ENCOD was invited to the sixth session of the Civil Society Forum on EU Drug Policy in the Residence Palace, Brussels
From Monday 10 October to Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Encod – president Fredrick Polak will present a paper on the need to discuss Alternative Drug Control Systems (ADCS). You can read this paper hereunder, and leave your comment below or to firstname.lastname@example.org
Necessity and inevitability of serious consideration of new drug policies
During the last session of the Civil Society Forum on 12-13 April 2011 three working groups started to draw up statements for the contribution by the CSF to the new EU Drug Strategy. In the next meeting of the CSF (that will hopefully take place in September of October 2011) these papers will be discussed.
As chairman of the working group on “Alternative Systems of Drug Control” (ASDC), I hereby submit our paper, but I will start with a personal note.
Then you will first find a summary of the material we produced in the run-up to this meeting, followed by our proposal for the way the debate on new drug policies should be organised.
How is it possible that NGOs that are officially taking part in consultation with EU policymakers, have to fight for what should be normal: to start a serious and thorough consideration of alternative drug policies?
When our demand for a debate on drug regulation will be accepted by the CSF to be part of its submission to the EC for the EU Drug Action Plan and Strategy, it still is possible, at least theoretically, that this demand will subsequently be left out of the report of the European Commission to the European Council.
I find this situation wrong. It is contrary to the meaning and intention of consulta¬tion of European NGOs. Refusal to think about ASDC will keep the existing system out of reach for criticism, a system that causes enormous harm on a global scale, and that has no significant positive effects that might counterbalance those harms.
Of course, I am aware that there is disagreement on this, but the point is that a serious debate on this issue never figures on political agendas, and that is no longer acceptable.
The publication of the Report ‘War on Drugs’ by the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) on 2 June 2011 makes it clear that we should see politicians and civil servants as being in need of help. Many well-informed civil servants and politicians, maybe even the majority, understand full well that drug policy must be altered radically. Not on the basis of their political preference, but of knowledge and experience.
The problem is that their position makes it too risky for them to speak out on this publicly. This is a grave problem of modern democracies. To sacrifice a career, it is enough to suggest a debate on the wisdom of drug prohibition, because it is widely understood that in all probability, this points to being in favor of legalization. When political careers have ended or after retirement, some politicians and civil servants feel obliged to speak out. This phenomenon can be observed for many years already, also in our near environment.
As NGOs we are in a position to actually confront politicians and civil servants. The CSF is one of the few places where citizens can try to call politicians to account. By engaging them in meaningful debate and providing them with missing information and better arguments, we can make it easier for them to adopt these for situations in which they would otherwise remain absent.
Summary of the texts that we distributed during the preparatory phase.
When the proposal to start a debate on ASDC was accepted for debate within the CSF, we decided to first concentrate on the question that we consider preliminary:
How should the debate on this issue best be structured and conducted?
The central question should be how drugs can best be regulated. Many debates have been held on this subject and invariably they are structured in such a way that many questions are touched upon shortly. Theoretical assumptions, moral judgments and statistical data are presented in an unstructured way. The debate jumps from one theme to the next, and at the end most of those present are convinced even more strongly of their own right judgment.
The challenge is to start a more productive debate, which will do justice to the importance and complexity of the subject. This debate should be conducted in a rational and scientifically informed way, and it should also give room to the strong emotional and moral value of this problem.
The drugs phenomenon not only has medical and criminological aspects, but also social, cultural, psychological, legal, economic, moral, educational and still other aspects. They must all be reckoned with, but for the decision on the optimal system of regulation, these aspects do not all have equal weight. Certainly discussion will be needed on questions such as: How deep do we have to delve into the different areas? And: Is there a hierarchy in the importance of the fields of study, and of the arguments?
Most probably, on some of the issues the opinions will remain divided. For this reason, the procedure should contain ample room and opportunity to weigh the evidence and the arguments, and to attain transparency on the nature of the divided opinions and their backgrounds. Are they based on different epidemiological data? On different definitions of purpose for drug policy? On different values and ideological or religious positions?
When we succeed in sorting out the controversial themes along these lines, it will become possible to prepare a second phase of the debate, in which the themes must be taken up again in the dominant perspective, that is, they must be discussed in the domain of ethics, health, criminology, etcetera.
It seems possible that the opinions can come closer together in this way, for instance on the health aspect.
On the other hand, on the moral aspect, it is more probable that the differences of opinion will remain. In this way it can become clear whether they are of a moral, legal, or medical nature. And this means that we can more clearly formulate our conclusions.
It was an important and timely initiative of the European Commission to fund and commission the Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007, also known as the Reuter/Trautmann or R/T Report. This is not the place to repeat its conclusions. We all know that the results of the 10 years since UNGASS 1998 are not so fantastic that there is no need for considering alternatives. Even when the results had been moderately positive, there would have been a need to think outside the box.
Now that the evidence is overwhelmingly negative, we must thank the EC for providing us with this independent report, but we also want to emphasize to the EC the importance of carrying this issue through. This can only be done in a way that is commensurate to the pervasive and wide-ranging influence of drug policy, that is by seriously studying alternative policies.
Already before the 2009 session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, ENCOD wrote that the refusal of politicians to discuss alternative policies must be considered negligence. Possibly criminal negligence, but in any case reprehensible negligence. The Global Commission says in their report that the inertia in the official drug policy debate is an abdication of policy responsibility (p. 17). It is clear that we fully support this.
We urge the CSF to submit this proposal to the European Commission, in the full knowledge that for some member states this approach to drug policy will continue to be seen as undesirable, impossible, or out of order. That is exactly the reason why this proposal must be introduced by NON-GOVERNMENTAL organizations.
Never before has it been so clear that active politicians and public servants cannot speak openly on this issue. The development of international drug policy and the contribution from NGOs may no longer be impeded by this phenomenon.
Proposal of a model for the debate about new drug policies
A. DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM
The debate about continuing the present drug policy, or adopting a fundamentally different policy, should be structured around a shared, comprehensive understanding of “the drug problem”.
There is a phenomenon: drug use, and a problem: problematic drug use.
There is a social reality – the use of mind-altering substances, which exists from the beginning of history. The phenomenon and the problem are two different things. We cannot solve the problem unless we define and understand the phenomenon.
Non-problematic drug use is often made into a problem by the current legislation/system.
The consequences of existing laws have become a part of the problem – e.g. too many people in prison, marginalization & stigmatization of drug users, and unhealthy living conditions.
Governments should try to make the problem smaller, not bigger. Current policies are making the problem bigger and uncontrollable.
In international relations, “drugs” have come to be seen as a national threat. Because of this, the drug issue has become “securitised”.
Historically, president Nixon started securitization in 1971 by naming “drugs” the biggest national threat (on the (correct) assumption that this would help him to get re-elected.) As a consequence of this definition of the drug problem, policy decisions are being made at a restricted supra-national level. This makes it almost impossible to influence policy making by civil society.
The problem is multifaced. But the core of the drug problem is lack of appropriate regulation.
B. POLICY OBJECTIVES
A clear perspective is needed on the objectives of the policy, on the goals that should be reached, or brought closer.
Governments declare that their priority is prevention of drug use, and in many countries also the reduction of drug related harm. These are worthy goals, but if we consider the amount of money allocated to these objectives, we discover that the true priority is repression. )
C. AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE/MULTI-DISCIPLINARY APPROACH
Drug policy clearly has medical and legal aspects. In addition to this, a number of other areas, or fields of knowledge and experience, are involved, such as cultural, economic, ethical, educational, social and still other aspects.
In a debate, these must all be reckoned with. However, to be able to decide on the optimal system of drug regulation, these aspects do not all have equal weight. Because the importance of these fields is different for everyone, depending on one’s value system, beliefs, and perspective on life, it makes no sense to try and arrange these areas in a single list of increasing importance.
For the decision on the optimal sort of regulation, it is useful to distinguish a group of subjects of primary importance, and a group of secondary importance.
We tried to provide a structure for the debate that will make it possible to sort out the considerations and arguments, and to assign them to a number of areas that will be distinguished.
In some of these areas we already filled in one or more considerations or arguments, just to make clear the structure, while other areas are still open. The completion of this matrix should be the task of (a working group of) the CSF.
The first group contains four aspects of primary importance:
1. Human rights, legal aspects
Why should the state interfere in the use of drugs? Crime is harm to others, not to oneself.
Drug policy should be driven by public health interests, not by criminal law.
Alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug users (courts are full of small drug offence cases and cannot fight real crime effectively)
Drug use can have negative health consequences. The harmful effects of drugs are used as arguments for both prohibition and regulation.
Which age limit/requirement is necessary?
Ethical arguments are related to personal values that can determine social actions; ethical values are not shared by everybody. We need to identify the ethical arguments. They are a part of person’s privacy and a matter of personal choice; they should not drive public policy. An example: alcohol. If I want to drink alcohol, I can do it. Maybe the person next to me believes the opposite: because alcohol is bad for health, no one should use it.
Ethical arguments should not be decisive in the debate on drugs.
Ethics are related to the personal choice to use drugs and belong to the private sphere as long as this does not interfere in a negative way with other people. Drug policy and ethics should be separated. .
During this period of economic crisis, even rich countries can no longer afford the investment in repression, which is irresponsible, compared to the investment in prevention and treatment.
For the purpose of the debate, these areas or aspects can best be considered of equal importance, because they are most often mentioned by individuals as being important to them, on the basis of their personal value system, life experience, etcetera.
The group of secondary importance:
5. Cultural and Social Aspects | to be filled in
6. Education | to be filled in
7. International Relations | to be filled in
D. PROCEEDING OF THE DEBATE:
Arguments, reasoning, and evidence should only be adduced within the context of a specific aspect of the debate.
This will make it possible to come to conclusions in each field separately.
When there is agreement on this or on a modified model for the discussion, the debate proper can start.
on behalf of the Working group on Alternative Systems of Drug Control
1 August 2011