THE ENCOD BULLETIN ON DRUG POLICY IN EUROPE
NR. 13. JANUARY 2006 (embargoed until Jan 14 2006)
EVERYONE IS A CITIZEN
Where people unite their individual strength and focus on one common purpose, miracles can happen. The fall of the wall would never have been possible without the mobilisation of thousands of citizens in Eastern Europe. Apartheid would still be in place in South Africa, three quarters of the world would still be colonised if citizens had not decided to resist them. This also applies for the drug war. One day, it will be over, and those who believed in it will at best be remembered as ignorant.
On 18 December, Bolivian citizens won a major battle in the struggle for global drug peace. Here, in the heart of the Latinamerican continent, Evo Morales, the undisputed leader of the Bolivian cocagrowers since 1990, was elected president with the largest majority of the votes since democracy was re-installed in the country in 1982.
For the past two decades, the United States and the European Union have "co-operated intensively" with the Bolivian government to reduce coca cultivation. Together, they put more than 1 billion EURO in efforts to either eradicate coca leaves or replace them with legal products, without success. That money was spent for nothing.
In the same period, more then hundred people were killed and thousands wounded in violent confrontations between coca growers and Bolivian armed forces. Today it seems they did not die for nothing. Thanks to the combination of a just cause and remarkable political intelligence, the coca growers were able to build a political movement that
succeeded in peacefully and democratically taking over power in Bolivia in less than the life of an adolescent. Now that is an example to follow.
The Swiss citizens are on their way. Early December the initiative for a referendum on a legal regulation of cannabis completed the necessary amount of 100.000 signatures of citizens. All signatures had to be validated by the authorities of the local municipalities, (and there are 2.758 municipalities in Switzerland) so this has not been an easy task. If all goes well, the referendum will be held in 2006, which will lead to more public debate about regulation of cannabis in Switzerland. The same will occur in the Netherlands, where the lord mayors of several cities make sure the discussion on how to legally regulate the 'backdoor' of the coffee shops no longer is decided upon in the 'back rooms' of the political bureaucracy in The Hague.
In the Czech Republic, the first steps towards regulation of cannabis have been taken. Early December the lower chamber of the Czech Parliament approved a law proposal decriminalising the cultivation and possession of cannabis and mushrooms for personal use. It is almost sure the proposal, which has been requested for since a long time by activists and experts, will become law in 2007. Penalties for other drugs would remain more or less the same, but still the new law is interesting, as it goes against the tendency of re-criminalisation of cannabis that is taking place in various other European countries in the past years.
In the UK for example, the government keeps twisting around the issue of decriminalising cannabis. Home Minister David Blunkett proposed more than two years ago to make cannabis posession a non-arrestable offense, and since then, the government has been making U-turns. Based on a report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs with supposed evidence about the link between use of cannabis and mental illness, Tony Blair is planning the reintroduction of tough penalties. "It would be a tremendous step backward, incoherent, and a waste of police resources without any benefit to society or public health", according to a public appeal against this decision that was signed among others by Sting. There are approx. 3 million UK citizens who consume cannabis.
Sometimes, citizen action is capable of obtaining small successes, which can have big consequences in the lives of those involved. Following the initiative of a former Brazilian judge, Mrs. Maria Luiza Karam, ENCOD spread out a protest letter against the incarceration of Mrs. Iolanda Figueral, a 79 year old woman in the terminal states of cancer accused of possessing 17 grammes of crack cocaine. Mrs. Figueral had been sentenced to 4 years of prison by a judge in Sao Paulo on 6 December, but was released two weeks later, following several articles in the Brazilian press that were triggered by the protest letter signed by citizens from around the world.
Also ENCODs lobby for the set up of a sincere dialogue between authorities and civil society on drug policy in the European Union is becoming successful. On 13 December, an agreement was made between ENCOD and several Members of the European Parliament to organise, in the week of 6 March, just prior the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, a conference in the European Parliament in Brussels. The purpose of this conference will be to express support for a fundamental revision of the UN Drug Conventions in order to allow for local experiments with harm reduction and regulation to take place within and outside Europe. The event will also facilitate an encounter between major actors, among civil society, local authorities and members of parliament, to design a strategy towards obtaining this revision at least in 2008, when UN policies will have to be evaluated. All ENCOD members who wish to participate in this event are invited to contact the secretariat.
And last but not least, the European Commission announced on 15 December its own initiative to organise a conference on the topic of 'civil society involvement in EU drug policy' as such. This conference will take place in Brussels on 26 and 27 January. As far as we know, no civil society organisation has been involved in the preparation of this conference. Lots of questions can be raised about the concrete purpose of this event, as well as about the way how the representatives of civil society will be selected. The Commission has committed itself to paying the travel costs of 60 people on a 'first come first served' basis, so people who are interested should register themselves as soon as possible (see www.europa.eu.int/comm/justice_home/news/events/news_events_en.htm
ENCODs biggest success this year, however, has been its mere survival. Thanks to the support of its own members, well to say. The growing commitment among companies representing the industry around the use of cannabis and other 'decriminalised' drugs has made it possible to ensure some perspectives on the near future, which seemed so dark a few months ago. To prologue these perspectives, however, the commitment of more citizens is needed. There are several initiatives that you can become involved in: a group of ENCOD activists is preparing a music CD that could be used for fundraising purposes. Designs for advertisements and posters have been made which can be combined with the use of money boxes that can be put in shops etc. Please consult www.encod.org
or ask the secretariat.
There are only have two years left to the evaluation of UN drug policies. If we will succeed in using that momentum to obtain a public debate on the need to end the war on drugs depends on our actions now. Happy New Year!
Joep Oomen www.encod.org
SIGN THE PETITION FOR A CHANGE IN EU DRUG POLICIES NOW: http://action.encod.org
EUROPEAN COALITION FOR JUST AND EFFECTIVE DRUG POLICIES (ENCOD)
Lange Lozanastraat 14
Tel. 00 32 (0)3 237 7436
Mobile: + 33 6 148 156 79 (Farid Ghehioueche)
Fax. 00 32 (0)3 237 0225 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Herewith I send you the ENCOD bulletin of January 2006. Please note that you are welcome to send this bulletin (that also is published in Dutch and Spanish) to organisations or individuals who may be interested in becoming a member. You are also welcome to translate it in your language and send it back to me so I can put it on the encod website.
In January, ENCOD is planning several activities. On 18 and 19th January, the Steering Committee will meet in Amsterdam. From 20 to 22 January, we will have a stand at the Highlife Fair in the RAI in Amsterdam. And on 26 and 27 January, we will be present with a large number of people at the Conference on "Civil Society and Drugs" organised by the European Commission in Brussels.
If you are interested to receive posters (which also can be used as an advertisement) at: www.encod.org/FREETOFARM.pdf , please let me know and I send you some hard paper copies.
You can also find this poster in other languages in digital version on www.encod.org/FREETOFARMned.pdf (Dutch), www.encod.org/FREETOFARMfin.pdf (Finnish), www.encod.org/FREETOFARMpol.pdf (Polish) or www.encod.org/LIBERTADPARACULTIVAR.pdf (Spanish)
Those who wish to have a poster in their language, please send me the translation of the text and I'll take care of the rest.
Hope we will continue to work together towards just and effective drug policies in 2006.