ENCOD’s Position Paper for the Civil Society Forum on Drug Policy in the European Union
“If the purpose of drug policy is to make toxic substances available to anyone who wants them in a flourishing market economy controlled by murderous criminal gangs, the current arrangements are working well. If, however, the goal is to reduce the amount of drugs being consumed and limit the harm associated with addiction, it is surely time to tear up the current policy. It has failed.”
(The Guardian, 8 Aug. 2010)
We are willing to assume that it all started with good intentions. The other side of good intentions is that they can be treacherous. Drug policy based on penal law has had and continues to have many harmful consequences and few if any positive ones. That is why Encod has been campaigning for radical changes in drug policy since its birth.
Before “Beyond 2008” (B 08) in July 2008, we said in a press release:
Prohibition theory has been proven false by decades of failure. The theory – if it can be called a theory – is that prohibition will diminish drug production, supply and use. Yet in reality it has achieved the exact opposite, and has additionally created violence, corruption and chaos that is now destroying millions of lives. The illegal drug market is now worth $300 billion a year.
Even Costa’s desperate claim that UN drug policies have succeeded in “containing the drug problem” is false, as demonstrated by the deteriorating situation across much of the world.
In scientific terms: prohibition theory has been falsified.
There is an urgent need for alternative theories and policies to be explored and meaningfully debated on the UN stage. Yet, at the UN drugs office, consideration of alternative policies is taboo.
ENCOD, the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, calls upon the relevant UN agencies and member state governments to undertake a mature and rational study of alternative drug control policies, and consider ways forward that are more humane, just and effective than the transparent failings of the current legal prohibitionist framework. Governments that continue to refuse any discussion on alternative policies are guilty of dereliction of duty and criminal negligence.
During B 08 we tried, with a number of other organizations, to get the issue of alternative drug control systems on the agenda. These efforts failed because consensus was considered to be the only way in which hundreds of NGOs were allowed to express themselves. The dogma of consensus has been enforced in imitation of big brother CND, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. However, in the last year it has become clear that there is no consensus at the UN on drug policy. The CND is deeply and increasingly divided. As a direct consequence of this, (groups of) member states are obstructed in developing their drug policies in the direction that they see as necessary and promising.
After the disappointment of B 08 we decided to concentrate our activities on the promotion of our demand for “Drug Regulation on the Political Agenda”.
Also in 2008, the European Commission started a large scale project to evaluate the effects of the “global drug control system”. The reason for this step was that UNODC (United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime) had no plan for an independent evaluation of the outcome of UNGASS 1998. The Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 — 2007, also known as the Reuter/Trautmann-report, was published by the European Commission so shortly before the annual meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2009 however, that it could not have any impact on the proceedings of that meeting.
The R/T-report can be summed up in one sentence: drug prohibition is a costly way to make a serious problem worse, and to create a list of serious new problems on the side. (Exactly what we and many others have been saying for years.)
One would expect that the European Commission, the authority that had commissioned the report, would actively promote debate on this important report. As far as we know there has only been one internal discussion – followed by silence. There is no official acknowledgment of how the Commission values the report, or to which insight its findings have lead.
In February 2010, Encod arranged a public meeting about the report at the European Parliament with the support of Member of European Parliament Michail Tremopoulos. There we not only endorsed the conclusions of R/T-report, we also added a political conclusion: it is not acceptable when discussion and study of alternative regulatory systems for drug control remain taboo in the political arena.
EU drug policy is lame, because the EU adheres to the official UN fiction that prohibition is the best policy to diminish the health and social risks of drugs, and avoids any discussion of alternative policies.
ENCOD can no longer accept the refusal to discuss alternative methods and policies. The time has come for civil society, represented by the organizations that form the Civil Society Forum on Drug Policies in the EU, to start a study of and debate on alternative drug control systems.
One of the first questions that we have to think about is how this multifaced problem should be discussed. After all, the drugs phenomenon has not only medical and criminological aspects, but also social, cultural, psychological, legal, economic, moral, educational and still other aspects. They must all be reckoned with, but to be able to decide on the system of regulation, these aspects do not all have equal weight.
It seems best to start considering all aspects separately but simultaneously, and in their interdependence. Certainly discussion will be needed on questions such as: how deep do we have to delve into these different areas? And, which role must their outcome have in the decision-making process?
One statement needs to be made here already: there must be no automatic link between the harmfulness of a substance and the degree and nature of control. Of course, the health risks of a substance or group of substances must be well known to be able to determine the best regulatory system. Too often these two issues, harmfulness and system of control, are confused or seen as automatically linked – except for two of the most harmful drugs: alcohol and tobacco.
An issue that worries many people, even some of our political friends, is the question how will drugs be regulated?
This is not the place to discuss the various proposals for legal regulation that already have been presented. We are convinced that adequate control can be attained in different forms.
First comes a different question: what are the objectives of the regulation? For us the dominant goal is that adults must be able to obtain their drugs of choice in a legal and safe way.
A number of systems have been described. Blueprint for Regulation (Transform, 2009) is the most recent proposal. It is very detailed and deserves to be studied and commented upon from different national and cultural perspectives, but we think that in the first stage of the discussions the attention should focus on the objectives and on the general and structural aspects of regulation.
The other big question is: How can the international drug conventions be changed? There is a small body of literature on the existing options. The following is extracted from Appendix 1, “Reforming the UN drug control system”, of Transform´s Blueprint.
Modification, amendment, denunciation are official methods, but these are less likely to be useful, because the majority of member states would have too many possibilities to resist.
Most promising seems to be the following method:
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) prescribes that all treaties cease to be binding when a fundamental change has occurred since the time of signing (rebus sic stantibus). In that situation, countries no longer need to feel bound by outdated and counterproductive drug conventions. (Under Bush, the USA has used this option to withdraw from the ABM and ICC treaties, against protests from many friendly countries.)
In our view, the Alternative Position Paper on Harm Reduction that was presented at the 2009 CND by 26 member states, led by Germany, can be the beginning of a movement to disregard the treaties, on the ground that there is no longer consensus on the most basic issues in international drug policy.
This is a call to all members of the Civil Society Forum to participate in this project. Other parties are of course free to refuse to cooperate, but that will not prevent us from carrying out this plan.
We are of the opinion that funding for this project by the European Commission is a logical step and obligation, stemming naturally from the report R/T.
29 September 2010
EUROPEAN COALITION FOR JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUG POLICIES
Ploegstraat 27 — 2018 Antwerpen – Belgium
Tel. + 32 (0)495 122644