|Week Online: You have
just been released from jail in England. Can you tell us why you
went to jail?
Marco Cappato: It was
for an act of civil disobedience in Stockport, part of greater Manchester.
My action was part of a series of arrests in the Manchester area, beginning
with that of Colin Davies, who was imprisoned for opening a Dutch-style
coffee shop in England. He worked with medical cannabis patients
in particular, so we held demonstrations in his support. English
MEP Chris Davies then was arrested in an act of civil disobedience, and
I expressed my support by also being arrested. I went to the police
station in Stockport with a small quantity of cannabis and turned myself
in. I have paid over $2,000 in court costs because I did not want
to burden British taxpayers, but I refused as a matter of principle to
pay the fine. It was a nonviolent response to an unjust law.
When I went to court, appearing before three judges, my attorney read a
statement in which I explained the issue of over-incarceration related
to the drug laws and also raised the issue of the United Nations criticizing
the United Kingdom for its drug policies. I also argued the need
for the UK to keep the promise its government made almost two years ago
to reclassify cannabis. I told them that for all those reasons, and
because I am a nonviolent activist whose duty it is to disobey unjust laws,
I would not pay the fine. The judges then adjourned to their chambers,
and after a few minutes a pair of policemen came out and handcuffed me
and took me to the Manchester Jail. It used to be known as the Strangeways
Prison. They had a famous rebellion there not too many years ago.
I was in custody for three
days in a small cell with another person. The conditions were not
very pleasant, but it was clean and everything was correct. The cell
was closed most of the time. I was in a wing for newcomers, so there
were no activities. Not a problem if you're just there three days,
but it could be tough if you spend a few months. I had the chance
to talk to fellow prisoners, as well as the police. Some police were
supportive, some were just critics. The local newspaper had a full-page
story about the action, so the prisoners could read about it, and the news
spread throughout the prison. I was able to talk to people, I had
copies of my speech, so I did some political activity inside.
WOL: You are a Member
of the European Parliament representing the Italian Radical Party, and
are an official of the Transnational Radical Party. Can you explain
to our US readers what the European Parliament does and what the TRP stands
Cappato: The European
Union (EU) is not yet a federation, but is a kind of supranational institution
with jurisdiction in lots of different matters, including police cooperation
and some drug projects, particularly rehabilitation and prevention.
The European Parliament, with 626 elected members, including 87 from Italy
and seven Italian Radicals, is the directly elected legislative assembly
of the EU and shares legislative powers within the Union with the Council
of the European Union, which represents the governments of the member states,
and the European Commission, which is the EU bureaucracy.
On many issues, such as drugs,
legislation is at the national level, but the EU has a kind of moral authority;
it can issue recommendations and resolutions, and the positions it takes
are those of the only directly elected, multi-country European legislative
body. So, the EU can exert influence that way. But it also
has budgetary powers, and with those powers you can influence some political
issues. For instance, we were able to delay for a year the disbursement
of funds from the EU budget for crop eradication-related programs in Colombia
because of the bad results of Plan Colombia.
The other power of the EU
relates to judicial and police cooperation. Here, the parliament
does not have direct power, but the EU Council is obliged to consult the
parliament and take its position into consideration. These issues
of police cooperation are important. For instance, there is a struggle
to define drug trafficking, and that definition can end up being narrow
or broad. If they adopt a broad definition, growing your own cannabis
could end up being considered drug trafficking, and national governments
would be obligated to criminalize it with a proposed minimum sentence of
two years. The Dutch are trying to block this, while the Swedes are
going for the broad definition.
The Transnational Radical
Party is a nongovernmental organization with consultative status at the
United Nations. The TRP is thus not an electoral party, but is instead
an association of citizens, parliamentarians, and members of governments
of many countries. Members of the TRP are united by the fact that
we want to use nonviolent Gandhian methods to achieve a number of concrete
goals aimed at creating a body of international instruments for respecting
individual rights, democracy, and freedom around the world. We are
involved in a number of issues, such as the death penalty and human rights
violations around the world, but anti-prohibitionism is one of one key
issues. We will participate in the meetings on the UN drug conventions
in Vienna, for example.
WOL: You are also coordinator
of Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action and a member of the International
Antiprohibitionist League (http://www.antiprohibitionist.org).
Please tell us about these two groups.
Cappato: There is no
formal link between the PAA and the IAL. PAA is an informal network
of parliamentarians, and is more of an initiative than an organization.
It is people who agree to have their names listed as being antiprohibitionist
and who want to reform the drug laws. It is an initiative that I
undertook and that I coordinate. We work not only at the level of
the citizen, but also at the parliamentary level, and PAA promotes this.
The IAL is a constituent member of the TRP.
WOL: The UN special
session on drugs is coming up in Vienna next week and the week after.
What have the TRP, the IAL, and the PAA done to prepare for Vienna, and
what to you expect to accomplish at this session?
Cappato: We've been
working hard for the past 10 months, but it is part of a continuing effort.
The TRP was there in 1998, where we spoke on behalf of many NGOs.
We had a conference in Brussels to prepare, and of course we went to Mérida
in February. In the last month, we have reinforced our activities.
We have prepared many studies and publications, some about internal UN
process and some about science, and we are doing a lot of lobbying.
The IAL will provide a report that gives a critical alternative reading
to official UN data. We are also sponsoring a resolution signed by
205 legislators calling for the adoption of a system of legal controls
over prohibited substances and the revision of the UN conventions.
Anyone can sign it, and by doing so can demonstrate that we can build not
just political lobbying but also a citizens' action on drug legalization
and anti-prohibitionism. This could increase our chances to have
both a national and an international impact on reforming the drug laws.
We've tried to combine political pressure through a nonviolent popular
movement with institutional work and scientific work. Because the
TRP has consultative status with the UN, it is invited to the sessions.
Marco Perduca, head of the IAL, will speak at the NGO forum, and MEP and
TRP member Emma Bonino, a former European commissioner, will also speak.
We will have to wait and
see what happens, but we think Vienna this year will not open the door
to reform of the international drug conventions. Still, we will make
the case for the total failure of the 1998 10-year plan for a drug-free
world, and will be positive in making the case for reform. It is
a big chance to exert public pressure and make clear to public opinion
that the current strategies do not work. The world does not end with
Vienna, and we are laying the groundwork for change. Even after Vienna,
any signatory to the conventions could present proposals for reform.
We don't have a country willing to do that yet, but we hope to have one
soon, either before Vienna or after.
What we do not want to do
is impose an ideological alternative global model to the prohibitionist
model. We don't have a magic formula that can be applied all over
the world, as is now the case with drug prohibition. We do believe
in the legal control of substances that are currently prohibited, but we
think that might be a different legal framework for cannabis or coca leaves
than for heroin or cocaine. We want to see national and even local
governments find their own pragmatic policies to deal with drug problems.
This is what we will propose in Vienna.
WOL: You have also
been traveling around the world to consult with activists and political
figures. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Cappato: We have met
with parliamentary leaders and government officials in many countries.
We usually address hearings in parliaments, but we've also met with drug
policy or foreign affairs ministries in various countries to present our
proposals. In our recent trip through Latin America, we held press
conferences and interviews with the main South American media. We
went to Mexico for Mérida, then to Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Argentina,
Uruguay and Brazil. In some places, like Colombia under Uribe, we
see a time of strong repression and reaction. In others, like Peru,
we see fluctuations. It seemed better there after Fujimori left,
but now Toledo is tightening up again. Even in Brazil, the new government
has not yet taken the opportunity to move on drug reform. We had
good meetings with ministers there, everyone was supportive and understands
that Brazil needs to decide a new policy, but the policies of Cardoso remain.
I think it is in Brazil that there is a real possibility for real reform;
it has political leadership ambitions and could be an alternative to US-style
WOL: What is your thinking
regarding whether to concentrate on drug reform at the national vs. the
Cappato: We need both,
of course. We have to face this ideological imposition of global
drug prohibition, but at the same time we have to work for reforms at the
margins at the national level. It is not just an institutional problem,
but a problem of relating to people. The campesinos in South America
-- their problem is my problem. The heroin addict who can't find
treatment or who dies of an overdose or of AIDS because we don't have harm
reduction policies -- his problem is my problem. Global drug prohibition
is a shared problem, but each society must find a pragmatic way to address
WOL: How did you get
involved in drug reform efforts?
Cappato: I was a Radical
at a young age on many issues -- human rights, the death penalty -- but
the drug issue was the first one I felt really impacted me or people I
knew. I was interested in those other issues, but the drug issue
was the thing that touched my life. I started to participate in demonstrations
with CORA (Radical Anti-Prohibitionist Coordination) and then with the
Radical Party. I saw what was happening to my friends. And
now I represent the Italian Radical Party as an MEP of the European Union.