Marco Perduca Interview

We decided to learn more about what neo-liberalism, capitalism and anti-prohibitionism are. Here MARCO PERDUCA, member of the Transnational Radical Party/TRP, an Italian gent if I may say so, explains it all most articulately…

A.E: What is the International Anti-Prohibitionist League (IAL)?

M.P: The League was born in the late 1980’s with expert politicians, advocates, and journalists to raise the issue of anti-prohibitionist politics at the international level, as there were many working at national levels but not internationally. Even fewer were looking at what we considered to be the problem, which are the three UN Conventions on Narcotic and Psychotropic substances. So a lot of people gathered together at the chamber of deputies in Rome in 1989 and some of them came from all over the world, mainly Europe, America and some experts also from Latin America and they all agreed to work together to provide all activists around the world with a critique of these three UN Conventions. This was a legal analysis as well as a political analysis of these documents. Eventually in 1993, we produced possibly the first study of the UN texts, which was sent to several parliaments. The main idea of the IAL was to regulate and control drugs properly, rather than the law of the jungle that we have now. So all of them, at that time – I don’t know how they have evolved their thinking to date – was very much in favour of legalisation of all drugs i.e. to regulate their distribution finally within the law and tax them.

In 1994/5, some IAL founders evolved into various national groups that launched a series of initiatives on depenalisation as well as harm reduction. At the same time, in Europe, some grassroots movements started to thrive.

A.E: Grass roots movements: for example?

M.P: Green Parties were starting to get active on this issue. The legalization of marijuana was one of the things that kept appearing here and there on the platforms of those movements. Not only Italy, but also France – Portugal. Spain was a different thing because they were coming out of their dictatorship so they had tough laws on a lot of stuff. People were starting to address drug-related issues from a radical perspective; that is the problem was not the drugs but the prohibition of the drugs that made them dangerous, because you were criminalizing all drug aspects from production to consumption and of course trade. Somebody who was doing drugs or trying to produce them was considered therefore a criminal member of society and so put in jail and stigmatized. They therefore didn’t have the same rights as the average citizen.

A.E: Could you describe exactly what the Transnational Radical Party is, for those of us who don’t know?

M.P: Exactly it’s maybe too difficult a task! I can say that it’s a non-violent organization – I do want to stress this aspect in particular. It is struggling to ascertain civil and political rights, because if you can live and be active in a society where you can use all the various mechanisms that the rule of law allows you to use to question the law and to question the way the law is implemented, then you can also promote and acquire reforms through civil actions. We come from a traditional liberal thinking where you do not necessarily need all those laws. We would like to see a few specific uncomplicated laws regulating harming behaviours, not non-violent or non-harming behaviour. We also believe that it should not be up to the State to decide what’s harming even against your self. Once you enter the other person’s freedom sphere then you start to have problems.

A.E: What about people who don’t know or care that they are harming themselves and/or others?

M.P: Well those people may be people who have health problems of different sorts, so you treat those people as people who have a health problem, rather than a criminal or legal problem.

I have a problem with the notion of public health. I rather, think in terms of individual health because what’s not good for you might be great for me and the other way round.

A.E: As soon as you say individual rather then public health, I sort of understand but I think it contradicts the notion of evolving social policies, which affect many, ergo, the public: public health

M.P: Social Policies in today’s world is a label we use when we talk about policy in general. Now, the problem is that sometimes we adopt policies, which are said to be for the good of humanity, not because we know they are good for the world but because we feel they are. In the preamble to the three UN conventions on drugs, they say something like ”this is a humanitarian endeavour that we take upon ourselves to free the world from drugs…” So they created a system in which different countries were supposed to benefit from the decisions taken. In the current situation, what we have is a general global system of drug prohibition (which illegalises certain drugs,) even if the general principles are there but the actual implementation could be different from country to country to some degree. Our policy would be that narcotic substances should not be considered illegal substances, so that if you use them, and get ill with them, you can go to your doctor and he/she can help you deal with it appropriately. This dialogue should be allowed to happen in a legal, transparent and public environment.

A.E: On another issue, I understand the radicals are not exactly anti-capitalism.

M.P: It depends what you mean by capitalism. Our interpretation of classical liberalism meaning a) individuals rights, b) liberal democratic institutions, c) separation of powers: church and state, d) rule of law and executive legitimate judiciary implies also freedom to invest your money how/wherever you want, but at the same time it implies anti-monopolism, anti-oligarchism – anti connection between politics and money. Today we believe we do not live in a free market. We live in a society driven by capital and capitalism. Example: in the computer arena, we only have Bill Gates plus a few more small companies. Why is Bill Gates doing so well? Not necessarily because his products are the best but because for a variety of reasons, he has been allowed to impose his standard on the world. So all the computer designers must deal with Microsoft. This is not a free market but a capitalistic market, which we try and oppose. Essentially we are for allowing smaller companies and competitors to have more of a place in economic society because they sell the better products, rather than these huge monopolies that we have now.

A.E: Ok. I must say that I have always found the concept of a free market naïve. Here’s what I mean. It seems to pre-suppose that in this world of little companies all over the place, people will behave proper and rip each other off less. My own sense of a system such as that is that people will be more competitive as society fragments into all these little ‘pieces’ if you will. Moreover, I see already the actual outcomes of this: in London where I live, once the council would send plumber X round to sort the water out. Now, the council sends out a plumber Y from private company X and the communication between all these different entities is usually not very good, so jobs don’t get done well, or on time or at all in some cases…

M.P: In the field of narcotics, my answer is not necessarily in the free market. Why? As we were saying before, there are health repercussions of taking certain drugs and there are a lot of development issues, when you look at the drugs issue from the production side. So, in a global economy of over six billion people, you have to cautious when you adopt regulatory laws. There are different freedoms and levels of development in the world: China, for example, is different from Europe and much of the rest of the world. It is developing an authoritarian capitalistic society that is nothing to do with liberal democracy, where people can choose their leaders.

A.E: Mmh..

M.P: … they can also not put their money into a small enterprise and do business.

A.E: Anyways, isn’t it a bit late now to develop free markets, given all the multi-nationals that already exist?

M.P: It is. So our strategy design is on the one hand anti-prohibitionist on a lot of things; drugs, sex and freedom of scientific research and also gambling to some degree. However, on the economic side it is anti-protectionist, so rich countries that are imposing their model on poor countries should not block products that are coming from poor countries. I don’t think it is too late if we work together in a movement.
That is, all the people who have been working together against capitalist empires and prohibition should try and find a way to operate their thinking in a more freedom driven kind. Social justice has never happened without individual empowerment.

A.E: So let’s get to what I really want to ask you about! Just to let readers know, for a couple of years now, Marco and I have been bumping into each other in airports on the way to or from drug policy meetings. During those impromptu meetings we have discussed ‘the movement’ many times. Marco claims there is no drug policy reform movement. So come on what on earth do you mean by that?! (Suddenly I feel my raison d’etre threatened profoundlyL)

M.P: First of all, it’s important in a movement that it has a name. If you google ‘it’, nothing comes up saying global drug policy reform movement. Secondly, we know people all over the world and we can say that, as we are on our way back from Kabul having been at Drug Policy Symposium there. It’s true that we have bumped into each other all over the place including Latin America Andria, so we know people who have been doing this work for 10, 15 and even 20 years in some cases, but I have never seen a document coming out of a meeting with some common denominators of what we do. The best example of the non-existence of this movement is that for five years now, there have been the World Social Forums (WSF) in Porto Allegre, but there have never been drugs on the agenda.

A.E: Hey what about Columbia’s WSF in 2003 and I spoke at two European Social Forums (ESFs) on drugs issues.. many of us have now spoken at social forums including you!

M.P: Yes but Columbia was a special session; the point is that drug policy has never been the core issue why these people are getting together. If you want to promote a revolutionary movement, I think you also need to discuss where you want to begin and when? That is we need to go to the root of the problem. The Latin word for ‘radical’ is to go to the root of the problem rather. We do not have time to waste in ideological conflicts. It’s fine to raise awareness but all these years later; I believe the time is running out to make a global movement. Little changes have happened in some countries. We have seen medical marijuana passed by referendum in 10 U.S. states but then you have the federal level, which is blocking everything! In Europe, everybody is concentrating very much on legalising marijuana, but we have problems with the consumption of ‘bigger stuff..’

A.E: Mmh, and I agree and even the cops think legalisation of heroin should come first in order to reduce crime radically and soon. What do you think about this notion that people campaign for the end of pot prohibition first, as it is more politically expedient, due to the fact that the general population think it’s a less dangerous substance?

M.P: In countries where they have legalised cannabis, they have stopped there and that has nothing to do with the root of the problem, which is we believe, prohibition itself, which promotes violence. People are even scared to say the word heroin. (In Kabul, heroin was called a poison and Morphine was all right. What was that about?)

M.P: Dunno. Morphine used to make me scratch like a little monkey whereas heroin doesn’t have that irritating side effect. I was once told that doctors are reticent to prescribe heroin as they fear people will never come off. Anyways, can you summarise why we don’t have a movementL

M.P: Well, maybe this is a bit rude to say but I think the professionalisation of policy-advocacy has proven to be quite an enemy of the ultimate objective, because you start an organisation, look for money, build it and then it becomes the objective of the organisation: that is keeping the organisation alive, whereas our job should be to be putting ourselves out of work!

A.E: Mmh. Do you think the world is generally in a position yet to take on the legalisation of heroin and cocaine given the way that the media has brainwashed so many of us?

M.P: No, certainly not while we have Bush in the Whitehouse! What about your Blair providing the most resources to eradicate opium in Afghanistan?

A.E: My Blair!?? Excuse me!

It is very unlikely that the U.S. will change their policy substantially in the next three years. We must engage our politicians on this issue; we need to get them out of their closets to say what they really believe or think on this issue, preferably while they are still in office. We need to address the issue in a bigger context, i.e. we are coming back from Afghanistan where we discussed opium. The world is mainly now divided into two camps: one is in favour of scientific research and one is imposing restrictions on such research. If people en masse knew that painkillers are produced from opium, I would suggest that they would be more likely to support us. They might question, why is obscurantism dominating this issue. So we are trying to install a revolutionary platform in all these meetings and conferences we have, and I’m afraid that the most interesting reactions are coming from people that are not used to this kind of exchange, particularly in this part of the world and Latin America.
We need to focus on non-violent civil disobediences and to challenge whenever you believe that an unjust law has been imposed on you.

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