24 April 2011


On 12 April the Franco German public TV channel Arte presented a documentary and talk show on drug routes and the war on drugs. Participants in the talk show included Wolfgang Goetz, from the EU Drugs agency, Michel Henry, a journalist from the "Libération" newspaper, Stéphane Gatignon, mayor of  the town of Sevran, and Karin Maag, a CDU Deputy and member of the Bundestag's public health committee.

If Wolfgang Goetz took a moderating position, as befits the boss of Europe's data hub on drugs issues, the two Frenchmen on the panel clearly and openly called for Regulation/legalisation. This may be expected from a journalist of Libération but less so from the mayor of a French town. He was however entirely explicite: we have lost the fight against drugs and our society is in real danger of being taken over by organised crime. In his view, people who want to smoke cannabis have to learn how to do so safely. For this purpose the state has to guarantee the safety and quality of a product that is smoked by millions but currently produced and distributed by criminals. His conclusion was stark: the state has to get its hands dirty and start controlling the supply and distribution chain. Remember, he speaks not as a drug policy specialist or academic, but as a public servant with real responsibilities in this area.

You'll find his blog by googling Stéphane Gatignon.


Carel Edwards, Brussels, 24 April 2011 

13:40 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook

14 April 2011

A view from Portugal

Nuno Capaz - from the Institute for Drug Addiction of the Portuguese Ministery of Public Health has agreed that I put his reaction to an earlier post on this blog. It should be clear that what he says reflects his personal opinion and not necessarily that of his government. The following are just some key elements of a much longer response.

Fortunately, none of the UN conventions say that using drugs should be considered a crime. They say that selling, producing, etc. must be criminalised, not use, and that is the hole in the treaties through which we Portuguese "dived" to get our decriminalised system. I agree with you that the law tends not to address reality where it considers drug use as a crime. The law is meant to discourage drug use, but it doesn't. That was why Portugal changed its system, because the other one wasn't working.

What makes the Portuguese system unique is the fact that the Dissuasion Commission is not part of either the interior or justice ministry but links up dirrectly with health authorities.

I also believe that formally decriminalised systems are not more common because other countries that have gone down that road have not taken drug use out of the judicial system but have simply tried to take the notion of crime out of the equasion, leaving all the rest in place.

Drug policy in general is a danger zone for politicians. "A good drugs policy is bad politics". I do not believe the US will be on the side of those who will bring about a change, but a significant group of countries, including European ones, is needed. Demonstrating that treatment is cheaper than incarceration may work, although the prison building and management lobby in the US might disagree.

The Portuguese system is not perfect, but as Churchill might have said, it's the worst, except for all the others.


Feel free to react!


Brussels, 12 April

17:17 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook

10 April 2011

Hanging separately in Vienna and New York ?

In my last post I made some suggestions about what the next steps should be in relation to the UN conventions on drugs. Here are a few thoughts drilling down to a more technical level:

The EU has once again shown (last March, at the CND) that it still needs to get its act together in the UN (as it has undertaken to do under the current Action Plan on Drugs). Unscheduled national statements in plenary sessions in Viennaor New Yorkare a comfort to those who do not share the EU’s values. One country that specialises in publicly messing up the EU consensus on harm reduction in the UN at the moment is Italy, with Sweden a close second.

Some of the bigger EU Member States need to get in step with the march of history and be less addicted to their positions on the UN Security Council and more perceptive of the gains to be made from a coordinated and coherent EU position. If nothing else, their public finances will soon give them few other options.

A fundamental, evidence-based review of the conventions must include a review of the role of the UN system in global drug policy. The UNODC is a deeply dysfuntional organisation with a Kafka-esque funding base. The current director is a Russian career diplomat. Do we want this sort of body to determine our political choices?

Within the European Commission the drugs file has - for the last 15 years or so - come under the responsibility of the Secretary-General or (after 1999) at least only one single Commissioner. Since 1910 it is being fought over by two Commissioners - one for Justice and one for Home Affairs - neither of whom have so far shown much grasp of the subject. In a forthcoming internal management change drug policy will move to the recently created directorate for criminal justice. This is a significant step backwards from the Commission's traditional holistic approach to drugs. It is to be hoped that the Commission will stop treating drug policy as a low-priority add-on to its criminal justice brief and recognise drugs for the major social and political issue that it has been for years.

Carel Edwards

Brussels, 9 April 2011

20:12 Posted by Carel Edwards in Drugs and politics | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook