EUROPEAN COALITION FOR JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUG POLICIES – ENCOD vzw
Statement to the Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy – 20/21 May 2008
In the executive summary of the first session of the Civil Society Forum on Drugs in the EU (held on 13 & 14 December 2007) the European Commission stated that the agenda for the second meeting would consist of a discussion on the current Action Plan with a view to providing input for the next Action Plan, due for adoption by the end of 2008.
This is the second meeting of the Civil Society Forum. Herewith we present you the contribution of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies to this discussion. This contribution is based on the comments of various members of ENCOD and interested individuals who have responded to our call for reactions on the EU Progress Review of the Action Plan that was published in December 2007. This call was published on our website in various languages, as well as on various Internet forums, reaching all together tens of thousands of individual citizens from different EU Member States.
The contribution is divided in two: a statement on the progress review of the Action Plan on Drugs 2005-2008, and a number of recommendations on the future Action Plan 2009-2012, that will be published later this year.
1. A progress review without conclusions.
In the conclusion of the progress review of the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2005-2008 it is said that “available data do not always provide a proper insight as to whether the outputs of the Action Plan have had an impact on the problem they are trying to address.” In the evaluation of the EU Action Plan 2000 – 2004 by the EMCDDA in October 2004, the same problem had been noticed. Then it was explained as follows: “the indicators are considered too vague to allow evaluation reports to show if there has been any concrete impact on them”.
There is nothing in this progress review that allows the reader to conclude if the efforts to obtain the aim of the Action Plan (“to significantly reduce the prevalence of drug use among the population and to reduce the social and health damage caused by the use and trade in illicit drugs”) have been successful or not. We read about the establishment of agencies, policy programmes, organisation of meetings, data collecting mechanisms, etc. But there is no information that allows us to judge the value of all these things for the impact of drug policy.
Some (quantifiable) data are mentioned, but there is no word on how these data should be interpreted. Is drug supply or demand being reduced? If yes or if not, what are the reasons? Which factors explain different patterns for drug use in different EU countries? What are reasons for drug use to become problematic? Apparently there are either no such data available, or the writers of the review lack the ability or the will to analyse these data and draw useful conclusions.
During the first session of the Civil Society Forum in December 2007, Mr. Carel Edwards asked the participants to always base their interventions on evidence, and leave the ideologies out of the room. Nevertheless, today the Commission requests us to discuss a progress review that is not based on evidence at all. And it invites us to make recommendations to the new action plan 2009-2012, while everybody here knows perfectly well that in order for any recommendation to leave this room and be tabled at the HDG meetings, it should be endorsed by the European Commission.
In short the message seems to be: drugs should remain illegal, no matter what results from scientific evidence, the recommendations of the European Parliament, or the feedback of NGOs.
Our proposal is to use this second session of the CSF to find common ground amongst ourselves about a set of recommendations that we as Civil Society Organisations could agree upon, taking into account minority views as well.
Therefore we propose the working groups to speak about the following issues:
· The current state of play of the war on drugs in Europe, in the form of unnecessary, discriminatory and often violent criminalisation of people who use or produce drugs (for their own consumption).
· The alternatives to drug prohibition. We are at the crucial first months of the so-called “year of reflection” that the UN has inserted between the 2008 and 2009 sessions of the CND. To ignore the alternatives to drug prohibition at this moment could be considered as dereliction of duty or even criminal negligence, in view of the continued suffering of people whose lives are directly affected by drug prohibition.
2. Recommendations without impact?
It is still quite unclear what the exact value of the recommendations is that this second meeting of the Civil Society Forum will put forward. The question concerning which role the CSF will play in the decision-making process on this Action Plan remains unanswered. At the same time, the composition of the members of the Civil Society Forum cannot be considered as a legitimate representation of European Civil Society Organisations working in the field of drugs. At least two of the 26 invited organisations are not representing citizens, but local authorities (ECAD and EFUS). Within the remaining 24 organisations there is a high proportion of networks of professionals providing services to drug users or doing research, but this does not qualify them as representatives of affected citizens. At the same time, various organisations present in this forum provide very little information about the transparency and accessibility of their organisation to citizens. It could well be argued that the current composition of the present Civil Society Forum represents nothing more than a group of organisations which have been selected by the European Commission to give the feedback it wants.
The European civil society has a legitimate representation already: it is called the European Parliament. In December 2004, the European Parliament issued a report concerning the future drug strategy of the EU. ENCOD proposes to use this report as the basis for the design of the coming Action Plan 2009 – 2012. In a modern and open democracy, the opinions of the directly elected representatives are the basis upon which policies are carried out.
The main recommendations (approved by a majority of the European Parliament on 15 December 2004) for the next Action Plan (2009-2012) in the European Union are to:
· set clear, precise, quantifiable goals and priorities which can be translated into operational indicators and measures, very clearly establishing responsibilities and deadlines for implementation, and taking account of the subsidiarity principle.
· take account of the fact that the assessments made to date of the six main objectives set by the EU Drugs Strategy (2000-2004) show that none of them achieved favourable results and draw political and legislative lessons from this.
· base the new strategy more on scientific research and in-depth, structured consultation with those involved in this field in the Member States;
· increase social and scientific research on illegal substances for relevant medical and social purposes;
· create a specific budget line in order to facilitate an ongoing process of consultation with affected civil society organisations and independent professional experts about the impact of drug policies at the level of citizens;
· carry out a detailed evaluation of the effectiveness of the implementation of the previous strategy, with particular regard to: prevention of use and dependence, a reduction in the supply of and the demand for illicit drugs, the limitation of social damage (marginalisation), the limitation of health damage, reduction in drug-related petty crime and organised crime
· inform the European Parliament periodically in accordance with the principles of democratic legitimacy, transparency and cooperation between the institutions.
· propose measures totally different from those currently selected to achieve the overall EU Drugs Strategy objective, giving priority to protecting the lives and health of users of illicit substances, improving their wellbeing and protection by means of a balanced and integrated approach to the problem, since the relevant proposals are inadequate;
· improve the coordination and exchange of information within the Union on drugs policy following the accession of the ten new Member States so as to achieve an integrated, multidisciplinary and balanced approach to the problem of drugs, which also takes account of the encouraging results achieved and fully documented by the various Member States, and other European countries, that are implementing alternative drugs policies;
· establish minimum standards to improve the availability and effectiveness of intervention and rehabilitation measures based on best practice in the Member States, with the goal of reducing the impact of drug use on society;
· increase the availability of harm-reduction programmes (especially to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases) among drug users;
· set minimum standards for rehabilitation measures, based on best practice in the Member States, in place of too strong a focus on treatment with drug substitutes; to that end, particular efforts must be made to promote social rehabilitation;
· lay much greater stress on harm reduction, information, prevention, care and attention to protecting the lives and health of people with problems caused by the use of illicit substances, and define measures to prevent them from being marginalised, rather than implementing repressive strategies which verge on and have frequently led to violations of human rights;
· place emphasis on stepping up information measures, which should be based on scientific knowledge about the consequences of various types of drugs (above all synthetic drugs), so as to be able to warn everyone in clear, strong terms;
· define and exponentially step up the involvement and participation of users of illicit substances, civil society, NGOs, the voluntary sector and the general public in resolving drug-related problems, in particular by involving organisations operating in this area more closely in the work of the Horizontal Drugs Group and by organising an annual European prevention initiative and by setting up, on an experimental basis, easily accessible informal centres pursuing an anti-prohibitionist strategy and a harm-reduction strategy;
· significantly increase development aid to drug-producing countries, by means of programmes to fund sustainable alternative crops and the radical reduction of poverty, exploring also the possibility of promoting and safeguarding production for medical and scientific purposes, of opiates for example, and to take into consideration the possibility of launching pilot projects for the industrial manufacture of legal products derived from plants covered by the 1961 Convention, such as coca leaf and Indian hemp;
· increase research into the use of plants that are currently illegal or in a grey area, such as hemp, opium or coca leaves, for medicinal applications, food security, sustainable agriculture, generation of alternative energy sources, substitution for tree- or oil-based products and other beneficial purposes;
· carry out a scientific study into the costs and benefits of current policies for the control of narcotic substances including, in particular: an analysis of cannabis and its various legal and illicit derivatives, inter alia to assess their effects, their therapeutic potential and the results of criminalisation policies and possible alternatives; an analysis of the effectiveness of programmes to distribute heroin under medical supervision for therapeutic purposes in terms of the objective of reducing drug-related deaths; an analysis of the economic, legal, social and environmental costs of prohibition policies in terms of the human and financial resources required to enforce the law; and an analysis of the impact on non-member countries of current policies under both the EU Strategy and the global drug control system;
And from the recent European Parliament report on the Green Paper on the role of civil society in drugs policy in the European Union (12.03. 2008):
· To strengthen the dialogue at EU level with organisations representing drug users – a necessary aspect of any response to the challenges of social reintegration and providing support for those emerging from dependence.
· To call upon the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights to carry out an analysis on the effects of antidrug policies and to assess their effectiveness, and whether and to what extent such policies have overstepped the mark and represented an infringement of individual rights.
· To explore ways of cooperating with EU civil society organisations involved in promoting substances derived from coca leaves for lawful use purely as a means of contributing effectively (by absorbing raw materials) to international action against drugs trafficking, ensuring at the same time the safe use of such substances.
· To take the view in order to learn lessons for the future strategy, that ten years after the 1998 UNGASS on Drugs – whose main objective was a “world without drugs” within ten years – it is necessary to proceed an assessment of the actual results of the current drugs policies to determine which strategies were successful.Republish