There is a specter haunting Europe's prohibitionists, and as the global movement to end drug prohibition emerges from the shadows and reaches into the institutions of the European Union, the continent's drug war extremists are raising the alarm. With at least three European conferences on ending prohibition being planned for the coming months, the hardliners at the Hassela Nordic Network (HNN), a Swedish group that supports "repressive drug policies" and is linked to prohibitionists around the globe, have gone downright hysterical.
The immediate object of HNN's ire is the recently announced "First World Convention of Antiprohibitionist Legislators," scheduled for October 15-16 at the European Parliament in Brussels. Sponsored by Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action, the newly revived International Antiprohibitionist League, and the Transnational Radical Party, the event will bring together anti-prohibitionist legislators and a select group of activists to discuss and prepare "concrete actions to demonstrate the failures of prohibition and to promote the anti-prohibition alternative in different fora," according an announcement made by conference organizers. The PAA conference is affiliated with the DRCNet-initiated campaign and conference series, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century."
"The main focus of the meeting will be the anti-prohibitionist reform of the United Nations Conventions on Narcotic Substances," TRP UN representative Marco Perduca told DRCNet. "We believe that the time has come to promote drug regulation through a reform of the UN conventions."
The UN conventions form the legal backbone of the global prohibition regime. Conference organizers are acting now to prepare for a UN review conference on drug policies set for March 2003 in Vienna. For the first time, the global drug war bureaucracy will confront organized opposition to its orthodoxy.
That prospect was too much for Hassela, which last week attempted unsuccessfully to bar the conference from using EU facilities. In its press release denouncing the conference -- issued before the conference invitation letter was officially made public -- Hassela resorted to rhetoric familiar to those who have endured similar mouthings on this side of the water. TRP head Marco Pannella is a "notorious drug legalizer," said HNN. Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Hedy d'Ancona is "ignorant," and anti-prohibitionists are "pro-drug advocates" who hope to use the prestige of the EU "to make their dirty agenda look decent."
Hassela also damned American drug law reformer Arnold Trebach, founder of the Drug Policy Foundation, who is assuming the IAL's chairmanship, for having been active in NORML and DPF, but above all for daring to suggest in his book "The Great Drug War," that "a young depressed person using a depressant like alcohol may be helped by a switch to marijuana."
Not content to merely name call, HNN aimed unloosed a blast of repressive conservatism at anyone who would listen and called on sympathetic MEPs to block the conference: "It is outrageous that an assembly representing millions of European taxpayers will be used and manipulated by a group of well-known pro-drug advocates to participate in activities aimed at promoting drug use," it fulminated. "The scourge of drugs is too serious to be handled by irresponsible individuals acting on their own behalf... HNN urges MEPs with some decency and political responsibility to make sure the European Parliament is not used to promote illegal activities. Everybody is entitled to his/her opinion on drugs, but an elected assembly, the European Parliament, should definitely NOT be used for the purposes of getting rid of UN Conventions aimed at decreasing demand and supply of drugs," HNN thundered.
But despite its bluster, when it comes to blocking the "Out from the Shadows" conference, HNN is impotent. "HNN asked the European Parliament vice-chair, Swedish conservative Charlotte Cedershioeld, to block the conference," said Perduca, "but the vice-chair cannot do anything about this matter because MEPs are free to organize whatever they want inside Parliament."
Still, said Perduca, Hassela is a determined (if somewhat dotty) and familiar foe. "I am not sure whether they knew if they could shut us down or not, but I am sure that they wanted to portray the meeting as a pro-drugs initiative, something that of course is far from being accurate," Perduca said. "They are a serious threat. In 1998, when the TRP issued a report criticizing the UN and its preparatory work for the special session on drugs of the General Assembly, this same group was able to publish a few articles in the Swedish press on our anti-prohibitionist activities portraying the European Parliament as a place where illegal groups were propagating dangerous ideas to promote drug use."
But while the Euro-drug warriors have been aroused, "Out from the Shadows" will take place as scheduled. The more than 50 legislators who are members of Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action (hailing from a dozen countries and belonging to different political backgrounds) and their friends in civil society will craft strategy for moving the global legalization movement forward in the short- and long-term.