ENCOD SPEECH SYMPOSIUM ON 30 YEARS MDHG (Medical-social service for heroine users)
AMSTERDAM, AUGUST 30, 2007
TOMORROW’S DRUG POLICIES
International drug prohibition will come to an end one day and Amsterdam and Europe will possibly play a leading part in this. Every one knows primarily US governments urged for drug prohibition. This caused the current global political stalemate, leaving no rational solution to a problem becoming bigger and more diverse. Sooner or later this assertion will lead to a schism between Europe and the US in drug policy. This breach has been postponed, not by a shared frantic belief in prohibition, but due to other aspects of geopolitical nature.
The present immobility of Dutch drug policy therefore should be regarded as the last spastic convulsions of a dying body. The idea of prohibiting something people want and need, but what might possibly hurt some of them, seems forced and irrational when evidence clearly shows that most of the harm is done by prohibition in itself
This obsessive clenching to prohibition might lead us to believe that the drug ban has a post-traumatic origin. Drug prohibition is actually nothing more than the instinctive reaction to the unfamiliar, the ‘other’, the unknown, which is immediately categorised as inferior and dangerous, parallel to the reaction of some to people living another culture or of different skin colour. And as it happens with trauma’s: people try to hide them as long as possible, and only after this ‘state of denial’ has passed, recovery is possible.
Of course Amsterdam is the scout of European drug policy. Coffee shops showed us what happens to people when they smoke cannabis. Most foreigners who visit a coffee shop are almost immediately freed of any anxiety and prejudice towards cannabis. Researchers, journalists and authorities from all over the world can witness for themselves that all harm is reduced to an acceptable minimum if you just deal with drug use and drug users in a professional way, leaving everybody wondering what seemed to be the problem in the first place? Even regarding public health the coffee shop model has proven it’s merits. It is no coincidence that Amsterdam was spared while England, France and Germany were washed by contaminated weed.
However, the next step towards complete regulation of cannabis and other means in Amsterdam is not possible without a profound change in national and international drug policy.
For now, this policy is a chain of contradictory and counterproductive measures: use in itself is no crime, but everything you have to do to actually use, is a crime.
Any future drug policy has to be more coherent, more effective and sustainable.
As long as the necessity of drug prohibition prevails (anchored in the UN treaties which no government dares to challenge, in fear of retaliation from Washington), politicians, civil servants and even the experts that work with them can not even make a start with a first draft of what future drug policies could look like.
It’s up to us, ordinary citizens, to concretise these ideas
Future drug policies should consist of two necessary counterparts:
First, drug consumers, producers and traders must be able to act within a guaranteed judicial and legal framework, focusing on genuine public nuisance and criminal activity. Laws should be transparent, clear and logical, based on rational ideas and goals, and applicable to all those involved.
Secondly, the liability of producers and distributors needs to be controlled in order to monitor health and safety aspects of drug trade and to exclude unwanted effects, such as use by minors.
The basic principle of the new model is enabling adult citizens to acquire drugs for personal use without breaking the law. This basic idea can be adapted for use to local traditions and circumstances in every country or even every municipality.
New drug policies and laws should differentiate between handling growth for personal use, commercial growth, processing plants to end products, and the distribution of the these products, as of any other synthetic product regarded as psycho-active.
Growing for personal use
Growing plants for a grower’s personal use, in order to save money or to reduce dependency on trade, should be absolutely free. Just like people growing their own vegetables or grapes, it should be possible to grow one’s own cannabis, coca-leaves or opium. There is no harm done in growing these plants for personal use, so interference of authorities is obsolete.
In organising the commercial production (of mere plants or processed end products) a system of licences seems feasible. This would allow monitoring of the drug market’s size and tracing offered products to their origin. Moreover these licenses would of course be tied to a set of basic rules regarding health, safety and sustainability of the trade. The guarantee of reasonable price margins would already reduce the risk of third world producers succumbing to the lure of the illegal market.
Processing and distribution
The elaboration of these plants into industrial products (such as cocaine or heroine) can take place through commercial enterprises that need to respond to public services. The authorities should be able to control the activities of these companies, that should ensure the entire process of manufacturing and distribution should respect certain rules. The purpose of these rules is to guarantee the quality of the product, facilitate optimal control on every step in this process in order to reduce the diversion of substances to the illegal market, and guarantee an honest price to producer and consumer. Sale to minors would be strictly prohibited, and places where products would be consumed would be subject to an active policy of prevention of irresponsible and problematic use.
Every adult that wants to use drugs, should have this possibility. Unprescribed sale could be organised within premises comparable to cafés or bars, or could be left to pharmacies or medical institutions. The sale of different drugs would need different settings, which would preferably be licensed. Whether this should be a public, commercial establishment or a private club, only accessible by members of an association of users, may depend on local laws and habits.
On opening, these establishments will surely cause some commotion and nervous tension regarding the dreaded consequences. A place where cocaine is sold and openly used will certainly attract the attention of the community. Therefore preventive action for, and immediate remediation of, excessive and irresponsible use will be an absolute condition to let any politician accept such a model. Strict rules are necessary and are to be upheld: no sale to minors, and supervision by qualified medical and social personnel.
Especially this last element, the problem solving part, binds us all. User associations take up a crucial role in preventing irresponsible use, especially among the inexperienced users. The new model will have room for many MDHG’s (medical and social services for heroin users), organised drug users that transcend the stage of working as an interest group to become an advisory agency, collecting and sharing knowledge on drugs and less harmful drug use with other users.
Undoubtedly the model can be adapted to countless variations on a local level. It is very important that involved citizens and authorities have access to exact and scientific information concerning the evolution of the model as it is implemented and applied. In this way the risk that any negative development, of which a few examples would naturally occur, can be used by backers of the international drug prohibition to call for an immediate cessation of the experiment. The model’s sustainability depends on the trust of politics in giving it’s citizens the chance to prove the model’s effectiveness.
And effective it will be. First things first: an enormous amount of money, now spent on law enforcement and the judicial system, would stay in our treasury, because police and judges would only have to deal with unlicensed mass production and trade. The licensed trade can be taxed, and this income would easily suffice to finance social programmes reducing any negative effects of drug use.
Secondly, the model will significantly reduce public and other nuisance linked to drug use. The personal situation of most drug users will stabilise, people will find better ways to deal with their drug use, nuisance and abuse enticing factors like trauma, setbacks, stress and frustration can be dealt with in a much more positive atmosphere.
And of course, the model will significantly reduce the illegal market. The illegal market will not disappear entirely – a black market will always exist in countries that cling to drug prohibition, however the reduction will be significant in the countries that move on.
Amsterdam seems to be the place of all places to put the new drug policy to practice. But before we can achieve this, the global drug prohibition, imposed by the 1961 UN treaty, must be lifted. It is anyone’s guess when this will be. But if anything is going to change, it will be thanks to the efforts of people acting now. In the end it will be up to politics to make that final decision. This is bound to happen as soon as the first politicians that dare to go against the grain, are ready to get things done.
In March 2008 the UN commission on narcotic drugs convenes in Vienna. Ten years after the UNGASS Conference, where a drug free world was announced before 2008, this commission will evaluate the present state of affairs.
ENCOD calls upon all concerned citizens and people who want to end drug prohibition to seize this opportunity to loudly voice our concerns and appeal for a definitive change of course.
This is why a better drug policy in Amsterdam, starts in Vienna in 2008. I hear people are already hiring busses, so I hope to see you all in Vienna, March 2008