Today is Human Rights Day. Human rights and cocaine do not seem to go hand in hand. Human rights and the regulation of cocaine do though. By promoting cocaine regulation, we don’t mean to state cocaine isn’t a dangerous drug. We only argue that prohibiting cocaine makes the drug more dangerous, on both sides of consumption as of production. Regulating cocaine puts human’s individual and collective health first, prohibition focuses merely on the elimination of a drug and has clearly failed. Here’s why we claim regulated fairtrade cocaine is a human rights issue.
The War on Drugs failed to stop the flow of drugs, as between 2009 and 2018 the worldwide amount of people consuming drugs increased by 30%, from around 200 million people in 2009 to 269 million in 2018 (UNODC, World Drug Report 2020). This implies that around 269 million people consumed an uncontrolled substance.
The repressive approach and its failed objective created a few monsters: the global spread of violence, crime, and environmental crime. ‘Interdiction efforts are linked to the spread and fragmentation of trafficking routes – a phenomenon known as the “balloon and cockroach effect.” When interdiction efforts are focused in one location, drug traffickers simply relocate. Between 1996 and 2017, the Western Hemisphere transit zone grew from 2 million to 7 million square miles, making it more difficult and costly for law enforcement to track and disrupt trafficking networks. But as trafficking spread, it triggered a host of smuggling-related collateral damages: violence, corruption, a proliferation of weapons, and extensive and rapid environmental destruction,’ says Ohio State University scientist David Wrathall in Technology Networks Informatics.
While repression causes crime to spread around the globe, it does not protect its so-called initial objective, which is public health, as it leaves a risky product in hands of uncontrollable, uncontracted actors.
Latin America is known to be severely damaged by drug crime. The trade of illegal products is extremely violent. In 2018, in Mexico alone, the homicide toll was 28,816, a 15% increase from the previous year. Europe is also facing increasing competition, diversification, and violence due to the cocaine trade. Julia Viedma, Head of Department of the Operational and Analysis Centre at Europol: “Cocaine trafficking is one of the key security concerns we are facing in the EU right now. Nearly 40% of the criminal groups active in Europe are involved in drug trafficking, and the cocaine trade generates multi-billion-euro in criminal profits.”
When looking for humane and sustainable alternatives for the War on Drugs, one must not overlook the motivations for its origins. The current drug policy is a product of racism and oppression. Not entirely surprising, because when drug policy came into being 100 years ago, racism was woven into the institutions of white rulers who were the architects of the War on Drugs policy. Opium was the first drug to be banned because it allowed the government to take over control of Chinese migrants in the US. When the War on Drugs was announced by Nixon, it could target the Civil Rights Movement and left-wing hippies, as they were an obstacle in their governing. The War on Drugs is not a war aimed at resources but at people. And especially people of color: ‘It’s destroyed lives, torn families apart, filled our jails and prisons and hijacked countless futures of black and brown youth — but that’s what it was supposed to do.’
So, if we want to regulate cocaine, how can we ensure public health and social safety? What are the conditions for regulated fairtrade cocaine that is driven by human rights?
By taking the trade out of the hands of violent criminals, one reduces the financial capital of criminals and thus weakens their power. ‘If you decide to make a demanded product illegal, then as a government you lose control over both production and consumption. As a government you lose control over production, lose control over the price, there’s no control over the processing of drug waste and no control over the wealth accumulated by criminals,’ says Dutch drug researcher Ton Nabben. ‘If you regulate a product, then as a government you are able to exert regulations to protect its citizens.’
Regulation makes it possible to control the quality of drugs, like risky drugs such as cocaine, which is beneficial for public health. When a product is illegal one can only guess the dosage, the effect, and the side effects. Ton Nabben: ‘Under the current illegal policy, as a consumer, you have to rely on your dealer.’ If drugs were regulated, pharmaceuticals and pharmacists would be able to produce and sell them, in a controlled manner, they could provide information on side effects and set a minimum age. Also, if substances are legal, scientific research is easier to conduct. Like research on the effects and side effects, or research that would develop a less addictive form of cocaine, for example in the shape of a pill.
If we regulate cocaine, we are able to ensure fair-trade production. The cultivation of coca in Colombia, for example, is often the only option of income and a method of survival for marginalized and isolated communities. But because of the illegality of growing coca, their lives are constantly at stake as they are violently threatened by both the government and narco-traffickers. By involving coca farmers in the production of coca and cocaine, you strengthen their physical, mental and financial position. ‘A few tons of cocaine a year is enough in the Netherlands. We import them directly from a cooperating producing country, such as Colombia. In doing so, we cut off an enormous amount of unnecessary, costly, and violent distribution channels,’ Damián explains.
Strengthening the position of coca farmers can easily be achieved by allowing the sale of coca products. Coca is a healthy, medicinal plant and of the same psychoactive level as coffee. Despite its nutritional and medicinal properties, coca, like cocaine, is listed on Schedule 1 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. ‘If skiing is allowed, then we should certainly be allowed to drink coca tea,’ argues Dutch journalist Thijs Roes. ‘As consumers, we could benefit enormously from products such as coca tea or flour. So open shops and cafes where you can sell coca products.’
Before proceeding to the actual regulation of cocaine, we need to learn from our mistakes regarding the sale of legal drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol. The availability of cigarettes and alcohol is being more and more restricted, but alcohol is still being commercialized and is still openly displayed in supermarkets for example. In order to ensure the health of consumers, the trade of risky products must meet a number of conditions.
For the distribution of cocaine, imagine medical-recreational pharmacies with specialized staff who provide objective advice and education. The interior of such a pharmacy should not be too appealing and thus should have a neutral appearance. After all, we are dealing with a risky product and a neutral appearance makes people aware and more cautious. ‘Less hippie than a Dutch smart shop or a coca social club and more medical,’ says Thijs.
A regulation policy should balance between availability and invisibility, in a way that consumption will not increase. The sale of cocaine should be sufficiently accessible to counteract the illicit market, but not too widespread as consumption should not be made attractive. The price of cocaine must be below that of the illegal market, but not too low, because consumption must not be encouraged. Thus, no advertising, not too many outlets, and not too visible. These thresholds are also necessary to demonstrate cocaine is a risky product.
Regulating cocaine generates income from taxes. These can be used for drug education, for example. To prevent problematic drug use, it is important to offer lessons in secondary schools about self-knowledge, awareness, and resilience, because prevention of problematic substance use partly lies in not knowing your own limits. Being resilient and self-aware are important competencies for youngsters who grow curiosity towards drugs. ‘Who am I, what do I want, and am I doing something to fit in or because I want to myself?’ Drug education should therefore not merely be focused on the effect and side effects of a certain substance.
The total ban on cocaine has turned out to be an illusion. It is thus time to take a pragmatic and constructive approach by taking cocaine off the illegal market and regulating its sale. Just like with cigarette and alcohol sales, it will be a process of trial and error. But unlike a total ban, the regulation puts human lives and environmental protection first.
This article is based on a study by Fairtrade Cocaine on how to regulate cocaine. The findings of this study were published earlier in Het Parool, a Dutch newspaper.
Article by Janneke Nijmeijer:
As an anthropology student I saw the increase of products with a more sustainable and humane production chain. Nowadays we can buy slave-free chocolate, fair-trade coffee, and slow fashion. Simultaneously I experienced the normalization of recreational drug use within my personal life. These parallel phenomena made me wonder: how fair trade is the drugs we consume? I started studying the consequences of cocaine trade for societies that are involved in the production chain. The crime, violence, corruption, and ecological destruction that derive from the War on Drugs-policy motivated me to rethink the global vision on tackling the cocaine trade. As consumption is here to stay, why shouldn’t we consider fair trade drugs? If u would like to have more information about the foundation and its goals, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com.
Visit http://fairtradecoke.org/ for more information!