THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 32. AUGUST 2007
THE EYE OF THE STORM
In the eye of a storm, all is quiet. Time and space seem to have agreed to a standstill, while all around, life is moving with incredible speed. After summertime is over, we will enter a crucial phase of the movement against drug prohibition in Europe. Governments insist on measures that increase the criminalisation and marginalisation of millions of people, in a desperate effort to avoid a sincere evaluation of the impacts of these measures. Citizens who wish to put constructive proposals for alternative policies on the agenda will need to combine determination with patience, strength with subtlety, and confidence with alertness to seize the opportunities that are ahead.
In other parts of the world, people do not have the luxury to think about designing political proposals. In early July, Amnesty International and related organisations announced that 16 Asia Pacific countries continue to apply the death penalty for drug trafficking and possession, at a time when there is a worldwide trend towards abolishing this punishment altogether[[See http://web.amnesty.org/pages/antidrugs-250607-feature-eng]]. The Moroccan government, which has slashed cannabis cultivation by nearly half over the past four years, announced its will to eradicate the main remaining area of cultivation in the northern Rif mountains [[See : http://ccguide.org.uk/news/shownewsarticle.php?articleid=12654]]
. And the United States Government increased the pressure on Bolivian president and coca farmer Evo Morales to betray his former comrades, after the UNODC indicated there has been an alarming 8% increase in coca cultivation in Bolivia in the past year [[“EEUU teme por la democracia y Shapiro advierte por la coca“, in: La Prensa, La Paz, 12.7. 2007]]. Meanwhile, in the same period, opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 50%, and an astonishing 900% since the US invasion in November 2001 [[See : http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/world_drug_report.html]].
Europe is well underway toward fomenting a civil war on drug prohibition as well. The measures that the new Dutch government is planning to take in order to “protect the public from harmful substances” are no more than impulsive responses to the panic that some sensational media backed up by a zealous law enforcement apparatus have sown. Some incidents involving tourists in Amsterdam which may or may not have been due to the use of magic mushrooms are now being used as an argument to enforce a ban on their sale, which has been opposed by the Ministry of Public Health and described by experts as “a complete catastrophe”
Hard times have come as well for the coffeeshop model in the Netherlands. Rotterdam seems to have the honour of becoming the first city in which authorities will effectively try to reduce the number of coffeeshops by half, based on the argument that the existence of a coffeeshop increases the use of cannabis by minors. This reasoning completely ignores the fact that cannabis use among young people is not related to the proximity of a coffeeshop. European figures clearly demonstrate that use among minors (and the availability of cannabis) in the Netherlands is lower than in many European countries that do not have coffeeshops. As Dutch psychiatrist Fredrick Polak describes it, “the real reason why authorities want to close the coffeeshops is that they are the living proof of the futility of prohibition”.
In other countries as well, moral principles are again prevailing over wisdom. The UK Government, which reclassified cannabis from Class B to C in 2004, is now considering reversing that decision, as “a way to improve drug education in our country”. The UK Government is also convinced that “legalisation of cannabis would send the wrong signal to young people”. Along the same lines, the German government responded to a request to take measures to reduce harm caused by the use of adulterants in the cultivation and production of cannabis: “we do not want to take these measures, as cannabis is always harmful”. The amount of regular adult cannabis users is estimated at more than 3 million in the UK [[See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2923647.stm]] and 4 million in Germany [[See: http://hanfverband.de/letter/14_06_2007.html]] .
How to deal with these people? How to deal for example with those among them who use cannabis for medicinal purposes, for whom the use of cannabis itself is reducing harm? What kind of message will be sent to them? Perhaps one with a dollarsign on it: without any doubt the pharmaceutical multinationals are following closely the outcome of the debate on creating “legal channels for Afghan opium” such as those proposed by the Senlis Council [[See: http://www.embassymag.ca/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2007/july/18/senliscouncil/]].
Pharmaceutical companies pay millions of euros to “educate” doctors on the benefits of their products over those of their competitors. They have paid doctors to be listed as the authors of journal articles that are written by ghost writers, a practice that was extensively documented in court records from a lawsuit against the Pfizer corporation. In such an environment it is quite unlikely that any research on the effects of a substance can be carried out independently, let alone if that substance is illegal. And even if it has the smell of independence, research can be used for political objectives. In January 2006 the UK defended the reclassification from B to C [[See : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/01/20/ncann20.xml&
]] on the basis of the same scientific material that is used today to do the opposite [[See: http://www.itv.com/news/britain_a9cb552fb24a68b578e392ce7993ef59.html]].
No professional medical expert would doubt the fact that harm reduction can only really occur in a legal environment, which guarantees safety for the user and his surroundings. It is our challenge to prove this in practice. The introduction of the Cannabis Social Club model in the campaign towards Vienna 2008 can be used as an example of how in the future social collectives of drug consumers can organise their own system independent from both the commercial and the medical establishment.
Several pioneers of that model are now in their own lives hit by the storm that we all need to resist. They are arrested and convicted because they have tried to follow the common sense behind the harm reduction philosophy that was introduced in the 1990s. In the end of July, Spanish police destroyed the plantation of Ganjazz Art Club (a Cannabis Social Club in San Sebastián), while the owner of the well respected Swiss company Chanvre-Info, André Fürst, who is also a member of the ENCOD Steering Committee, was sentenced to 29 months of prison for cultivating and producing hemp products .
ENCOD will never accept a jail term for people because they promote the use of a plant. We will continue to fight for a transparent solution to the dilemma created in 1961, when a few powerful governments decided to imprison the world in a drug war jail. In August we will apply for a place in the civil society forum on drug policy that the European Commission is bound to create. In October the Cannabis Social Club campaign will be launched, following a roadmap of events leading to the UN Meeting in Vienna, in March 2008.
Your help is needed!
By Joep Oomen (ENCOD-coordinator) with the help of Peter Webster.
ENCOD NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT:
Account: 001- 3470861-83 Att. ENCOD vzw – Belgium
Bank: FORTIS, Warandeberg 3, 1000 Brussels
IBAN: BE 14 0013 4708 6183