ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICIES IN EUROPE
PATIENCE IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
From 22 to 24 June, 35 Encod members from 11 countries attended the 2012 General Assembly in T Klooster, Antwerpen. During three days, the Assembly discussed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for Encod as a nearly 20-year old European coalition of citizens for just and effective drug policies. And we did not forget to take some decisions on how to face the challenges of the coming 12 months.
The meeting started as usual with a round of snapshots of the current drug policy situation in the countries that were present: Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Israel. The colour of most testimonies remained black or at best grey, with only some small white spots in Spain and Belgium, and then only in the case of cannabis policies, whereas also there seems to be a growing acceptance of the availability of medical cannabis throughout Europe. However, austerity policies threaten harm reduction programmes, miserable situations continue to exist in prisons, the era of zero tolerance has still not finished, as is proven by the introduction of the weedpass in the Netherlands.
Danny Freeman, Belgium
The first day’s highlight was the presentation of Chakib el Khayari, president of the Human Rights Association of the Rif, who was imprisoned between 2009 and 2011 after having exposed ties between state officials and drug traffickers in Morocco. Since 2008, Chakib has animated the debate on legalisation of hemp/cannabis for industrial and medicinal purposes. And in spite of the repression against him, in fact this debate has gained in strength and impact.
Today, 3 of the country’s largest parties openly support this proposal, as does the security advisor of the Moroccan King. Chakib proposed Encod to help introducing the technical and commercial possibilities of hemp cultivation to Morocco. As long as the greatest parts of the benefits of this development remain in the hands of the Moroccan growers, this may imply a huge step forward in the change of course, not only in Moroccan, but also international drug policy.
People’s kitchen on Friday night in T Klooster
On Saturday Encod’s core activities were discussed: the lobby actions at the meetings of both the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna and the Civil Society Forum on EU Drug Policies in Brussels, and the promotion of the Cannabis Social Clubs as a model for regulation of the cannabis market in Europe (outside the Netherlands).
Fredrick Polak (Netherlands) and Max Plenert (Germany)
The conclusions were not hard to draw. At the international and European summits on drug policy, the margins within which steps forward can be taken are extremely tight. Government and even many NGO representatives have difficulties thinking outside of the prohibitionist box. All we can do is stand at the sideline and watch the giant turtle move. We quickly agreed that it would be no use at all to ignore such meetings, but decided to limit our presence there to what is practically feasible, and strategically necessary. For the next editions of these meetings, some concrete conditions will be formulated to which our participation should try to fulfill. This will hopefully make it more easy for all Encod members to follow and share the experiences of the Encod delegates in these meetings.
Ingrid Wunn, Germany
More positive vibrations popped up during the discussion on the progress of Cannabis Social Clubs. Both in Spain and Belgium, this model now seems to be recognised by authorities as a legitimate alternative to the illegal market, aiming to protect public health and safety. In Spain, clubs have rapidly professionalised, and are now planning to organise the first International Cannabis Social Forum on the Grow Expo in Irun, Basque Country, from 14 to 16 September, 2012. In Belgium, Trekt Uw Plant has doubled its membership since the exclusion of Belgian residents from the coffeeshops over the border with the Netherlands. On June 18th, the first Cannabis Social Club in Tours, France, was established, and a similar initiative is being prepared in Slovenia.
Jaka Bitenc and Janko Belin, Slovenia
In the coming year Encod will make an inventory of available and necessary research data on the workings of Cannabis Clubs in both Spain and Belgium, looking at the evidence that this system can contribute to a reduction of the illegal market. We will also elaborate a standard approach for a legal defense of this initiative that can be used by lawyers in any European country. We will actively promote the model in countries where activists request us to do so, and will publish information material. Finally we will promote crossborder technical cooperation between clubs in areas such as organisation and exchange of genetics.
Jan Bojer (Norway)
On Sunday, the assembly took decisions on a range of activity proposals that had been presented by the members. In order of appearance:
The Encod website will be redesigned in October of this year, by the webmaster.
In the coming months, sign on letters will be distributed among Encod members on the topics or urgent needs in the area of harm reduction (specially in the case of prisons).
We will make an inventarisation of Encod members, their skills and capacities, so this information can be shared with other members and the broader public, and a more optimal use of the network can be made.
We will start to prepare a campaign around the European Parliament elections in 2014. We will inform about the behaviour of the parties in the drug policy debate and initiate a public discussion around this issue. In France and the UK, some Encod members consider putting up their own list.
In the coming 6 months Encod will support the events organised by the Association Friends of the Coca Leaf to inform about the medicinal, cultural and food value of the coca leaf and promote its fair trade model to create a closed circuit between European coca leaf consumers and Andean growers. In this campaign we hope to work together with Encod members in various countries, as well as the Peruvian and Bolivian populations and embassies.
Break in the garden of T Klooster
Finally, it was decided to create an Encod fund. Thanks to the different Encod projects (such as Trekt uw Plant and VOC in the Netherlands) the administrative burden on the Encod budget has been reduced. This means that each year, some money may be left over after all Encod activities are financed. We decided that this money can be used to support local actions of Encod members. For this goal, a procedure for application and selection will be elaborated.
The strengths of Encod lie in its diversity and its independence. We are an authentic coalition of citizens who do not easily let themselves be used for short term interests. However, we are weakened by a fragile apparatus, with too many tasks for too few people, who also tend to overestimate their own capacities and underestimate what is needed to make things happen.
‘Nothing is totally true, even this sentence isn’t’ (Words of writer Frederik van Eeden, in the streets of Antwerpen)
Our opportunities lie in the coherence between bottom up activism and focussed lobby efforts with concrete actions that not only show the alternative to prohibition but also help people in their daily needs (CSC and Coca Leaf friends).
Threats we do not have. Drug prohibition is ready to be abolished as one of the most absurd social experiments in human history. The call among the general public to look at more just and effective alternatives will only become stronger in the years to come. Together with others, we should make these alternatives as convincing as possible. If we fail, we only have ourselves to blame.
By Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)
Photos by Maja Kohek, Slovenia