Introduction to the afternoon session of the public hearing on the Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007
by Fredrick Polak, ENCOD
Before the start of this hearing, ENCOD distributed a compilation of the conclusions that we consider most important from the Reuter-Trautmann Report.
This morning we heard opinions that supported, and opinions that contradicted those conclusions.
I will comment on a few of the conclusions of the report. I accept the other conclusions, which I sum up in these words:
Drug policy based on prohibition has done enormous harm and little, if any, good.
Our reason for taking part in the organization of this hearing is that we miss a specific conclusion that we think is the most important one:
It is highly urgent to start discussing and studying alternative legal regulatory regimes.
I expect that this essential, but absent conclusion will be discussed later today.
Another important conclusion is that the quality of the data is not sufficient to warrant comparisons between countries. We say that this has been known from the beginning. It is general knowledge as well that the EU member states never gave a high priority to improve the quality of these data.
What is striking about this argument, the lack of sufficient high quality scientific evidence, is that it is never used when harsher policies are introduced.
Harsher policing, longer incarceration, urine testing in schools and at work places are introduced with little or no discussion, and without even the demand for scientific research. On the other hand, when a new harm reduction method is proposed to be introduced as regular treatment, after it has been successfully tested, strong opposition is voiced because of insufficient scientific proof. The demands that are made on this kind of research are extraordinary.
The same happens at the larger scale of global drug policy. The whole so-called drug control system has been established and spread over the globe without evidence of actual success, but with overwhelming evidence of harm to people and to societies, and of violations of the human and moral rights of consumers.
The fact that the large majority of users of criminalized drugs are enjoying their drug or drugs in a non-problematic way is implicit in the report, and we support the conclusion that more research is needed not only on addicts, but also on the use patterns of non-problematic users, and on the influence of different sorts of control on users and on use patterns.
“Drug control” (the official name of the war on drugs) is basically a moral issue, it is the everlasting fight between good and evil. In that view there is no need for a scientific analysis or evaluation, and even less for a cost-benefit assessment.
We should not forget that there never was any scientific basis for prohibition. And before the report that we are discussing today, there never was an independent evaluation of the effects of drug prohibition.
This huge and far-reaching project should be seen for what it is: an irresponsible socio-medical experiment, forced on the world population.
It is understandable that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime can live very well without an evaluation. UNODC produces its own World Drug Report and, it must be admitted, at times the debate on prohibition versus legal regulation, or legalization, figures prominently in it. In the last WDR 2009, Mr. Costa, Director of UNODC, discussed this issue in his preface. Already the term he used was interesting: “the repeal debate”.
Repeal is the word that was used for the end of federal alcohol prohibition in the USA in 1933. Legalization was not at issue at the federal level, and the repeal of prohibition did no more than reinstate the right of the individual states to devise their own policy. Some states choose for legal regulation, others left prohibition in place, sometimes for many years.
The term “repeal” is interesting because it indicates the best way to let global drug prohibition come to an end. What the world needs, and what the EU needs is not a new centralist global drug policy, but the right of individual countries to devise their own drug policy.
The European Commission should be congratulated for having provided the research to establish these conclusions. It should now act upon this knowledge and open the discussion on alternative control systems.
Failure to do this would be negligent, and after much thought we concluded that it is worse, inaction on alternative policy options must even be considered equal to criminal negligence. Drug policy does not need to be cruel, unjust and harmful. It can be just, effective, and beneficial.
The international drug conventions form the basis of the EU drug policy, so we should be aware of developments in Vienna. The year between the CND-meetings of 2008 and 2009 was needed to prepare a more presentable report on the 10 years that were supposed to put us all on the road to a “drug free world”.
This year was named the Year of Reflection. Indeed, reflection would not have been a bad idea, considering that there has been so little of it in the last decades. In reality the Year of Reflection was misused, or abused, for political bickering. For many months, the preparatory group was fighting about Harm Reduction and the absence of respect for Human Rights in the way many countries conduct the war on drugs.
In this way, much time was lost on issues that could be relatively easy and obvious. Clinging to outmoded moral objections, prohibitionists succeeded in preventing the debate to move to what should be the central question: Are we on the right track? The decisive question is not how toxic or addictive a drug is, but which system works best. Which regulatory system is best capable of diminishing the health risks that are linked to the use of the criminalized substances. This question is taboo in the world of “global drug control”. Therefore, we urge everyone to make sure that the issue of alternative forms of regulation will be on the agenda for the coming years.
In a recent article called “Making Sense of Drug Regulation: A Theory of Law for Drug Control Policy“, Kimani Paul-Emile (Fordham University School of Law, Dec. 2009) writes that the weight of scientific evidence in the decision-making process at the UN is low. They advise drug law reformers not to base their campaigns so strongly on the scientific evidence, but to focus more on framing the issues.
The problem is that the public image of “drugs” has been framed in the last century in such a way that it is dominated by crime and disease. Paul-Emile describes how this protected alcohol and cigarettes, and facilitated the criminalization of other intoxicants, mostly the new and exotic ones. The association with images of crime and disease is very attractive to many people, to the media and to politicians, and it will not be easy to transform this image into a more realistic appraisal of drug use and users. This double negative image of drugs gives politicians the opportunity to gain votes by being tough on drugs and by portraying themselves as protectors against the evil (or the scourge) of drugs.
In reality, as we said in the press release, the conclusion of the Reuter-Trautmann Report is correct: drug policy based on prohibition has done much harm and little, if any, good. Members of ENCOD reached this conclusion many years ago: Prohibition is unjust, ineffective and inhumane.
I repeat that the European Commission must be congratulated for having provided the research to establish these conclusions. It should now act upon this knowledge. Failure to do so would be equal to criminal negligence.