical data. The most recent report of the RAND Corporation, a well known research institute with an excellent reputation, indicates that it is not possible to make any connection between cannabis policies and the prevalence of cannabis consumption. This means that in countries with liberal policies towards cannabis, the prevalence of use is not necessarily higher or lower than in countries with restrictive policies. The same tendency can be seen in the annual reports of the EMCDDA: decriminalisation of drug use does not increase use, it only diminishes crime and social exclusion, which should be important goals of EU policy.
A proposal for change
As a platform of citizens, we are convinced that the only way to really minimise all harms related to drug production, distribution and consumption is to change the basic logic of traditional drug policies: to stop thinking it is possible to reduce the use and production of drugs by force, let alone fully eradicate them. In other words, our recommendation is to stop prohibiting and start regulating. This is not an ideological position; it is simply a prediction of the logical order of events that will take place, sooner or later. Just as has happened with rules for automobile traffic and other risk-prone activities in modern European society, we will end up implementing a drug policy that aims at public safety and sustainability, and adopt a legal framework that facilitates this policy.
Only when society through its legitimate representatives regains control of the drug market, will it be able to get to grips with all the social evils that are related with it today. Europe, traditionally a place where humanitarian values have been developed, should start to conceive a different policy. Therefore we in ENCOD have developed a proposal for a new international agreement on the regulation of Production, Trade and Consumption of Drugs (including those that are legal today).
According to this agreement, every single country in the world should be allowed to establish its own mechanisms to regulate the production and consumption of drugs, and form bilateral agreements with other countries concerning the supply of drugs they cannot produce themselves. Sustainable relationships could be fostered between drug producers and consumers, based on mutual respect that includes the recognition of the fact that fair trade relationships serve mutual benefits. Establishment of basic health care and education facilities, measures to avoid environmental damage and mechanisms to ensure food security, fair prices and market access for any products, also including legal outlets for plants like coca leaves, cannabis and opium, will contribute to a rationalization of drug production.
In fact, awareness of the true value of the sustainable, organic agricultural resource that the mentioned plants represent, could lead to introduction of a whole range of applications that are benefitial to human kind. In the case of cannabis or hemp, there is no other species that even comes close when considering organic production of biofuels, vegetable protein, herbal therapeutics, paper, cloth, building materials and thousands of other essential products.
Regulation of the market will act to counter the intervention of unscrupulous middlemen with measures that protect the interests of producers and consumers. These can include quality control in places of consumption, accurate information on prices and quality to producers and consumers, and methods of controlled distribution. Countries which decide to allow the distribution of drugs could do this either through the public provision or through the private market. Social and health authorities could be supervising the drug trade to great advantage, and specific limitations (with regards to advertising or sale to minors, for instance) could be maintained.
Access to drugs that present significant risks to the user must obviously be controlled in one way or another. However, this regulatory scheme should not be so restrictive as to produce a significant illegal market in the substance. Once a significant illicit trade in a substance appears, we can be sure that our policy is a failure and bound to contribute to, rather than minimize the harms of the commerce and use of that substance. Therefore, the lack of impact of the current UN Conventions is best illustrated by the dimension of the criminal industry, which, as mentioned before, makes 12.500 EUROs a second dealing drugs – that’s 45 million EUROs an hour.
A chance for Europe
Now what can you do to achieve this major shift in drug policy, a change that will undermine the world’s largest criminal and terrorist interests and save at least 10 million EUROs which is now being spent each day on drug related law enforcement in the “old” EU alone? This money could instead be used in health care, development cooperation and in many other ways to improve living conditions of millions of people around the world.
Remember that if drug prohibition were a commercial enterprise, it would soon go broke. However, it is a public enterprise, that is run with tax payers’ money. And contrary to what one might expect from open and democratic societies, there is virtually no debate on the question whether it should continue. This has certainly been due in part to the reluctance of politicians to even discuss policies which run counter to obsolete and counterproductive U.N. mandates. So, before you repeat the same rhetoric today and tomorrow, blaming all the problems that are related to drugs to the fact that they exist (as they have done since the very start of human civilisation), please reconsider the approach that has been taken to deal with them in the past century.
Remember that European countries were always quite reluctant to accept the universal prohibition of drugs in the XXth century. The way illicit and licit use of drugs was defined had little to do with science, but rather with an ideological and geopolitical purpose to establish worldwide control.
And remember that in Europe during the 16th, 17th and 18th Century, tobacco and coffee were prohibited, and the failure of these policies led to a regime of control of these substances within a legal framework. That control regime was later extended to alcohol as well, and its aim was the reduction of harm to consumers while at the same time generating significant tax revenues for the state. We should be as wise as our ancestors, and learn the lessons of history if we are to provide the leadership necessary in this increasingly complex world.
For more information, please contact: ENCOD
This text was written by Peter Webster, Peter Cohen, Fredrick Polak, Stijn Goossens, Job Joris Arnold, Paul von Hartman, Joep Oomen and Farid Ghehioueche.Republish