04 July 2011

Bolivia, the Global Commission on Drugs, and Europe

One month ago, the Global Commission on Drug Policy called on the UN to end to the “war on drugs”, the world’s  “multilateral narcotics control system” which has been going for more than 50 years. Scientific evidence has been piling up that this system is not only failing spectacularly but providing organised and other crime with a sort of legislative gold standard for drug production and trafficking.


The Global Commission’s action followed on the request by Bolivia last January to drop a particular clause from the 1961 Single Convention, which would require it to eradicate the traditional chewing of coca leaf (not to be confused with cocaine) a cultural and social habit as old and deeply engrained in parts of Andean society as having a pint in an English pub (only less bad for you).


Predictably, some of the friends of the Single Convention, like theUS,Sweden, and others, blocked the move. The fact that Germany joined in this was less expected but probably a symptom of something else: the fact that Germany may be the undisputed economic giant of Europe but that it remains painfully provincial on the world stage, but that is another subject altogether.


Having had its request turned down Bolivia turned to option nr two and decided to withdraw from the Convention before the 1 July deadline and seek re-accession to it, but with a reservation about the coca leaf clause. The Bolivian Permanent Representative at the UN, Pablo Solon, explained in a recent press conference that this would leave the Convention intact for those countries that feel strongly about it but without inflicting an unrealistic clause on his country. He made the point clearly that this was not to encourage, or in any way be less tough on, the production or trafficking of cocaine.


If fewer than 63 states express a reservation the Bolivian request should be accepted and effective from 1 January 2012. Currently only seventeen countries are opposed. Mr Solon did not name them, as is the custom in these matters. This brings us back to the Global Commission: what is its role to be in the next six months? It has had good coverage in the world media, and the idea that drug policies should shift away from huge quasi-military security operations and massive incarceration of users and small dealers, towards treating drugs as a health and social issue that requires urgent attention is gaining acceptance everywhere.


Cannabis, the world’s most widely used drug, calls for an urgent reappraisal, and the need for some form of regulation is slowly but surely creeping towards many political agendas as politicians in many countries squirm and fear for their ratings in the polls. So  now that the Global Commission has had its day, we are waiting for the next move. Xavier Solana and other Europeans who until recently dominated the political scene are members of the Commission. They know how politics work. They also know that another big media event will now have less novelty value and loose the public’s interest more quickly than the first. They will have to do something different and less formalistic, but they should realise that quite a few EU Member States are ripe for a fundamental re-think on drugs in general but cannabis in particular, if only to find the billions of Euros that this would save them. They will find plenty of people inEurope with intimate knowledge of the politics of drugs in the EU who will be only too happy to assist them 

11:46 Posted by Carel Edwards | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook