In December 2008, the European Commission published a new EU Action Plan on Drugs, containing the idea to launch a European Alliance on Drugs in June 2009. This alliance should be a partnership of authorities and citizens aimed to “engage civil society towards the common objective of raising awareness, interest and concrete commitments on drug related risks”.
On 3 and 4 March 2009, the Commission requested the participants to the Civil Society Forum on Drugs to give their comments to the idea of the Alliance. Encod produced the following analysis based on various questions that the Commission had formulated.
The stated goal of the proposed European Alliance on Drugs immediately reveals a fundamental problem with the present approach: drug use is conceptualized exclusively in terms of “risks”, as though it is a foregone conclusion that all drug use is bad and harmful. This arbitrary assumption does not conform to the full range of available scientific and cultural evidence.
Indeed, the current nature of the Forum on Civil Society –and EU policy generally –reflects a problematic trend towards insularity, insider-ism, and bureaucracy. While the hope is to make a more democratic process, the danger is that the opposite will be produced: a network of elite specialists who profit, whether financially or in terms of prestige or personal ego, by exaggerating the harms and risks of drugs, and by overvaluing the role of government in their regulation.
Question : In your opinion what principles and objectives the Alliance text should include?
The formulation of the European Alliance on Drugs is poorly chosen. An Alliance is an agreement between two or more parties, made in order to advance common goals and to secure common interests.
In stead of an alliance, many civil society organisations working in the drug field are interested in a dialogue with authorities on the risks that are created not by drugs, but by the fact that they are prohibited. These organisations are convinced that as long as drugs are illegal, the possibilities for reducing risks related to drugs are extremely limited. Therefore, they will not join an alliance with authorities to reduce risks that according to them, are being created and increased by these same authorities.
Whatever term is chosen to formulate the new partnership, it should emphasize a new openness to re-examination of basic assumptions and to consideration of a wider diversity of opinions. What is required is a fundamental reconceptualization of drug use.
This must include greater willingness to distinguish among different categories of drugs and motivations of users, and to consider potential benefits, as well as risks to society.
The current view, which accepts without question that all drug use is harmful is scientifically unsound and ethically indefensible.
Many Europeans –including civil libertarians, policy scientists, experts in health and law enforcement, and private citizens –believe that the most important harm in this area is precisely the criminalization of drugs, and the societal costs, burdens, and injustices that produces. While this view remains to be proven, it is intelligently expressed and ought to be considered. To reject it without debate is unacceptable in a democratic society.
Therefore the goal of the European Alliance on Drugs should be stated in more neutral terms, such as to “engage civil society towards the common objective of raising awareness, interest and concrete commitments concerning just and effective drug policy.”
Question: What have been limitations of drug policies so far?
A major limitation is that policy discussion has been dominated by a narrow group of interests that see and present drug use exclusively in terms of public health risks and law enforcement issues.
This denies a large amount of evidence which suggests that, while some people do abuse psychoactive substances, others use them for potentially legitimate spiritual, psychological, health, or recreational purposes. The proportions of users in each category are unknown –but precisely because the subject has received no government attention.
Current statements associated with the proposed European Alliance on Drugs reflect this bias. To the extent that this one-sidedness dominates the drug debate in Europe, drug policy will remain arbitrary, detached from reality, ineffective, and lacking credibility.
The political use of drug prohibition as an instrument that can be used by any political force to control society – maintaining it as a political taboo that hinders any innovative approach, and that is never discussed – is undermining the efforts to create a sincere and constructive collaboration between civil society and authorities.
Question: What will be the EU added value?
Ostensibly the goal is to reduce insularity by expanding the network of contributors. However the current proposal threatens not to solve the fundamental problem, but only to increase the size of the insider network. The network as a whole would still constitute an impenetrable barrier between private citizens and their government. To produce a larger bureaucracy is scarcely a solution!
Question: What should be the most important message of the Alliance to EU
To empower them by conveying the idea that they are capable of directing their own lives in an intelligent and responsible way. The current philosophy of EU drug policy promotes the opposite message. It contributes to a “nanny state” where people are told they are not able to make decisions themselves, and need the government to act as protector, mother, father, physician, and moral arbiter.
And to demonstrate a pattern of reasoned, fair, open-minded discourse which citizens may emulate.
Question:. How should the Commission help citizens to make a commitment?
The Commission should listen to what citizens have to say and take their proposals seriously.
Question: Can you suggest organisations to take part in this alliance?
All of ENCODs member organisations are interested in a sincere and open dialogue. What comes after remains to be seen.