ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE
In the coming three weeks political parties in 27 countries will do their extreme best to seduce citizens to vote for the European Parliament elections. Their task is not easy: since the first time they were organised (1979) turnout in these elections has fallen from 62 to 43% in 2009. Increasing distrust towards ‘Brussels’ and its ability to find solutions for the true problems of people is like a virus that contaminates everyone who is involved with the European institutions – including those who wish to reform them.
Euro-scepticism is an obvious consequence of the fact that the European Union started as a dream of politicians, but turned out to be a nightmare administered by technocrats. The way that Brussels has dealt with the issue of drug policies can serve as an excellent example of this process. In the early 1990s French president Mitterand made an effort to develop a truly European (and therefore non-American) vision on drug policy that would include a strong involvement of affected and concerned citizens. A few years later the EU bureaucracy had managed to convert this vision into a so-called “balanced approach”, based on a consensus without vision, taste, smell or color, grey as the skies above Brussels.
This ‘balanced approach’ includes a wide range of often contradicting options, going from the Swedish ‘zero tolerance’ ideal to the models in Portugal and the Netherlands, where the sale of small quantities of drugs is openly tolerated. Western European governments are proud of exporting ‘harm reduction’ programmes to the East, while the main source of drug related harm (the fact that they are produced, distributed and consumed illegally) remains untouched and undiscussed.
An increasing number of European countries have regulated the import and distribution of cannabis and derivates produced by private companies working with a license from their governments, while citizens who cultivate for their own (medicinal) use run the risk of being criminalized. In Spain and Belgium, authorities are looking the other way while citizens take the responsibility to establish a model for cannabis regulation that aims to ensure public health and safety. Cannabis Social Clubs are the guinea pigs of tomorrow’s drug policy. If they succeed, large companies stand ready to copy them; if they don’t, repression will continue.
However, a large number of Europeans fix their hopes on EU rather than their own national authorities when it comes to drug policies. After all it was the European Parliament that voted the most radical set of recommendations to end the war on drugs ever to be approved by a parliament in Europe.
If these recommendations (formulated in the Catania report, supported by a majority of Members of the European Parliament in December 2004) would have been implemented, today’s drug policies in Europe would have been based on evidence and not on moral judgements. Governments would have invested actively in research and use of currently illicit plants for beneficial purposes, and legal space would have been created for low threshold and grassroot initiatives such as the Cannabis Social Clubs.
On the other hand, Europe offers an excellent opportunity to compare the results of different drug policies that may prove useful to develop more rational drug policies. The fact that more flexible approaches have not resulted in higher rates of drug use is the best way to debunk the theory of prohibition as a necessary tool of drug prevention. What is urgently needed to add to this conclusion is comparable data on drug related public expenditure, so that citizens in countries with repressive policies may see how badly their tax euros are spent.
Scepticism may be an understandable and reasonable attitude as long as expectations towards the EU are concerned. No matter how many recommendations will surge from the European Parliament, it is the national governments that are ultimately responsible for drug policies, and for submitting its philosophical basis – prohibition – to national parliamentary scrutiny. Therefore the final decisions to dismantle the drug war apparatus will have to be taken at a national level, probably after increasing pressure from local authorities who have understood the devastating impact of this war on their communities.
However, it is at the European level where information can freely circulate independent from the ideological constraints that often characterise the national political debate. Perhaps it is exactly because the stakes are lower than in the member states’ capitals, that ambitious Members of the European Parliament willing to fight for a just cause may have better luck in gaining the hearts and minds of their colleagues.
In the past weeks, Encod has started to identify candidates for the forthcoming EP elections who re-affirm their support to the Catania report and, once they are voted in, will continue to put this issue under the attention of EU authorities. More than 40 candidates from 12 different countries have signed the Manifesto for Safe and Healthy Drug Policies. At least citizens in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom can now vote for a candidate who has agreed to collaborate actively to end the war on drugs.
Precisely because the turnout on May 25nd will be low, it will be easier to obtain seats. So those who want to know where to put a cross on May 25nd, keep an eye on the Encod website in the coming weeks. You can also participate in the campaign yourself by contacting candidates in your country (see Map for further details).
By Joep Oomen
NEWS FROM THE SECRETARIAT
Like many members also Encods secretariat is busy organizing the Global Marijuana March. This will be organized for the ninth time in Antwerp on May 10th. We are also preparing a removal of the office since on June 1st, the current premises have to be abandoned.
The Encod General Assembly will be held from 26 to 28 September, 2014, in Goricko Art Center, Slovenia. See here for an inscription form.