Eyes on the Prize: European Drug Reformers Call for Legalization, Target Global Prohibition Regime -- Brussels Confab Focuses on UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 3/30/01

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Drug reform groups from all over the continent gathered in Brussels, Belgium, from March 23rd through 26th to mark the 40th anniversary of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and to wish it an untimely demise. Organized under the auspices of the European NGO Council on Drugs (http://www.encod.net) and the International Coalition for a Just and Effective Drugs Policy, a grouping of 127 drug reform and harm reduction organizations from 27 countries, the European reformers homed in on the Single Convention and its associated treaties (http://www.undcp.org/un_treaties_and_resolutions.html) as "the basic principle for drugs policy of almost all countries in the world."

The UN Single Convention and its associated treaties forms the international legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. Just as in the United States, where individual states which desire to change their drug laws must do so in a manner that does not conflict with federal law, so in the global system, individual countries which might wish to legalize marijuana, for instance, are constrained by the regime's ban on such strategies.

The UN bodies that constitute the global prohibition bureaucracy, including the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the Center for International Crime Prevention (CICP), the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, have long acted as virtual rubber-stamps for drug policy hard-liners, particularly those representing the US government.

In a post-conference statement, the groups found the Single Convention wanting and called for an end to prohibition. "Current policy is extremely harmful to public health and a violation of human rights at a huge financial cost," read the joint statement. "Today's knowledge calls for radical change. Governments should take on the responsibility of regulating the drugs situation. To avoid further unnecessary human suffering and economic loss, decriminalization of both production and consumption of drugs is needed."

The conferees reached three general conclusions: First, that policies aimed at a drug-free world cause more damage to society in general than drugs themselves. Second, that Europe with its heritage of humanitarian values, should begin to develop a different policy, but that the Single Convention stands in the way. "There is no willingness to debate whether this strategy actually works," said the conferees. "Neither has there been a serious evaluation of its effectiveness."

Finally, the conference agreed that drug policy should be premised on two basic principles: public health and the respect for human and civil rights.

"In our view, drug consumption should be accepted as a part of life," they wrote. "In order to reduce eventual harm related to it, drug production, trade, and consumption should be regulated."

The International Coalition is acting on the conference's conclusions. According to its statement, the umbrella organization is preparing an international conference at the European Parliament to educate delegates, members of the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers and pressure them to undertake "a serious, independent, and thorough evaluation" of the Single Convention and the global prohibition regime.

Participants at the conference understand that altering the global regime is a long-term strategy, but argue that it is critical to unraveling the war on drugs.

Job Joris Arnold, coordinator of the Drug Users Advocacy Group of Amsterdam, told DRCNet that the global regime thwarts forward movement in his country, notorious in the US as a soft-drug haven. "Dutch officials always tell me they would be happy to take decriminalization of drugs much further if it wasn't for foreign pressure, mainly US pressure," he wrote. "All they are aware of here is that we have a bad reputation in the world when it comes to drugs and that Holland should best lay low."

For Andria Ethimiou-Mordaunt, editor of the Users' Voice in London, the Single Convention creates a global environment of demonization of drugs and drug users. "One of the most pernicious things about it is that it is enforced over so many countries, many of whom don't really know what they are doing or saying -- world leaders who have not the slightest bit of expertise in drug policy arenas," she told DRCNet.

Joep Oomen is coordinator for ENCOD. According to Oomen, the International Coalition's strategy is carefully modulated and continental in scope.

"Achievements in individual countries can lead to recognition of the effectiveness of alternative drug policies in other countries as well," he told DRCNet. "However, major political changes in Europe are not expected to happen until a serious debate takes place on a European level."

"Our long-term strategy is to obtain policies that are no longer based on the drug-free society model," wrote Oomen. "That is the most important goal. If Europe decides to implement these policies, the UN conventions will have to be rewritten. But that will only happen if sufficient pressure from civil society changes the attitudes of other decisive actors, such as the governments of the United States and Australia."

Oomen also sketched out a European path. "The first step is to engage the European Parliament in an effort to measure current policies' effectiveness. If that study is done well enough, we might have the evidence to propose revisions in drug policies, supported by a majority of the European Parliament," he wrote. From there, the next step will be to convince the European Union and the European Commission, which can go to the UN.

"The European Parliament has no status with the UN, but the European Commission does," Oomen told DRCNet.

Gerard Leblond Blanche of White Line, a French organization defending the rights of drug users, also emphasized the necessity of a pan-European approach. Because there is a strong prohibitionist impulse in Europe, which makes it difficult for individual politicians or countries to confront this "hellish and complex" problem, Blanche told DRCNet, White Line is committed to a strategy of engagement between civil society and the political class in a joint drug reform effort on a continental level.

"In Brussels, White Line resolutely defended a strategy of engagement, not only for the organization of a European summit on the theme, but more so for a true parliamentary inquiry charged with establishing the exponentially growing damage resulting from global prohibition."

The conference participants contacted by DRCNet almost universally expressed great interest in events in the US and urged that activists on both sides of the water forge stronger links.

But not everyone. Some seem a bit irritated with neanderthal policies emanating from Washington and the wars they bring to producer countries. Colombia was mentioned several times. Astrid Forschner of JES Rhein-Main (Junkies, Ex-Junkies, and Solidarity People) in Frankfort told DRCNet that US citizens can very loudly say "no" to injustice and inhumanity, but that when it comes to US drug policy, "as a nation they are just apes trying to tell others to be apes, too."

In one last other indication that things are different on the other side of the Atlantic, Job Joris Arnold of the Amsterdam drug users advocacy group could not resist reporting on one recent event in his town. "Junkies threw a farewell party for their departing favorite police officer last week. He had taken up their cause in the media, despite orders from his superiors."

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Issue #179, 3/30/01 Editorial: Medical Marijuana Patients Shouldn't Have to Go to the Supreme Court | Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Oakland Cannabis Buyers Co-op Case, State Medical Marijuana Laws Will Stand Regardless | Interview: Alan Bock on Medical Marijuana in California | Eyes on the Prize: European Drug Reformers Call for Legalization, Target Global Prohibition Regime -- Brussels Confab Focuses on UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs | Mexico: Chihuahua Governor Adds Voice to Legalization Chorus, Extends Rhetorical Hand Across Border to Gov. Johnson | In California, the Medical Marijuana Struggle Grinds On | DEA Denies Marijuana Rescheduling Petition -- Petitioners Promise Appeal, Question Timing | Kampia vs. the Inquisition: House Republicans Rake Reformer Over the Coals | High School Drug Tests Barred Again, This Time in Oklahoma -- Divided US Circuit Court Decisions Herald Eventual Supreme Court Resolution | OpenTheCan.org: November Coalition Label Campaign | Kentucky Governor Signs Industrial Hemp Bill | Hemp and Medical Marijuana Initiatives Gear-Up in South Dakota, State Legislature is Hopeless | Calling All Spanish Speakers: Volunteers Needed to Proof "DRCNet en Español" | Harm Reduction Coalition's Latest Communication Now Available, Newsletter Provides Insights, Questions | The Reformer's Calendar | Errata
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