Friday, 1 June 2012

Shared irresponsibility

Europeans have lost the taste for armed conflict. They have been there and done that.
They don't like the war on drugs much either, which is why Europe has been a relatively civilised place in terms of drug issues for some years now, favoring harm reduction and tolerance over the sort of mass incarceration that we see in the US. 
We buy this peace for ourselves at the cost of keeping firmly out of the debate that increasingly desperate Latin American countries are trying to get us involved in. Last December's Tuxtla Declaration - and the Cartagena meeting that followed - clearly called on the consumer regions to experiment with market solutions, i.e. regulate the market in order to take it out of the hands of organised (and not so organised) crime. The Europeans are deaf to these pleas, that goes for the media as well as the governments. 
It seems that we are even beginning to prefer a "Stronger European response to drugs" (see previous posts on the EU Commission's Communication).  If words could solve problems we'd be home and dry, but studies done for the Commission itself have shown that it is very hard to find any reliable data that allow us to make a causal link between public policy and drug use in the first place. That goes for demand, but the situation is even worse for supply control; law enforcement does not like to be evaluated or scrutinised, certainly not by a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels. As a result, we haven't a clue whether (very costly)  police intervention against drug trafficking is having any effect, but in this respect we are no different from any other major block or country. 

So where does this leave the European approach to drugs? More and more European countries are probably in breach of the UN Drug conventions today, at least by the standards of the now Inquisition-like INCB. If Europeans (and quite a few other countries) have no appetite for reviewing the conventions it is partly because they are afraid to open a Pandora's box (you might end up with something worse), and partly because they have a big economic crisis on their hands. But above all, I believe that it hasn't sunk in yet in the world's major drug consumer markets that the only way to take organised crime out of the market structure is for states to produce certain types of drugs themselves and to regulate the sale of them. This won't happen tomorrow; the idea is a vote killer and distasteful to large parts of public opinion, but growing pressure from Latin American countries, where states are crumbling under the effects of our inconsistent policies, may yet turn the tide. 

On 29 May, European members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy met in Brussels with members of the European Parliament and officials of the EU Commission and Council. They were Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and Pavel Bem, architect of the Czech drug policy and former Mayor of Prague. Both are medical doctors with extensive experience in political life. They called on the EU to strengthen its comprehensive and balanced approach, and to resist the siren voices of the new "tough" approach advocated by the EU Commission. To quote Pavel Bem: in politics, simple solutions to complex problems are the road to hell.

A full report on the Brussels meeting should appear soon on the website of IDPC and the Global Commission itself.  

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