AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COALITION OF NGOs
FOR A JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUGS POLICY (ICN)
TO THE SECOND CONFERENCE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION ON DRUGS POLICY
BRUSSELS, FEBRUARY 28/29, 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The purpose of the present conference of the European Union on drugs policy is to hold a public debate about ways to strengthen cooperation between political authorities and civil society in the field of drugs policy.
The undersigned organisations, representing millions of citizens inside and outside of Europe, who in one way or another are concerned with current drugs control policies, believe that it indeed is partly as a result of the lack of interaction between civil society and policy makers that drug policies have so far been ineffective, even counterproductive. Hence we wish to participate in this debate with the following considerations.
We believe that drugs policies should be created to establish and maintain the conditions under which the physical, mental and spiritual health, well-being, balance and enrichment of individuals and societies can flourish. All drugs policies that proceed in this direction and intend to fulfil this purpose have our support.
No drug, licit or illicit, is innocent. All drugs, depending on their nature, the person who uses them, the way they are used, and the conditions under which they are used (legal, financial, cultural, sanitary) can make things better for the user and his surroundings, or make them worse. These four aspects need to be taken into account by any decision maker or professional when creating or evaluating drugs policies.
Civil society and their representative NGOs, in developing (mainly producer) countries and developed (mainly consumer) countries share a lot of common objectives with policy makers in the EU – namely stable, sustainable communities, crime reduction, harm reduction, removal of corruption and a controlled and regulated drugs market. ICN is looking to generate a dialogue where civil society can input to policy makers to succeed in achieving these goals.
Drugs have been with human-kind and civilisation for thousands of years across the world. The absurd drugs policy we are witnessing today (war on drugs, zero tolerance, strategy to eliminate all psychoactive plants, systematic denial of the effectiveness of harm reduction strategies in countries such as the Netherlands, Australia and Switzerland) has lead to the establishment of a global moralising policing culture, which causes more harm than the drugs it is supposed to control. These attempts are based on archaic international conventions, a UN agency that is manipulated by the prohibitionist lobby, and the hegemony of the US government claiming to be the “free” world’s only moral and physical guardian in this field.
Control policies based on prohibition have proved disastrous. Thus, in the US, 60% of the 2 million prison population are non-violent drug offenders! In the UK the average age of heroin users is 26 and falling, in the Netherlands the average is 39 and rising.
Europe, traditionally a place where humanitarian values have been developed, should start to conceive a different policy. In fact, Europeans have already done so: many successful experiments with innovative drugs policies are taking place on a local level, and an increasing number of European authorities are no longer afraid to question current drugs legislation. The controlled prescription of heroin in Switzerland for example, has been shown to be a safe and effective way to improve the physical and psychological health of consumers. And as far as the impact on society is concerned, criminal activities and convictions have fallen by 60%.
The drugs phenomenon covers many aspects: economic, psychological, human rights, legal, health, issues concerning North-South relations etc. We need to analyse these issues and find the right approach to each of them. At the moment, drugs policies, including those of the European Union and its Member States, consist of a cocktail of measures that attempt to deal with these very diverse aspects without understanding them or their impact on society. The result is that these policies are contradictory and counterproductive.
Today, those who carry the heaviest burden of current policies are those who are already among the most marginalised in the first place: drugs consumers in the North (and increasingly in the South), and producers of drug-related plants in the South. Current drug policies do little or nothing to reduce this marginalisation, they only increase the problem. Hence, they do far more damage to well-being in general than do the drugs themselves.
European drugs policy should be aiming at the well-being of the population, firstly that of Europe, then that of developing countries and of other developed countries like the USA. We could give many examples of how this is possible, but for concision, we will conclude by putting forward a recommendation and a number of concrete issues for discussion.
Recommendation: Establishing a formal dialogue with civil society
The drugs issue is extremely sensitive, and official information produced by governmental sources may not always be reliable. The channels of information which NGOs in the field of drugs policy, as well as drug producers and users, have access to, are capable of providing feedback regarding policy effectiveness. Therefore, we propose the establishment of a more formal, balanced and sustained exchange between the EU institutions and the NGO community.
Examples of topics we would wish to discuss
Indicators of effectiveness. We would like to identify appropriate indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of enforcement policies and alternatives, including a cost-benefit analysis.
Promoting sustainable development. We aim to alert the European Union and its Member States to their current responsibility concerning the financing of UNDCP coordinated plans in various countries to eliminate three natural drugs related plants (cannabis, opium and coca) by the year 2008. These strategies – containing a strong element of forced eradication methods – violate all the principle foundations of European culture: human rights, individual freedoms, social peace, respect of minority cultures and environmental responsibility.
The European Union should condemn the use of chemical and biological agents against the cultivation of illicit plants, which sets in motion a vicious circle of displacement, environmental damage and intensifying armed conflict.
Instead, Europe should commit itself to support only those efforts that look for lasting, peaceful and sustainable solutions to the phenomenon of drugs production. The success of these efforts depends largely on the active participation of the producers themselves.
The reallocation of resources from enforcement to harm reduction initiatives. We believe that organised drug testing, needle exchanges, expanded prescribing services, injecting rooms (as happen today in some EU countries without the permission of United Nations’ authorities and often even that of national authorities) help to reduce considerably the risks of illicit drug use and save lives.
Alternatives to prohibition. We would like to discuss with you proposals for installing a legal regulatory framework for the production, trade and distribution of all drugs.
We thank you for your attention and look forward to hearing from you.
On behalf of the International Coalition of NGO’s for a Just and Effective Drugs Policy, ICN. ICN consists of 104 organisations from 26 countries (Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America.
EUROPEAN NGO COUNCIL ON DRUGS & DEVELOPMENT (ENCOD)