On the occasion of the Day of Protest, Action and Sadness, 21 July 2007
To: Bundesverband der Eltern und Angehörigen für akzeptierende Drogenarbeit e.V, c/o Jürgen Heimchen
Dear friends, dear Jürgen,
Thanks very much for organising this important day in which we share our deepest feelings of sadness and hope.
Still today, hundreds of millions of mainly young people around the world are criminalized, marginalized, threatened with the loss of their freedom, their social status, and their sources of income – the reason being that they have chosen their own substances to cure themselves, as well as to celebrate, develop and live their lives.
We know now that the prohibition of drugs has nothing to do with the protection of public health. Companies that sell tobacco, alcohol and legal medicines, substances that cause true public health catastrophies, do not encounter any major obstacle whatsoever in their efforts to conquer more markets.
Drug prohibition is mainly protecting the health of illegal drug traffickers. It guarantees the criminal profits, which, according to the UN agency in charge of drug control, can be estimated at 400 billion Euros a year. If we take into account that barely 1 to 3 % of this amount corresponds to the technical costs of production and transport, the profits that are made worldwide with this activity represent more than 12.500 euro a second.
The question is not if drugs are dangerous or not. The question is if prohibiting drugs is the answer. Drug users and the people who care for them know that harm reduction is the answer. It has been citizens, often working underground, risking to face the law at any time, that have invented the term harm reduction. These citizens are the true architects of a new approach to drug use. Precisely because of the stigmatisation of drugs and drug users, the change in the way most people look at this issue necessarily has to come from below, from inside society, as a way to resolve a well hidden trauma.
Firstly at an individual level among consumers themselves, then among their family members and their friends, then at the level of local and national authorities, and finally at the supranational level.
In the decision-making fora of both the European Union and the United Nations, it is becoming very clear that without the involvement of the affected “civil society”, drug policy is becoming a sad example of the way in which authorities are hiding themselves from the truth, meeting in self created ivory towers, located miles above grey smokescreens. Their meetings are almost pathetic repetitions of the same rhetoric, avoiding the entrance of any dissident view that could challenge the status quo.
As long as drugs remain prohibited, even harm reduction will remain a cosmetic concept, an empty discourse, a legitimisation of the regime whose harms it claims to reduce. Many harm reduction strategies may help to prevent people from being affected by diseases, but not from having to live at least parts of their life in a criminalized and marginalized environment. It is, as Danish drug user activist Jorgen Kjaer described it, like the Red Cross sending a clean plate, knife and fork to the starving people in Ethiopia and say to them: “sorry, this is all we are allowed to do for you”
Of course the universal system of prohibition can not simply be replaced by another universal system of regulation. Each society must find its own control systems that are most acceptable, and it goes without saying that there will be differences between countries as well as between regions and cities. Drug consumption has always been considered a taboo, and in each family taboos are treated in a different way, depending on how the parents treat it and on how the children behave themselves.
Therefore our efforts should be aimed at a democratisation of drug policies, a decentralisation of responsibilities and competences to the level where interventions can be most effective.
When in March next year the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs will meet in Vienna to evaluate the ten years after UNGASS 1998, when the UN announced a Drug Free World, we can do it before 2008, this will be our message: the UN Conventions on Drugs should no longer be an obstacle for national governments to find their own way of regulating this phenomenon.
We call upon all of you as engaged citizens, people who through direct actions implement the true principles of harm reduction, to help opening the eyes of our fellow citizens to the convenient lies on drugs that have been told to us for more than a century now. Together we will achieve this major change in history, that will improve living conditions of millions of people while attacking the interests of some of the world’s strongest criminal interests. Please join us in Vienna in March 2008.
Best wishes, and thank you very much.