On behalf of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, a platform of more than 150 citizens’ association from around Europe, we wish to ask your attention for the following.
Ten years ago, during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in June 1998, in New York, a political declaration was adopted mentioning two important objectives and a target date.
In her 1998 declaration, the UN General Assembly committed itself to ‘achieving significant and measurable results in the field of demand reduction’ as well as to ‘eliminating or reducing significantly the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy’ by the year 2008.
In the mean time the failure of these policies is witnessed every day by citizens, farmers living in coca and opium producing areas in South America and Asia, by people in jails, on dancefloors, in coffeeshops, in user rooms, and the many institutions fed by law enforcement of all kinds.
According to figures recently published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the annual prevalence of drug use (as percentage of population aged 15 and above) in the USA, the country with the largest investments in demand reduction has shown some increase with regards to ecstasy, opiates and cocaine. The annual prevalence of cocaine use increased from 2.6% in 2000 to 2.8 % in 2004, and we see an even larger increase in the use of cannabis , from 8,3% in 2000 to 12,6 % in 2004. With amphetamine use the same thing: from 0,9% in 2000 to 1,5% in 2004.
Drug use and drug production is increasing everywhere, not only in the USA. Considering the global production of illicit drugs, the amount of produced opium has increased from 4.346 tons in 1998 to 4.620 tons in 2005, cocaine has increased from 825 tons in 1998 to 910 tons in 2005 and cannabis from an estimated 30.000 tons in 1998 to 42.000 tons in 2005 (a third of which is produced in North America, making it by far the largest producer of cannabis for its home market).
It is obvious that the global efforts to ‘eliminate or significantly reduce drugs demand and supply’ before the 2008 deadline have not been successful. But,these efforts have caused considerable and increasing damage to human rights, public health, environment, the economy, sustainable development, the state of law and the relation between citizens and authorities across the world.
In a year from now, you will have to take an important decision. Will you ignore the past? Will you continue going the same destructive but largely ineffective road? When you meet here in this room in March 2008, you need to have some sort of a story! Your government or organisation needs to present its conclusions of the past 10 years, as well as its recommendations for the future.
Essentially you have two possibilities. You can either choose to ignore the evidence, and continue on this cruel, costly, ineffective and counterproductive affair called the War on Drugs.
Or you can start to discuss how to introduce reflection and common sense, and start to modify our petrified international drug legislation in such a way as to allow countries to start with drug policies that will be more effective in reducing the many harms of drug policy. Reducing the harms of drug use itself is a relatively small affair comparing it to reducing drug policy related harms. Together with many others, ENCOD sees prohibition related harms as many times more extensive , pervasive and destructive than drug related harms.
Global drug policy shows confusing elements. On the one hand, hundreds of millions of people around the world are a victim of drug policies. People are now killed, tortured, imprisoned, stigmatised and ruined for growing, trading or consuming substances that have accompanied mankind for thousands of years. Even those who practice public health types of harm reduction in the drug field are criminalised in certain areas of the world.
On the other hand, ‘harm reduction’ has been embraced by many local and regional authorities as an effective approach to the most urgent health problems related to drug use. Harm reduction measures depart from the principle that health and safety are more important than moral judgements, but are seriously jeopardized by the burocratic frame work that manages and interprets the UN Treaties.
In most European countries, the possession of small quantities of cannabis is no longer considered an offence. In countries where the distribution of cannabis for personal use is depenalised, such as the Netherlands, local authorities are increasingly in favour of organise a transparant circuit of cannabis cultivation, distribution and consumption by adults. Those authorities have started to understand that regulation is a way to reduce criminality and health problems, not blind prohibition.
The government of Bolivia calls for the international depenalisation of the coca leaf as a way to recognise the great nutritional, medicinal and cultural value of coca. In fact, Bolivia would have the right to repeal the UN Convention of 1961, as the prohibition of coca leaves that is included in that Convention is not based on scientific evidence. Allowing the export of tea and other benefitial coca derivates would help to substitute the dependence of coca farmers of the illegal sector with a sustainable economy based on renewable agricultural resources.
Likewise, the depenalisation of opium cultivation, allowing the use of this substance for the already existing legal purposes, could become an important option to increase living standards and human rights of people in Afghanistan, Burma and other countries.
Will Vienna 2008 mark the start of a different era in drug policy? We doubt it. What is needed is the creation of the legal and political space for local, regional and national authorities to apply policies that are not based on total prohibition.
However we see and deplore that the system of drug control -expanded and enlarged since 1910- has become a phenomenal and counterproductive obstacle in the way of innovation and harm reduction. The UN Conventions do not allow for any development and force upon the world an obsolete system of worldwide Prohibition that for alcohol has long been abandoned. Any regime change, however small, needs cooperation of almost 200 countries! This way the world has imprisoned itself inside this system, and thrown away the key.
Will Vienna 2008 be an opportunity for all those who wish to find a sensible solution to drug related problems ? Will Vienna 2008 start to end the massive damage done by drug policies, damage that is many times larger than any damage even intense drug use itself ever created?
We will be here again in one year.
On behalf of ENCOD,
Christine Kluge, Germany
Marina Impallomeni, Italy
Virginia Montañes, Spain
Farid Ghehioeuche, France
Jan van der Tas, Netherlands
Joep Oomen, Belgium