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21/04/2005 | Seminar of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Brussels, 21 April 2005
Speaking notes by Marco Perduca

Last November, together with my colleagues of the Transnational Radical Party and the International Antiprohibitionist League, I had the privilege to consult with MEP Marco Pannella (ALDE) on some amendments to the original draft; I am particularly pleased by the fact that the majority of the MEPs shared our concerns.

Many of you may be familiar with the ideas and work of the Transnational Radical Party and the International Antiprohibitionist league, if I were to sum them up in a few words, I would say that to the current “drug control” system promoted through prohibition, we oppose a legal regulation of the production, consumption and sale of all the substances that are included in the three UN Conventions on Drugs.

In a classical liberal vision, we believe that the mission of a governing body, and the laws it adopts and applies, should not be the one of controlling what individuals do, but rather regulating their activities creating mechanisms that can be activated to address, in a fair and public way, the infringements of other individual's liberties and personal spheres. Not only prohibition on narcotics has proved to be ineffective, but it has also reinforced all the negative characteristics of power and its bending the law for its personal advantage rather than for the welfare and wellbeing of all.

We don't have much time to elaborate on the big prohibitionist picture, so I will focus on the document and its implications, repercussions and future steps. Before doing that, I would like start by bringing to your attention a recommendation promoted in December 2002, by my Radical colleague and friend and former MEP, Marco Cappato, which was endorsed by 110 MEPs. The Cappato recommendation represents the first breakthrough in the drug policy discourse at the EP. Those that are familiar with the document are aware of the fact that it spelled out many of the elements that are now included in the document we are discussing today. For those that do not know it, it can be found in the “documents” section at Antiprohibitionist.org.

There are at least three major points in the Catania Report that need to be preserved if the 2005-2012 European strategy on drugs can bring about reforms able to change the disastrous ways in which the drug phenomenon has been treated through prohibition contributing in this way to the preparatory process for the 2008 special session on drugs of the UN General Assembly. They are: evaluation and assessment of past decisions; economic implications of drug control; impact of European policies both on “producing” and “consuming” third countries.

Evaluation and assessment of past decisions, including policies and laws.

The Catania Report clearly calls for an evaluation of the past strategy taking into consideration not only the work of the Lisbon Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse, but also studies and papers produced by independent organizations and experts.

The European Parliament should further urge the Horizontal Group, which is in charge of the development of the Plan of Action that will have to implement the strategy, to trigger the commission of a comprehensive independent study – and the International Antiprohibitionist League is ready to put forward names of international experts that may contribute to the exercise - on the impact of the current “drug control system” that is based on the three United Nations Conventions on Drugs. The study should address:

  • the implementation of the Conventions into the various national legal systems, both of EU and non EU Member States with particular focus on the principle of legality and the constitutionality of measures such as: excessive punishment, criminalization of non-harming behaviors, emergency laws, breaches of privacy, violation of civil and political rights for the sake of controlling the presence of narcotic substances in the Union, the legality of the UN Conventions as well as the one of the various “anti-drug” international agreements vis-ŕ-vis the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • the European prison situation, particularly the presence of non-violent drug-related offenders, due process and fair trials in drug-related cases (both for EU and non-citizens) as well as their access to medical treatment when needed;
  • individual European States' alternative experiences in the treatment of drug use and abuse, through measures ranging from methadone or other substitution substances to sterile syringes, to heroin under medical prescription; other holistic/alternative measures;
  • the relationship between intravenous drug use and the spread of HIV/AIDS within and outside the Union;
  • the relationship between the relaxation of drug laws and policies and the increase/decrease/stabilization in consumption, trafficking, overdoses, and HIV/AIDS cases within and outside the Union;
  • the reliability of the information presented by the annual reports issued by the International Narcotics Control Board vis-ŕ-vis the implementation of the UN Conventions at the national level, as well as the reliability of the UN estimates contained in the reports concerning the trends in the production of illicit narcotics produced annually by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The overall quality of the UN World Drug Report.

    Economic implications

    Of additional crucial importance is an analysis of the economic implications and impact that prohibition has been having for over three decades all over the world. For the sake of controlling drugs there has been a investment in law enforcement-related issues to the detriment of health-related issues. Again a comparative study my assist the European Union in reshaping its overall strategy. The document should evaluate the effectiveness of the money invested in prevention campaigns, state sponsored or faith-based rehabilitation therapeutic communities; policing streets and borders, harm reduction policies, depenalization of personal possession and consumption, militarization of police, contribution to UN-coordinated efforts of demand and supply reduction measures in developing countries (EU countries and the European Commission are among the biggest donors to the UNODC).

    Impact both on “producing” and consuming”third countries

    The Catania Report clearly urges the European Council and Commission to “take into consideration the possibility of launching pilot projects for the industrial manufacture of legal products derived from plants covered by the 1961 Convention, such as coca leaf and Indian hemp”. For those of us that are familiar with the situation in the field in Andean and South Asian countries, this recommendation can signify a drastic change in the ways in which developing countries have been engaged by the European Union in addressing the production of the plants that are necessary to refine narcotic substances.

    The major focus of the reform should address so-called “alternative development” programs. While in theory the idea of promoting licit crops as an alternative means for the development of those societies where the plants used for the production of narcotics are grown is a good one, in practice the substitution has never proved to be fully self-sufficient in the medium or long term.
    Furthermore, the usual alternatives to crops such as coca bush have been palm hearts, coffee, plantains, bananas and other crops in vogue in the past, products that, over the last few years, have seen a surplus in the world production that has caused a drastic decrease in their profitability - annulling all the economic arguments in favor of the substitution. Lastly, when it comes to agricultural products, the tariff system imposed by North American and European countries places an unfair burden on developing nations closing rich markets to products from the "south".
    Contrary to popular belief, or ignorance, coca leaf can be used to produce medicines of different sorts, but also, as it has done for hundreds of years, coca can be used in the production of goods such as tea, flour, toothpaste, soap, condiments, fabrics, chewing gum as well as different dietary supplements and, last but not least, the means to alleviate the abuse of the chemical substances processed from its leaves.
    Different is the story for poppy producing countries. A forward looking change in the European attitude should address the fact that over the last few years, at least two EU members, France and Spain, have been expanding their licit production of poppy in the same period in which Afghanistan was been freed of the Talibans and brought back to a minimum of freedom and democratic rule.
    As a result of apparently successful supply eradication programs, carried out also with European taxpayers money by the military junta in Burma, and the totalitarian regimes of Laos and Vietnam, Afghanistan has gone back to being the bigger supplier of poppy in the world, producing in 2004 over 80% of poppy for heroin. The EU should look into the possibility of supporting the request lodged by President Karzai to initiate experiments of licit production of poppy to address the economic development of Afghanistan, which the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank estimate as being based on illicit crops for 50% of its GDP, while promoting the notion of a rule of law that wants to govern a transition in the most effective way, rather than impose a new model of control. At the same time, EU countries should finally break the taboos that surround various types of opiates promoting their use in the treatment of pain as well as the treatment of individuals with a heroin use and/or abuse problem.
    Lastly, of urgent concern should become the interconnection between intravenous drug use and the spread of HIV/AIDS in former Soviet Republics. Over the last five years, there has been an exponential increase in drug use particularly in Central Asia, within the framework of the UN Global Fund on HIV/AIDS and through its major “anti-drug” initiatives, the new European strategy should devote a substantial attention to that situation providing financial support for information, education and outreach programs but also promoting methadone, clean needles, syringe exchange as well as safer sex measures