Wednesday, 29 February 2012


The International Narcotics Control Board has now repeatedly attacked Bolivia since it denounced the 1961 Convention, indicating its intention to re-accede with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of coca leaf. Bolivia has been acting within the normal procedures of international law and its own constitution on this matter. The squeals of protest it has met with from its European, American, and other "friends" have contained little in the way of argument other than INCB's recent contention that "the integrity of the international drug control system would be undermined".

It is interesting to see a body like the INCB overstepping the mark of its own powers under the UN treaties by playing God, with little regard for the inviolability of the national laws and cultures that are the bedrock of the UN system. “The INCB response is another clear sign that the UN drug control regime is under strain and that the cracks in the so-called ‘Vienna consensus’ are approaching a breaking point,” according to TNI’s Martin Jelsma. “It is a sign that its principal guardian, the INCB, is in distress and no longer capable of responding to challenges in a rational manner.”

Why this persistent refusal on the part of the multilateral system of drugs control to enter into a meaningful dialogue on reform of the Conventions? A South American diplomat recently put in the following terms: back in the 16th century, when the Catholic church was no longer capable of reform, it spawned the Reformation and lost its monopoly over Christianity. Without dramatising current events, the multilateral drug control system is showing its age and revealing the sclerosis of the institutions created to implement it. The tabloid tone of the INCB's latest report is a sign of this.

Last December, Presidents and other political leaders of ten Latin American countries from the so called Tuxtla Mechanism for Dialogue effectively called on the rich drug consumer markets, primarily the US and Europe, to begin with experimenting regulation models for what we still call illicit drugs. US and European media largely ignored this declaration. These countries made this call because they are being destroyed by organised crime. The UN Drug Conventions have not created this crime, but they have created a global framework in which it prospers almost by default. The struggle against such crime is turning into a slaughter house for ordinary people, particularly in Central America, with no end in sight.

If the church will not reform then let us put our faith in a reformation and support the Tuxtla appeal. As a European, I hope that Europe will not yet again be trumped by the Americans in getting us out of a hole. It may not look likely at the moment, but 16 US states have enacted laws that allow for the sale of "medical marijuana, and at least there is a lively debate going on there, whereas EU leaders are firmly looking the other way and the Brussels administration has quite lost its way. Sooner or later though, our governments will have to grasp the nettle of organising this regulated market. If there is one lesson to be learned from the tobacco and alcohol models it is that it should not be left to purely commercial interests.

Watch this space.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Wasting the citizen's time

In English law there is a criminal offence known as "wasting police time". I wonder if this applies in other countries. It covers things like knowingly making a false report that creates apprehension for the safety of any person or property. A good thing then that the INCB and the UNODC are based in Vienna and not in  London. Except of course that the UK is one of the 144 or so signatories to the single convention. So that's all right then. The police can waste citizens' time. It is quite common in London for a young person to get stopped for a routine drug search. It happens regularly to the student son of a friend of mine, who is a member of the House of Lords. We can all feel safe knowing that young aristocrats are being kept on a short leash these days.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

"Towards a stronger European response to drugs" - third and last post.

The original EU text can be found at

In the previous two posts I have tried to demonstrate that this policy announcement by the EU Commission has more to do with political testosterone than with a sensible assessment of the past. This is certainly true for the tired old penal and prohibitionist ideas that dominate this paper. The merit of Commissioner Reding's predecessors responsible for drug policy was that they at least understood the need to submit law enforcement to some form of assessment. At the moment, we don't know how successful the world's police forces and judiciaries are in fighting drug crime. If this is what "success" looks like, heaven preserve us from failure. The development by the Commission of "key indicators" to measure drugs markets and drug supply reduction (para 2) is a welcome initiative; it was however started before Mrs Reding was appointed and has consistently met with a very unenthusiastic response from law enforcement and judiciary circles in the EU, so we are still years away from an assessment as to whether our money is being wasted or not by running after drug criminals who are usually a few steps ahead of the law and doing very well. And if one day we have these key indicators worked out and adopted across the EU, imagine the task of getting precise data on national law enforcement performance out of the 27 Home Affairs ministries across the EU.

Although we should welcome anything in this Communication that at least tries to hold up the balanced approach that used to be the Commission's hallmark on drug policy, no specific policy measures are announced beyond supporting measures to reduce health and social harms. The demand reduction part of the Communication (para 6) reflects ongoing health initiatives on HIV/AIDS and various existing funding programmes. It fails to mention that the Commission's current Drug Prevention and Information (funding)  Programme is destined to become a pure "justice" programme in 2013 and will loose its demand reduction and wider policy aspects. Mrs Reding is on record as saying that health aspects are not a Commission competence under the EU Treaty and that she leaves that up to Member States. So much for the balanced approach.

The initiative on "drugged driving" has been in the making for some years. It is a promising initiative.... in the field of road safety, not drug policy.

Para 8 - on International Cooperation - is again the usual line-up of supply reduction-related measures. There is a passage on the "comprehensive" nature of external EU policy, and on the (major) effort by the Commission in terms of providing alternative livelihoods in production and transit countries. This is of course the work of the Commission's EU External Action Service now and the Commission's Directorate General for Development. The former is in disarray and has just had a written warning from 14 EU Foreign Ministers to pull its socks up; the latter has no mandate on drugs policy but will implement policy directives on this from Brussels.


Evaluations made at the request of the Commission in recent years (particularly the so called Reuter/Trautmann report:, a joint publication by Rand and the Trimbos Institute) clearly suggest that the punitive, law enforcement driven approach of the world's current multilateral control system has not led to a reduction in use or trafficking, and that demand rarely responds to arrests and punishment. What we do know is that harm reduction and treatment strategies reduce crime and other social problems and reduce public health problems too.

This Commission announcement seems to ignore the lessons of the past 15 years, lessons which are not crackpot ideas from extreme pro-drugs groups, but evidence-based conclusions from its own services, from most Member States, and from serious bodies financed by the European Commission itself, such as the EU's  drugs monitoring agency, the EMCDDA.

It also comes at a rather odd moment: i.e. before the Commission's own services have completed their evaluation of the EU Drugs Srategy 2004-2012, and before the Commission's Civil Society Forum on Drugs has had the time to table its recommendations for the next Drugs Strategy.

Europe has had a bad year on the world stage. It's credibility is at a low ebb while that same world is loosing the battle against illicit drugs because the system the Western countries put into place 50 years ago in the form of UN Conventions and institutions have failed. Today, they are little more than a dysfunctional, scandal-ridden irrelevance, but capable of supporting extreme levels of violence against populations in the weaker countries. Presidents from a number of Latin American states, including Mexico and Colombia, have recently signed the Tuxtla Declaration, calling on  drug consuming countries to explore "all possible options, including market alternatives", i.e. forms of legalisation or regulation. The recently retired Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers and EU High Representative for the EU's external and security policy, Xavier Solana, is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is calling for the same thing. The global drugs problem has reached a stage where serious and difficult policy changes are being debated. Not, it would seem, in the European Commission.

The Commission's policy statement is an embarrassment to intelligent European policy makers and people working in this field. It is also a comfort to the enemy, i.e. the criminals who makes a profit out of the huge illegal market the system provides them with. It is however also a comfort to those individuals, organisations, and countries - from dodgy bible-thumping preachers to the Kingdom of Sweden - who want to stick with the current  prohibitionist system if it kills them. The problem is, it just might, but do we want to go down with them?

Good luck