Antiprohibitionist drug reformers from both sides of the Atlantic met at European Union headquarters in Brussels the week before last (October 15-16) to compare experiences and plot strategy for an effort to end the global prohibition regime. The gathering was sponsored by Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action (PAA), a political network spearheaded by Members of the European Parliament Marco Cappato (Italy, Transnational Radical Party) and Chris Davies (England, Liberal Democrat), with the Transnational Radical Party (TRP) and the TRP-sponsored International Antiprohibitionist League (IAL), an organization that was active early in the 1990s and which was newly-reformed for the occasion.
The conference brought together some 65 activists and parliamentarians, with a US delegation including DRCNet's Dave Borden, California NORML's Dale Gieringer, Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Carolyn Lunman of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Prof. Arnold Trebach, newly installed as leader of the IAL. Also attending were two Costa Ricans, including Carlos Herrera, Member of Parliament from Costa Rica, of the party Movimiento Libertario.
"This conference was designed to open and debate and discussion about reforming drug policy in the international institutions," said TRP Euro MP Marco Cappato, referring to the United Nations' anti-drug bureaucracy, as he opened the conference. "We believe it is fundamental to prevent international institutions from becoming merely a neutral forum where international agreements are perceived as something carved in stone and unchangeable, and only national officials have a voice in managing these anti-drug programs. We are asking that these international institutions get involved in the political issues of drugs, how these substances are dealt with," he said. "Our approach is explicitly partisan -- we are looking at ways to reform these international institutions. At the end of these two days, I hope we will have more efficient instruments to carry out our work on each of our own battlefronts." Cappato and fellow participants are looking toward Vienna, where the United Nation's next major drug summit will convene this April.
At a minimum, attendees had the opportunity come away with a heightened understanding of the global drug policy situation. They heard from highly placed drug experts such as Liliana Brykman of the European Commission's Justice and Domestic Affairs Committee, Georges Estievenart, the executive director of the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, Lev Timofeev, director of the Center for Research on Extralegal Economic Systems in Moscow, Jan van der Tas, former Netherlands ambassador to Germany, now an activist with the Netherlands Drug Policy Foundation, and many others.
"If the Americans, with their liberal political system, cannot change their drug laws, what can we do in Russia?" asked Timofeev. "In both our countries there is a peculiarity of public opinion and consciousness, a moral repressiveness, when we speak about drugs. How do we deal with the people who are misled, who cannot understand the essence of the problem? We must teach them. We must reach out, educate, use the media," he told the audience.
Attendees also heard number of European MPs and MEPs in attendance, though concurrent retreats by a number of political parties reduced the number of PAA members who could attend. A number of members of governmental establishments were also given the opportunity to present information but also their institutions' party lines.
Among this number were Brykman as well as the Colombian ambassador to Belgium, Roberta Arenas Bonilla. "If we analyze drug prohibition in terms of the results achieved in terms of supply and demand, it is clear it has failed," Bonilla said. "We lack any follow-up to track results, suggest changes, and look for new actions. The reason drug trafficking exists is because it is a highly lucrative business. The profit margin is so high it has encouraged citizens of many rich and poor countries alike to create networks to exploit this business. We have created a huge international network that has created huge damage across the globe," Bonilla noted. "Prohibition has had no impact in stopping drug use."
But while Bonilla advocated an "integrated and comprehensive" approach to drug problems, his was an essentially repressive position. "We need an approach based on dismantling components of this business in an integrated strategy to go after everything related to supply, demand, trafficking, and related crimes," he argued. But Bonilla's was a very lonely position at this conference, as speaker after speaker unraveled the failures of prohibition and called for a new path.
It was something new for the Americans. "I was really honored to be to invited to an event at the European Union," said California NORML's Gieringer, who addressed the conference about medical marijuana in the US. "It was amazing to be in the seat of power, to have use of their facilities, their translators. Everyone there seemed really committed to a major long-term project of revising the UN conventions to legalize drugs. We may not think about the conventions too much in the US, but the Europeans are already bumping up against them. Ask the Dutch."
Gieringer told DRCNet that the return of Arnold Trebach to head the IAL was an especially encouraging sign. "He's not a European, and to me, that indicates a real interest in stepping beyond the European orbit. They're ready to form a worldwide coalition," he said. "That is a task that must be met, and now is the time to begin."
DRCNet executive director David Borden, who also addressed the conference, said the event was successful in bringing together a range of political parties, academics and NGOs to work on a common goal of ending drug prohibition. Borden said he took the opportunity while expressing support for a campaign aiming at the conventions to also urge participants to take care to do so in the context of the larger goal. "The conventions are a major obstacle to societies wanting to move toward legalization," said Borden, "but they are only one obstacle. National politics is still the primary issue in most countries, and strong economic and diplomatic pressure, particularly from the US, feeds into that. And should we be focusing primarily on the conventions when it is virtually certain that Vienna will see no official movement on the issue?"
"We think the conference went very well," said Marco Perduca, executive director of the IAL and president of the TRP's General Council. "We were able for the first time to have people coming from different regions to concentrate on a couple of key topics," he told DRCNet. "We saw many national examples of how prohibition doesn't work, and we found common ground not only at the national level but also at the level of opening debate on the need to reform the UN conventions."
The IAL, the TRP, and their allies come out of the conference with several concrete initiatives underway. Members of Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action (PAA) have agreed to introduce resolutions in their respective countries calling on their governments to "initiate a process of revision of the UN Conventions on the occasion of the April 2003 Vienna mid-term review conference on UN drugs policies, in order to repeal or amend the 1961 and 1971 Conventions, with the aim of re-classifying substances and providing for other uses of drugs than only for medical and scientific purposes to be legal, and to repeal the 1988 Convention."
Also, said Perduca, IAL president Arnold Trebach will lead a team of experts to produce a counterweight to the UN's annual drug reports. "This will be a counter-report, designed to provide the real data on consumption, production and distribution that the UN tries to hide," he explained.
And the Brussels conference was only the first in what is an as yet undetermined number of international antiprohibitionist conferences to follow, starting with DRCNet's "Out of the Shadows: Ending Prohibition in the 21st Century" conference set for Mérida, Mexico in February. Mexico will chair the ministerial meetings for the next annual UN anti-drug conference in Vienna in April.
"Brussels was a good organizing step, but a lot more work remains to be done," said Borden. "Mérida is next on the agenda. DRCNet is organizing that conference with help from Narco News, the Mexican newspaper Por Esto!, and the major university in Mérida," he explained. "We will be flying in advocates from throughout Latin America, and we hope they will go on to set the issue on fire in the region."
And more global coalition building is coming after that, said Borden. "There will be a series of 'Out from the Shadows' conferences, including Europe, Canada, the US, and maybe Australia or New Zealand -- not conferences for their own sake, but as focal points for building a global "coalition of coalitions" opposing drug prohibition, and to show the world how isolated the US has become on this issue from its partners in the free world, having much more in common with the dictatorships and pseudo-democracies in the un-free."
Not all was high seriousness at the Brussels conference. Comic relief came courtesy of a coalition of nine anti-drug organizations, most of them Swedish, who distributed a letter to all MEPs accusing the Radicals of "pushing drugs" in the European Union headquarters and arguing that the EU shouldn't be used to undermine international agreements. "That's just silly," said Borden. "This is the democratic process at work." Other flyers condemning the conference included one from a purported organization of ex-addicts with no provided contact information, and a ministry.
Portuguese MP Paulo Casaca, however, was not assumed. Casaca gave an impassioned speech in which he decried the totalitarian mindset of the letter's authors and praised the conference's organizers for taking on the issue.
Three Swedish prohibitionists actually attended and observed the conference, including a former MEP with the Green Party. (Sweden's Greens are an exception in the European Green movement in their support for prohibition.) It is now known whether they were involved in the letter. Also attending from Sweden, however, was Erik Lakomaa, an economist with Frihetsfronten, a libertarian free-market think tank that supports legalization. Swedish media also showed up, interviewing both Lakomaa and the Swedish prohibitionists.
To link directly to video footage, visit: Visit http://www.radicalparty.org and scroll to the bottom left of the page for links to the agenda, video footage in three languages and photographs.
To link directly to video
To link directly to photographs,