In March 2001, 25 ENCOD members from 8 different countries met in Brussels and edited the following guidelines for just and effective drug policies in Europe.
This year it is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This Convention continues to form the legal basis of the policies of many countries -aiming at wiping out cultivation, production, trade and consumption of illegal drugs world-wide. All the evidence suggests this attempt a phenomenal failure. Since 1961, the global drugs use and related problems have multiplied several times, and are still on the rise. It is calculated that every second, more than 16.000 EUROs is earned through the sale of illicit drugs. Profits are massive – production costs represent no more than 1 % of this amount.
Meanwhile, the problems created by drugs control policies have turned out to be much larger than those they intend to solve. The immense global harm caused by the prohibition of drugs to public health, sound economy, sustainable development and community safety is well documented, but insufficiently understood by policy-makers, mass media, and consequently, by the general public.
To elaborate and implement other solutions for the drugs issue may be one of the most important challenges of the 21st Century. Or, as one of the UK agencies responsible for drugs control puts it: “If the (drug) problem continues advancing as it is at the moment, we’re going to be faced with some very frightening options. Either you have a massive reduction in civil rights, as you try and drive the problem underground, or you have to look at some radical solutions. The issue has to be – can a criminal justice system solve this particular problem?” Commander John Grieve, Criminal Intelligence Unit, Scotland Yard, on Channel 4, 1997
Inside Europe, many countries have already started to experiment with domestic policies that stand in open contradiction to the 1961 Single Convention and its even more restrictive successors of 1971 and 1988. The new approach is no longer directed at the elimination of drugs consumption, but rather at the reduction of harm related to the unregulated use of drugs.
Harm reduction policies have had beneficial consequences for the health and safety of drugs consumers and society as a whole. Needle exchange programmes, increased access to treatments that are not based on abstinence and low threshold care facilities have saved people’s lives and improved the quality of their lives.
However, these policies have their limits. As long as they are carried out in a legislative framework that prohibits drugs, this approach cannot be implemented in a consistent manner. In spite of these policies, drugs producers and consumers continue to operate in an illegal environment. As long as law enforcement remains the basis of drugs policies, these are likely to increase rather than reduce the harms.
Meanwhile, the policies aimed at reducing the cultivation of illegal plants in developing countries have led to a waste of financial resources without producing any positive results for the involved peasant population. Actually, in South America, during the past 9 years, the international community has invested thousands of millions of dollars in the strategy of forced eradication, which has reduced coca leaf production with 2,98 %.
The environmental consequences of this approach have been disastrous. In Colombia alone, 200.000 hectares have been fumigated with chemical herbicides in the period between 1994 and 2001. In spite of this, the area cultivated with illicit plants has been multiplied four times (from 45.000 to 165.000 hectares). Collaterally, new areas have been planted in virgin parts of the Amazon forest and in mountain areas, which has increased environmental damage.
The necessity of an open debate regarding this system is obvious. And Europe, a place where traditionally humanitarian values have been integrated in the policy-making process, can play a major role in this process. Current conditions provide an excellent opportunity to evaluate different strategies implemented in Europe, compare them and draw conclusions with regards to their effectiveness. However, the official agencies created for this purpose have until now failed to do this, probably due to political reasons.
In fact, throughout the past 40 years, the public discussion on drugs has been dominated by emotions and moral judgements rather than by the evidence. As a result, present drugs policies are a massive threat to vulnerable groups, tax budgets, the credibility and integrity of authorities and the freedom of science. In order to change this, the debate on drugs policy requires a rational approach.
The present document is produced by European members of the International Coalition of NGO’s for Just and Effective Drugs Policies. This Coalition consists of more than 100 organisations of citizens who either personally or professionally are involved with the drugs phenomenon. Many of us carry the burden that current drugs policies are provoking. We share a belief that drugs policies should aim to provide dignity to all those who are deprived of it, and that this should be based on commonsense and humanity.
In this document, we put forward our suggestions to policy-makers and all other people interested in the drugs issue. Firstly, we describe the aims that, drugs policies should have in order to be just and effective. Then, we explain why the way that drugs policies are currently evaluated is inadequate, which may be one of the reasons why they have not been changed yet. Afterwards, we propose a series of indicators that should be used when evaluating drugs policies. And finally, we put forward a number of concrete steps to be taken in order to improve the situation.
We invite anyone who reads this to contact us in order to explore ways of taking this process forward together. Please check the final pages for our contact details.
II. AIMS OF JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUGS POLICIES
The aim of current drugs policies is about eliminating or reducing significantly the production and consumption of drugs. All the evidence shows that after 40 years of the “war on drugs”, authorities have failed to achieve this goal and a huge price has been paid by the citizens of many countries. Under prohibition, drugs users and producers are criminalized and marginalized, with threats to their lives and welfare.
Illegal drugs and plants, as considered by current policy, do not encompass all psychoactive and addictive substances that exist on this planet, but only a certain number of them, which were selected on cultural and historical grounds, not on the basis of scientific knowledge.
As citizens of many professions and denominations, we believe that a drugs free society would only be possible if we were willing to violate human rights grossly, as is practised daily in countries where the death penalty, tortures and extremely long sentences are applied to drugs producers, vendors and users. And even at that price, there will never be a totally drugs free society. The situation whereby drugs enter prisons, to which people are sent for violating drugs laws, is one absurd example of the failure of present policies, world-wide.
Current drugs policies are not contributing to keeping social peace or security, instead they provoke constant social alarm, keeping citizens in a state of insecurity and indecision. They drive drugs users into unsocial behaviours and truly criminal actions in order to satisfy their needs on the black markets of the world. Hence, they give themselves to this societal erosion, making prohibitionist laws a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is why we believe that the ethos of any drugs policy must accept that drugs are here to stay. Drugs use is a fact. It is our job to reduce the greater harms arising from their uneducated and uncontrolled use, and derive the greatest benefits from their responsible use. Once we accept that these are our major aims, we need to adjust the policies to those goals.
Enforcement of the law is a part of any effective drugs policy. Psychoactive substances need legal regulation, because the use of these substances brings with it substantial risks, on a sliding scale of intensity, as well as some benefits. Regulation should facilitate patterns of responsible drugs use, production and trade. Under prohibition it is actually impossible to regulate any of these.
We do not propose one specific system for legal regulation, because we think that a number of systems can be devised which will function better than prohibition. The problem is to regain national authority to devise a system that not only fits in international relations, but also in national culture and history.
The goals of just and effective drugs policies should address the following concerns.
A. Promotion of public health. This includes:
1. Adequate regulation of market conditions, including methods and points of distribution, age of purchase, price control through taxation etc.
2. Quality control from production to distribution.
3. Accurate information for every interested person, whether young or adult.
4. Promotion of the well being of drug users, including measures to prevent AIDS/HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases, access to all treatment etc.
5. Medical intervention limited in principle to voluntary referral.
In a well-functioning system of quality control and protection of youth, no special laws for drugs are necessary. The evidence shows that the large majority of users of psychoactive substances can learn to control their use, and that even some problematic users eventually manage to moderate their use, with or without treatment.
B. Protection of human rights and community safety. This includes:
1. Protection of all human rights with respect to, and encouragement of responsible attitudes towards the production or consumption of psychoactive substances. This means no discrimination on the basis of the use, non-use or possession of certain substances, and guarantees for all citizens the right to participate in the design of policies and programmes that concern them.
2. Sustainable relationships between producers and users of drugs, without intervention of unscrupulous middlemen.
3. Reduction of drugs-related crime through price control. Amnesty and compensation for harm to all non-violent offenders who have violated other laws in order to raise money to buy drugs.
4. Protection of consumer rights (reasonable prices, decent quality levels, information on products)
5. Protection of producer rights (reasonable prices, sustainable conditions for production, fair trade mechanisms)
6. Protection of vulnerable groups through sales and price control.
Each society must have the right to find its own ways for a just and compassionate drugs policy, because what works for one society may not necessarily work for another. However, all drugs policies should be based on the respect for the basic human rights as laid down in international agreements. No drugs policy may be applied at the cost of human rights.
Regulation of the market of substances that are currently illicit will undoubtedly produce unwanted effects. It is likely, for example, that it will provoke a decrease in the areas needed for the cultivation of illicit plants, which will put at risk the source of income of a major part of the population currently involved in this cultivation. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that drugs policy is implemented in the framework of a (macro-) economic and social policy that facilitates sustainable development and counters the exclusion of individuals and population groups.
III.WHY CURRENT EVALUATION OF DRUGS POLICIES IS INADEQUATE
Current drugs policies in the European geographical area have as basic aims the reduction of demand and supply of drugs, in order to protect public health and increase community safety. When evaluating drugs policies, we should look at how we address problems in these two fields. The conclusions of this evaluation should then allow improvements in the decision-making process, increasing the effectiveness of future programs.
The current evaluation system of drugs policies in Europe does not measure the cost/effectiveness of current policies. It also ignores or minimises the negative effects on public health and community safety. Meanwhile, the evidence is that the overemphasis on law enforcement to reduce demand and supply causes problems in these two areas.
At present, drugs policies provoke dangerous stages for drugs consumption, as the fact that drugs are illegal worsens the life conditions and consumption patterns of users. The lack of control over the composition and quality of drugs generates health problems – the spread of HIV, Hepatitis etc. Besides, the illegal status of drugs imposes limitations on the development of harm reduction programs in substitution programs, in outreach strategies, in specific contexts such as prisons, in prevention programs.
Drugs policies also cause damage to community safety, and lead to human rights violations. The lack of regulation of the drugs market leads to property crime, disproportionate burden on resource allocation in the criminal justice system, violence, public nuisance etc. Prohibitionist laws affect directly the liberty of the citizen and violate the Human Rights of hundreds of millions of persons all over the world. They serve to justify a moral position that affects the free expression of the individual, his free movement, dignity and normal life. Meanwhile, these laws favour the perversion of the course of justice, corruption at many levels, manipulation of policies and the exploitation of human beings.
Evaluators of current drugs policies do not take these effects into account. They tend to look at the effect of demand or supply reduction policies, and make a fragmented analysis of the cycle: policies – objectives – results, without relating specific problems to the implementation of control strategies.
For example, in its 2000 Annual Report, the Agency in charge of evaluating drugs policies in Europe, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drugs Addiction (EMCDDA), describes the phenomenon of problematic drugs use as “intravenous or long duration/regular use of opiates, cocaine and/or amphetamines”. This definition shows that evaluations are not concerned about identifying problems, seeking instead to identify “deviant” behaviours. Long-term drugs use or the route of administration, in themselves, say nothing about the quality of life of those involved.
Furthermore, EMCDDA has done very little to compare the results of the different local and/or national policies that are implemented in Europe. Therefore the opportunity to adapt successful interventions from one country to another is lost and the significance of national debates on drugs policies is limited.
IV.HOW TO EVALUATE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF DRUGS POLICIES
In order to be effective, policies first of all need a clear objective. Once the objective of the policy is agreed upon, indicators can be developed. With these indicators we can then measure the effectiveness of the policy.
The effectiveness of a drugs policy aimed at attaining a drugs free society for instance, can be measured by prevalence of drugs use amongst the population. But if our proposals were adopted for drugs policies, they would need to be evaluated in a different way. For policies that accept drugs as a part of life but intend to reduce the harm related to them, prevalence of drugs use as such is of less importance. It is more relevant to measure the effectiveness of those policies using the following indicators:
The proportion of ‘problematic use’ among the totality of use.
This very important indicator tells us how drugs and drugs users are integrated in society. The key here lies in defining the term ‘problematic use’. In our view, drugs use is problematic if it is a key factor in reducing the quality of life of users and/or the communities they live in. Illegality, and therefore exclusion from society, significantly increases problems for users and their communities. In a situation where drugs are legal, many of these problems will disappear. Some will continue to exist, and it is important to ensure that their proportion remains comparatively small in relation to the entire phenomenon of drugs use.
Price/quality ratio of substances.
It is the government’s task to ensure consumer rights and implement quality control of products intended for human consumption. A lot of problems that are usually attributed to the use of drugs, are actually caused by their high prices. In our view this is far easier accomplished under a policy that accepts drugs use as an inevitable part of modern society. The better the ratio (good quality for a fair price), the better the policy. This would considerably reduce many problems, like drugs related property crime, prostitution, unsafe use of adulterated substances etc.
Integration of drugs users in society.
Drugs policy can reduce harm by promoting the integration of drugs users in society. Several indicators can be used here, such as: the financial situation of users, the level of unemployment, homelessness, involuntary treatment and imprisonment among users, the perception of drugs use among the general population etc.
Transformation of life conditions in producing areas.
Drugs policy should promote the creation of adequate environmental and economic conditions for drugs production and trade. It should be complemented by a development policy in the areas where illicit plants are cultivated. Several indicators can be used here, such as income per head, integration in the local, national or international market economy, the existence of basic conditions that guarantee sustainable production etc.
Participation of citizens in the design and implementation of drugs policies.
The more accepted drugs policies are by those directly involved (consumers and producers), the better. Therefore, drugs policy needs to be designed and implemented with them, not without or against them. A concrete indicator should be the existence of political bodies responsible for drugs policies where producers and users are full members. Another should be the existence of special human rights clauses in law enforcement policies and legislation concerning drugs.
V. FUTURE STEPS
Forty years ago, when the first of the three UN drugs treaties came into force, the drugs phenomenon was an issue of individual conscience and behaviour – of relatively minor importance to society. Since then it has become a catastrophic social issue (growing in scope and dimension) in which policies have become increasingly misguided.
It seems unavoidable to change the approach of the present international drugs treaties – if not by abolishing them all together – at least by restoring for the signatory states a right to experiment with new solutions, and to exercise their freedom to choose among them.
For it is clear that both the wording and the dominant ideology of the present conventions in the field of drugs reveal themselves more and more as obstacles to the development of new practices and policies necessary to face drugs-related problems. It is therefore necessary to submit the underlying premises of, and the results obtained by these treaties, to an evaluation and re-examination.
Finally, there are also concrete steps that European authorities and policy-makers can make in order to improve the situation under present circumstances.
Carry out an independent evaluation on the basis of a reconsideration of priorities for drugs policies. This evaluation should focus on all phases of the chain that involve both production, trade and consumption of drugs, and measure the effects of current policies on public health, human and civil rights, community safety, environment etc.
Establish consistent, regular and meaningful dialogue with NGOs and citizens associations that are working in the field of drugs production and consumption
Share information among regions and countries in order to exchange experiences on good practice.