Members of EP and NGO representatives discussed the possible ways to influence the 10 years evaluation of the UN drug policy
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), a fraction of the European Parliament organized a public meeting on Thursday, 6 March in Brussels, in order to discuss the past 10 years of global drug control policies and “to address all the aspects of the UN Drug Control Strategy and the steps to be taken to ensure that the Member States, the EU and the UN promote a more pragmatic approach on drugs strategies at the national, European and international level”. Beside MEPs, the organizers invited the representatives of UNODC (but nobody showed up from their side finally), the Drugs Unit of the European Commission (represented by Timo Jetsu), EMCDDA (represented by Danilo Ballotta and Carla Rossi) and NGO advocates. The meeting was chaired by Marco Cappato (from the Transnational Radical Party, Italy), Chris Davies (Liberal Democrats, UK), Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert (VVD, the Netherlands) and Sophie in 't Veld (D66, the Netherlands). The Civil Liberties Commission hold a meeting at the same time so many MEPs attended the hearing, but Cappato ensured us that the printed and video materials of the meeting will be sent to all MEPs, so the message will be delivered.
Timo Jetsu from the EC emphasized that there is no common EU drug policy like in the field of agriculture for example, and this limits the competence and jurisdiction of his department, but EU institutions produced important recommendations and non-binding papers (like the drug strategy and action plan) on common goals and means. The Commission never supported a “war on drugs” approach and favours a “ballanced” and “evidence-based” drug policy. He sounded skeptic about the possibilities to change the basic framework of the UN drug control system, even though he acknowledged we need changes, and he said the Commission has already done a lot to influence global drug policies in the proper direction.
Carla Rossi and Roberto Ricci made a presentation on possible new policy evaluation tools on the global drug control system, which failed to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs according to available data. The Afghan opium industry is growing and became a profitable business for a country where the war destroyed legal means of living. There are new drugs coming from the pharmaceutical industry, the activities of the drug trade became global, drug traffickers cooperate with terrorist groups to counterbalance eradication programs in producer countries. Law enforcement agencies usually can neutralize only small scale traffickers. They emphasized the need for "a new macro economic model to mirror the relationships between the various actors and sub-systems".
Matsakis Marios (independent MEP, Cyprus) expressed a compassionate criticism toward the EC and especially the EMCDDA, because according to his view if they are not capable to tell us what works and what doesn’t work in the field of drug policy, there is no need to spend millions of Euros on these institutions. He said data collection itself is nothing, what we need is to evaluation and concrete recommendations on best practices. Danilo Ballotta (EMCDDA) defended his organization by pointing out that what Matsakis suggests is not in the mandate of EMCDDA, they can only provide “soft tools” for policy makers but they cannot evaluate national drug policies as such, but the European Parliament can make an official proposal to broaden the role of the EC Drugs Unit to do so. Mr. Matsakis also expressed concerns about the present attitudes of drug policies: only a very small proportion of addicts can be completely cured from addiction, and for those who do not want to be cured the only possibility is criminalization. He suggested to create a medical prescription scheme that can supply all addicts with their daily doses, in order to cut off the illegal market and prevent infections and crime.
In the second session of the meeting NGO representatives made suggestions to the Parliament on the possible ways to influence the UNGASS evaluation process. Thanasis Apostolou (Transnational Institute) proposed to create an alliance of likeminded countries to push the UNGASS to make changes in the worst paragraphs of the UN conventions. For example those paragraphs of the 1988 convention which require member states to punish drug users with imprisonment. He also suggested to change the control regime of cannabis and create a new legal framework based on the recent experiences with tobacco regulation, and to stop the forced eradication campaigns in the third world. He pointed out that the balanced approach of drug policies have to be reflected by drug budgets too. Fredrick Polak (ENCOD) described the recent political situation with regard to drug policy in the Dutch parliament. He said many Liberal MPs do not support drug policy reform because they think drugs deprive people from their free will – the capacity to make informed choices. As a psychiatrist he criticized this position and stressed that the majority of drug users do not loose their free will more than people who drink alcohol moderately. Peter Sarosi (HCLU) made four practical recommendations for the European Parliament. First, to push EU and UN institutions to create more effective tools and mechanisms to involve civil society to drug policy decision making in a meaningful way, based on the experiences of the organizations fighting HIV/AIDS. Second, to put human rights in the forefront of drug policy reform efforts: this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, EU has to put human rights issues to the agenda, like the upcoming Thai drug war. Third, to initiate the evaluation of drug policies involving external evaluators instead of self-congratulating government agencies. Fourth, he expressed the need of more public advocacy efforts and media campaigns: high level meetings and consultations will not change drug policies until the public opinion is against reform.
Danny Kuschlick (Transform) reminded the participants that 10 years ago he witnessed the same discussions in the drug policy reform movement, and almost nothing changed, we are still not able to do more than write letters. There is no real chance to change the drug conventions next year, said Kuschlick, according to his predictions drug prohibition still needs at least two decades to end. Drug prohibition as a system will destroy itself, but we can speed up this process with effective campaigning. High standard evaluations can show to the public the consequences of drug prohibition and make the system transparent, even if the government tries to hide the inconvenient truth as the UK government did. According to the estimations of Transform, every single dollar spent on the enforcement of prohibition will cost 9 dollars for repairing the harms it creates. Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch (OSI) said the real question is not if the UN political declaration could achieve its goals, but what are the costs of its implementation for public health and human rights. Many countries report increasing numbers of treated drug addicts, but UNODC has no standard for what are the acceptable ways of drug treatment. In some Asian countries treatment means forced labour, chains and humiliation. In China authorities claim heroin users are not compliant of the rules of methadone clinics – but the explanation is that these clinics create prison-like atmosphere and guarded by policemen, so drug users are not willing to enter. In Russia drug addicts are “treated” in closed wards of hospitals, which led to the tragedy of more than 40 women burning inside a Moscow hospital last year. Instead of empty slogans on treatment of drug users, we need clear protocols and criteria from the UN on what constitutes ethical and effective treatment.