by Derrick Bergman
For the first time in history, a vaporizer was brought into the United Nations building in Vienna, where the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) had it’s 58th annual meeting. Alberto Sciolari, Italian medical cannabis user and activist, smoked some Bedrocan cannabis, right before the second Encod side event at this CND, ‘Medical perspectives of cannabis: a patients review’.
The Encod team brought the voices of citizens who are directly affected by the policies carried out under the UN drug treaties to Vienna. Last Monday, the first Encod side event focused on the criminalization of cannabis users in Europe. Maja Kohek and Janko Belin explained the vast regional differences in Slovenia, with harsh punishments for small cannabis offenses in some regions and relative tolerance in others. Periodically police go after growers and growshops, prosecuting them for organized crime. Change is needed: medical cannabis should be made available and drug users should treated as free citizens.
Maja ended her presentation with a quote from Graham Hancock: ‘It’s useless to indulge ourselves in all sorts of self congratulations about how free we are, about how our democracies are a model of freedom, when we are prepared to send people to prison for exploring that most intimate, that most precious, most sapient part of themselves which is their own consciousness.’
Veteran French cannabis activist Farid Ghehiouèche reviewed the situation in France. There are several organizations campaigning and spreading information about cannabis and the cannabis social club model, with Chanvres & Libertés particularly making progress. Sativex was recently approved for medicinal use, adding to the debate about cannabis legislation.
On Wednesday morning the Encod team took part in a vigil against the death penalty for drug offenses in Indonesia, organized by INPUD (International Network of People who Use Drugs) On the 18th of January, six people were killed by firing squad in Indonesia, including citizens from the Netherlands, Brazil, Nigeria and Vietnam. There are currently over 60 people on death row in Indonesia, with President Joko Widodo refusing to grant clemency for all drug offenders.
To welcome the delegates on Thursday, we greeted them at the entrance with a large Freedom To Farm banner and handed out flyers for the Encod side events. The second one took place later in the day and focused on medicinal cannabis in Austria, Italy and the Netherlands. Most seats in Room MOE79 were taken, with members of the French and Kenyan delegations in the audience as well as a representative of Dutch medical cannabis company Bedrocan and Mike Krawitz of American NGO Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access.
Enrico Fletzer introduced the speakers: Toni Straka of Hanf-Institut Austria, myself representing Encod and VOC Nederland (Union for the abolition of cannabis prohibition) and Alberto Sciolari of Italian Pazienti Impazienti. We brought a Volcano vaporizer into the room to demonstrate, but a crucial small part was missing. Instead of using the vaporizer during his presentation, Alberto medicated on the smoking terrace of the M building, rolling and smoking a joint with Bedrocan produced cannabis, just before the start of the side event at 13.10.
In my presentation, I reviewed the history of medicinal cannabis in the Netherlands, where it has been legally available in the pharmacies since 2003 (full presentation here).
Toni Straka gave an informative overview of the Austrian situation. Until 1920, so called Turkish cigarettes containing hash were quite common in Austria. Another surprising fact is that the government allows a private company to legally produce medical grade cannabis, which is made into products like Dronabinol. However, the natural product is still unavailable legally to patients. Based on figures from Colorado, as many as 200.000 Austrians could qualify as medicinal cannabis patients.
The final presentation by Alberto Sciolari, representing Pazienti Impatienzi (‘Impatient patients’), had the audience sitting on the edge of their seats. Alberto eloquently explained that every day that cannabis is not legally available to patients, means more pain and deaths. He explained the vaporizer, a Volcano, often used by medicinal cannabis users and showed some Bedrocan cannabis to the audience. A historic first as far as we know.
The second part of the event saw lively debate between the speakers and members of the audience. The representative of Bedrocan explained that the biggest insurance company in the Netherlands, Achmea, now fully reimburses medicinal cannabis when prescribed by a doctor. Patients even get the costs of a Volcano vaporizer reimbursed. He also announced that according to the latest figures, the number of people who buy cannabis at the pharmacies in the Netherlands has risen to over 3000.
The discussion carried on well past the designated time.
On a final note: Twitter has turned out te be an ideal tool to follow this kind of large conference. Using the hashtag #CND2015 you have access to a wealth of information and links to larger stories and reports. French Encod member Kenzi from Chanvres & Libertés has done some great tweeting: look for @ungass_on_drugs. My own tweets are through @vocnederland.
Photos by Gonzomedia and Kenzi Riboulet