Drug Users in Euro Parliament

On 21 April 2005, ‘addicts,’ people living with AIDS, other drug users, MEPs and other European Authority diplomats met in the European Parliament to discuss the inclusion of civil society in drug policy debate and drug policy generally. Here is a short report :

It was an interesting and extraordinary scene to have the dreadlocked guys around the suits in an otherwise ‘diplomatic session.’ NGO delegates, mostly organisational or individual members of ENCOD came to take part in a drug policy hearing initiated by ENCOD, a major part of whose remit was to remind the EU, as a democratic institution, that it has a responsibility to consult with Civil Society when designing drug policy. It was even more heartening to hear Olivier Hartman of an Illicit drug user union in Belgium acknowledge, along with the panelists, that we do indeed have to help kids not get in a mess with drugs for as citizens, we have both collective as well as individual responsibilities.

We had our man behind the camera, Thorri Johanssen and then there were NGO delegates and ENCOD members from Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and the U.K. Other NGO delegates included Pien Metal of the Transnational Institute (TNI) and Marco Perduca of the International Prohibitionist League(IAL), both of whom were speakers along with ENCODs coordinator, Joep Oomen. Mr Barra of the International Redcross Federation, who is an ally of harm reduction, also spoke passionately about stigma kills more people than the drugs themselves; he also addressed the AIDS plenary in Vienna at the annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs last month advocating strongly for NEPs as well as maintenance substitution therapies. I liked him..it transpired that he had worked with drug users for 3O yrs.

Franco Frattini, an Italian European Commissioner of Justice and Home Affairs informed the gathering that the parliament was “homing in on this issue due to citizens interest.” Bob Keizer of the Pompidou Group, Council of Europe went as far as to say that many useless prevention interventions were still being applied, adding that ethics and human rights must be brought into the equation when designing drug policy for Europe. He stipulated two other observations; 1) that all of the functions of drug policy must be implemented and 2) by different organisations with a recognition of these different organisations roles in regard to the EU action plan, which will be ratified in June. He noted regretfully that the WHO as well as the Pompidou group had not been mentioned in this plan which was a serious oversight and “missed opportunity.”

Paul Griffiths of the EMCDDA, spoke of the seriousness of the HCV pandemic amongst IDUs and that this had implications for the health budgets of EU member states. Later, Mr Barra referred to some of the harsher behaviour-therapy therapeutic comunities as having led to the deaths of some IDUs and implored the assembled MEPs gathered not to use the issue of drug dependency as a political football. Mr Keizer made it clear that there must be a more open debate and the Pompidou group were willing to collaborate on a report into the effectiveness (or not) of our current drug policies. By the time it came for Oomen to speak on behalf of the ever-growing ENCOD network, we were all well aware that at least 80% of the assembled throng were allies if not advocates of non-criminalising drug policies.

Joep Oomen began his speech by noting that the 2000-2004 report of the EMCDDA left serious doubts on the likelihood of achieving the goals of reduced drug use, blood borne diseases (BBDs) and crime at this point. He reminded us that many of the most effective harm reduction strategies had been initiated by drug-using citizens and their carers and that ‘they were the true architects of new drug policies.’ He asked us all to consider how/if prohibitive drug policy worked, when, for example, in Bulgaria, one can got o jail for 15 yrs for possession of less than a gramme of any illicit drug.. a little later Dr Frederick Polak asked what the official reasons for not re-evaluating drug policy given that five out of six of the major indicators had failed.

During the discussion, Massimo Barra noted the schizophrenic response of the UN bodies where UNODC are railroaded mostly by U.S drug warrior crusadors to maintain repressive policies, while at the same time UNAIDS is saying that NEPs are an important component of drug treatment. The Mayor of Maastricht said, “I am not asking for a complete liberalisation of the drug laws but proper regulation at regional levels and under strict quantities re supply which would eventually lead to the elimination of illegal supplies.” He added that many other Mayors agreed with him, but were afraid to say so publically.

Ms Metaal asked “if alternative development in Latin America is working as the UNODC report, why is that peasant coca growers are throwing stones at the police, who tell them we are only obeying orders of our superiors.” Franco Corleone, of Forum Droghe, in his endearing empassioned way noted that the UNODC counts of on verbal moral manipulations ad infinitum, acknowledging that of the entire Italian prison population, 39% are drug “offenders.” He stated emphaticallly that law should not be confused with morality and that individual nation states should be allowed to decide their own local/national policies.

Towards the end Marco Perduca asked us to consider that there are various ways in which the UN drug conventions are illegal in that they abuse cultural and religious rights. During question time, PWA, Luiz Mendao of the European AIDS Treatment Group, said that it is essential that the the European Commission do not ignore the results and recommendations of the European Parliament´s Catania Report..

Carel Edwards, head of the anti-drug coordinating unit of the European Commission stipulated that Civil Society had overlooked building consensus at the nation state level and was “punching above” their weight. He said that we cannot demand supply reduction at the expense of demand reduction; we have to tread carefully so that the Plan does not end up in the bin ultimately..As for the involvement of civil society, he acknowledged that it was time we were adequately included and that we would be included in the future. He also instructed that we spend some efforts educating the Council of Europe.

Finally it was the turn of the namesake of this report: Giusto Catania. He asked us to consider that there appears to be a democratic rift between the Council and the Commission on a European level but that we should be hopeful that a scientific approach to drug policy is, at least, now being promoted. He recommended that Europe take a more community approach to drugs, with the net effect of improving relationships between us all groups and members of civil society.

As Carel Edwards left the stage, ENCOD member, Christine Kluge, presented a peace-pipe to him, signed by various celebrities, saying “we present this to you with our sincere hope that we can work together to end the ´war on drugs.´ Somewhat befuddled, Mr Edwards answered that he did not believe that there was any kind of drug war going on between us and him but asked us to consider less political lobbying of the EU bodies but that what they really needed was more information and data supporting the legislation we wish they would pursue. Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt took this straight to heart and ran up the aisles demanding Beckley Foundation docments from Mr. Trace, but when she returned to present them to Carel, he said he said he had already seen them. Some other European drug policy reform obssessive had got there first!

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