Dear friends and members,
It’s been five years since the sudden and unexpected passing of Joep. He will always be in our hearts and remain an inspiration in our lives.
We invite you to read the last bulletin he wrote in February 2016 entitled “Grow Your Freedom”:
The first step to understand how drug policy works is to understand how policy works. Most people who live close to either drug consumers, traffickers, or producers do not understand how policy works. They understand the sense of urgency, the terrible harm that can be avoided if the legal framework applying to those people would improve today. When these people are placed in high-level meetings of diplomats where UN Conventions on drugs are discussed – such as UNGASS 2016 – they are entering a world where people hate the word ‘urgency’. Most people coming to these meetings consider them as a career opportunity, and being seen to promote drastic changes is not the best way to improve your perspectives.
Drug policy reform is not something the government will do for you.
Once in a while though, an exception confirms the rule. Twenty-five years ago, in the middle of the war against the cocaine cartels in Colombia and the outbreak of AIDS in Europe, French President François Mitterand made an urgent call for the development of a European policy on drugs that would be different from the US ‘war on drugs’ approach. Upon his initiative, the European Commission created a European Scientific Institute to study the drug phenomenon and a European NGO network to channel the opinions of citizens whose lives were affected by drug policies. In 1993 both EMCDDA and ENCOD saw the light of day, but already a few years later the dream of developing an evidence based drug policy in Europe was shattered to pieces.
The EMCDDA turned out to be ruled by technocrats instead of scientists. As a result, it started to produce statistics on seized kilogrammes, rough estimates on numbers of consumers and euros spent, but until today did not bring any new insight into the relationship between human beings and psychoactive substances. ENCOD was kicked out as a bastard child once it became clear what kind of message it was expressing, struggled for years in order to re-establish some kind of dialogue with EU authorities on drug policies, succeeded in those efforts in 2007, only to find out that the real purpose of this so-called ‘Civil Society Forum’ was to actually avoid any meaningful dialogue to take place.
For UNGASS 2016, the same scenario is played out. The United Nations pretend to hear the voice of citizens affected by drug policies with the creation of a so-called Civil Society Task Force, whose objective is to “ensure a comprehensive, structured, meaningful and balanced participation of Civil Society during the UNGASS process.” That is a diplomatic way of saying there will be an exchange between civil servants working for governments and UN bodies and some academics pretending to represent citizens whose opinions have never been asked. Both merge into a grey mass that finally is just interested in things to remain as they are.
At summits like UNGASS, sticking to the status quo is part of the dress code. Words are polished, infrastructures are impressive and lunches are as good as free. As time goes by, it becomes increasingly harder for the people who actively participate in these summits to produce a declaration that can be taken seriously by people who are aware of the daily problems caused by drug policies, among them many local and regional authorities. In the drug debate on a local level, people look for solutions. On the international level, people look for ways to maintain the problem. We still want to be part of the show next time!
A quarter of a century after Mitterand it is now each and every serious observer of drug policies who knows that 100 years of drug prohibition have failed completely to protect anyone from whatever harm could relate to drugs. Despite such obvious truth the voices of those who are hardest hit by that failure are still being marginalized. In the meantime, it seems some people found out how to open small holes in the wall of prohibition, but instead of making them wide enough for everyone, are enjoying life on the other end and even dedicate themselves to refill the hole they just came through.
While the efforts of European citizens to unmask the Great Lie of Drug Prohibition were successfully crushed by bureaucrats, in the United States the referendum system enabled those with huge fortunes to actually pay for legal change. The only thing they needed to do is set up an effective campaign team and approach voters long and persistently enough to make them support a certain proposition. This democratic tool made it possible until today to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes in 23 and for all purposes in 5 states. A cannabis consumer’s paradise in the making, you might think. But the reality is more complicated.
Drug policy reform is not something the rich and famous will do for you.
If legal change is something that can be bought, the next thing that happens is what Ethan Nadelmann, one of the stars of the global drug policy reform movement, calls the ‘Budweiserization’ – or exaggerated commercialization – of the drug market. Nadelmann referred to the events in the US state of Ohio, where a small group of private investors spent 25 million dollars in a campaign to pass a legal proposition that would have given them the monopoly to produce and distribute cannabis in the state, thus creating a first legal cannabis oligarchy.
The campaign in Ohio failed to convince voters. But news from other states where propositions to legalise cannabis did pass is not exactly promising either. Although private enterprise has jumped on the legal cannabis market, prices continue to be relatively high: in Colorado, cannabis is sold in dispensaries for 20 USD / gramme. The only other legal option people have is to grow at home. Of the 6 plants they are allowed to have, only 3 may be in the flowering phase, which is impossible for outdoor and quite difficult for indoor growers. Besides purchasing seeds and clones is illegal or very complicated.
In capitalism, big fish rule the game, not small ones. Undoubtedly, the efforts of some small fish to set up a private cannabis industry in the US are closely monitored by the real big investors on the agro-industrial and pharmaceutical market such as Monsanto, Bayer and their ilk. If the small ones are successful, the big fish will not hesitate. Their goal is not to reform drug policies for the good of the people or the earth, but to ensure that whatever happens in the drug debate it is good for (their) business. They either want to conquer the world with currently illegal drugs once it will be possible to sell them like cigarettes or – if they remain prohibited – invent synthetic products that imitate their effects.
The consequences of efforts to copy nature came to light in a tragic way in France when 1 person died and 5 others were seriously wounded during a drug trial in January. The Biotrial company was testing a new painkiller compound aimed at the endocannabinoid system, the body’s own system which also interacts with e.g. cannabis. While one scientific study after the other proves that adding natural cannabis to the endocannabinoid system can have many positive effects for the body and mind, the efforts to invent an artificial substitute that can be easier commercialised continue to fail. Big Pharma meets Karma.
The original and time-honored function of taking psychoactive substances is to enable people to obtain a deeper connection to themselves, other people, or the universe. The nature of this connection is spiritual, not economic. Whatever is done by others (such as the government or private middlemen) to limit or manipulate that very personal connection for economic purposes is doomed to fail and return to them like a boomerang. Money has a spirit as well, and in general, it is not a very good one.
Drug policy reform is something you should do for yourself and for society as a whole
All those who are involved in the world of drugs (consumers, producers and distributors) need a legal framework that is based on the protection against harm and the defense of individual rights. Therefore, none of the efforts to reform drug policy will be meaningful if they do not include the right of every adult human being to (home-)grow plants for personal consumption.
Every citizen can become involved in a campaign to change drug policies by promoting an alternative to both prohibition and the illegal market based on home-growing and not-for-profit distribution. Adults living in a European country who desire to grow cannabis (or any other controlled plant) for these purposes can invoke European conventions and the EU Constitution to legitimize the concept. ENCOD can strengthen these initiatives in various ways, with information and contacts to technical advice on how to grow, harvest, and distribute in a responsible and safe way, and to local activist networks who may support. ENCOD members who encounter legal problems while growing for personal use will be able to receive all political and moral support to reduce the impact of the consequences (such as high lawyer costs).
Now that years have passed during which people have employed millions of words to convince authorities of the utter madness that their drug policies are bringing the world into, it is time for the plants themselves to become actors in the debate. By growing plants for personal use we can demonstrate that it is possible to regulate the drug market in a manner that ensures transparency, accountability, honesty, sustainability, and health. With or without the consent of the United Nations.
By Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)