ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
THE DAYS OF DRUG PROHIBITION ARE COUNTED
Global drug prohibition has no empirical or scientific basis. Most politicians are not disturbed by this lack of evidence. They continue to do what they still believe is safest for them: stick to drug prohibition. But exactly this is slowly starting to change, and not in just a few countries.
Many American activists are convinced that after the narrow defeat of this year’s California referendum to legalize cannabis for recreational use, the same issue will be brought up in a number of states in the 2013 elections, and then it is highly probable that two or three states will vote in favour. That will not be the end of the struggle, of course, because only then the real fight with the federal government will start. It has been reported that at a recent meeting in Washington DC, a high American civil servant stated that the question of the legalization of cannabis is no longer about IF, but about WHEN. Obama understandably will not start an effort to get this issue on the political agenda before his second period is secured.
In my own country, the Netherlands, the progressive cannabis policy that is in place since 1976, has been successful for public health. Unfortunately, the growth and supply part of the cannabis market has not been decriminalized, and in those 35 years a serious black market has come into existence. Together with “drug tourism”, the criminal “back door” of the coffeeshops is now used by the Dutch government as arguments for a new policy which seems to aim at gradually suffocating the coffeeshops. There still is hope that this will not go according to the official plan. Most of the larger cities are outspoken in their resistance to the government. Very recently, after the publication of the new plan, the progressive liberal opposition party D66 changed its position and is now in favour of legal regulation of not just cannabis, but of all drugs. The situation in Holland never was bad enough to stimulate strong resistance, and that is changing now. This may be the beginning of a serious debate.
On 2 June the Global Commission on Drug Policy will present its report on the state of the war on drugs. I am writing this a few days before that date, but it is already public knowledge that they will demand the end of the war on drugs. This commission started with three Latin American ex-presidents, and now has an impressive list of highly respected politicians as members, all formerly active (except for Greek prime minister Papandreou). This is proof of the impossible situation in which politicians of all countries are being held.
Only Bolivia is openly working at an escape from this oppressive system. Its proposal to take the coca leaf out of the lists of prohibited drugs was refused by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, because nearly 20 countries objected. Bolivia hesitated about bringing the case to ECOSOC, which is the formal procedure, but it is expected that Bolivia will renounce its adherence to the drug conventions, and then apply for reaccession with a “reservation” relating to the coca leaf. To be reaccepted as a member on those changed terms, no more than one third of the member states (MS) may object. This is of course a gamble, but if Bolivia succeeds, it will open the way for other countries with plans for more lenient policies.
Highly interesting developments have taken place in Portugal since its decriminalization of use and of possession for personal use of drugs. This has been Portuguese policy for 10 years now and the situation has improved on all important accounts. Similar developments are taking place in Argentina, Brazil, and even in Poland, which used to be one of the more conservative European countries.
The club model for cannabis growth and use, both recreational and medicinal, which has arisen in Spain, is spreading and getting better organized. In Belgium, the same is happening on a smaller scale. This solution is only possible in countries where growth and possession of small quantities for personal use has been formally decriminalized or legalized. So this is a tangible objective for political activism: in every country we must demand that the government at least allows personal growth and the club system.
At the international level, at the EU and UN, there are two possible ways to achieve change: through “Civil Society”, or through national politics and governments. Inside the EU there is strong support for Harm Reduction, but only in as far as it concerns the reduction of harm to public health – narrowly defined. As to the other serious harms which are caused by prohibition and the war on drugs – which are mostly called “unintended consequences” – the EU follows the UN-line. Why is there no debate at the EU about the way the war on drugs is proceeding? The member states don’t want that. Many details of drug policy are being discussed, but the central question is not touched.
We must urge our national political parties and governments to demand a serious review of drug policy, including alternative regulatory systems that are not based on criminal law. This is regularly happening with petitions and declarations, probably with some result, but it has not led to significant policy changes.
If one of the big countries says that it is in favour of rethinking drug policy, this will mean the end of prohibition in a few years. Germany is best placed to do this, but it does not seem likely that this will happen shortly. If a few like-minded countries propose this together, it may mean the beginning of a debate.
The other possible way to this debate is through Civil Society. Encod is represented in both the EU and the UN, as NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). The collection of NGOs that attends these meetings is seen as representing Civil Society, or simply said: those citizens of Europe, who organized themselves to express their opinions on this specific subject. Most of it is also being discussed in political parties, but in NGOs, citizens are united on issues that they find important, without direct connection to politics. I hope that we will delve into this subject more extensively at the General Assembly in Prague.
By Fredrick Polak