Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama Administration & April UN INCB Meeting?

From Joep Oomen:



In a few weeks from now, we may see a first important sign of Barack Obama’s promise of a true regime change in the United States.

When the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meets in Vienna from 11 to 20 March in order to establish new guidelines for international drug policy in the coming years, the eyes of the world will point towards those that received the mandate from the new White House staff to address this meeting. Will Washington continue to lead the world into a dead-end one way street, or will it start to speak the language of dialogue? How will the other two key players in the global drug policy game, the UN Office of Drug Control and the European Union, respond to this opportunity to change the course of history? What are the true prospects for the dream that world leaders will finally start to discuss a rational alternative to the global drug war madness?

As host of the yearly CND meetings, the UNODC in Vienna has no interest in anything that may threaten the consensus behind the current status quo. The way in which Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa categorically refuses to discuss the results of Dutch cannabis policies shows that here, the door towards new approaches in drug policy is firmly closed. With regards to the European Union, it will depend very much on the spokespersons, since the legendary contradictions between EU governments as well as between the words and the actions of EU bureaucracy, remain the main obstacle for making any progress at all.

In the Netherlands, where cannabis has been officially available to adults through the sale in coffeeshops since 1976, the level of cannabis use is lower than in neighbouring countries where cannabis is only available underground. Therefore it is cannabis policies in these countries, not in the Netherlands, that need to be questioned first. This is the underlying knowledge that EU politicians do not want to admit, and obedient civil servants do not want to insist on. So meanwhile, any kind of debate on drugs is avoided and EU drug policies continue to be hollow fa├žades designed to cheat the taxpayers.

In December 2008 the European Commission delivered a new EU Action Plan on Drugs without allowing any opportunity for comment to the European Parliament, the recently created Civil Society Forum nor the Public Forum on the Internet that had been specifically established for this purpose two months before. Only ministers and civil servants took part in the writing of this plan, that ironically lists “participation of EU citizens in drug policy” as its second most important priority. In truly heroic style, the plan announces the launch of a so-called European Alliance on Drugs in June 2009, a partnership of citizens and authorities to fight against drugs.

A "European Alliance on Drugs" sounds like a term that may have been introduced during an after dinner conversation between EU leaders. Even the people working in the office of the European Commission’s Anti-Drugs Unit in Brussels are not able yet to explain what this alliance wants and what it will consist of.

For the next Civil Society Forum, Encod will work out a proposal for a true and effective dialogue on drug policy between authorities and citizens in Europe. A dialogue based on the knowledge that we share common interests: using the best expertise and knowledge available in order to convert evidence-based information into rational and pragmatic proposals for a better approach.

The research that Encod conducted in the past months among drug user organisations in Europe, some of which have 35 of years of experience in dialogue with authorities, produced the basic recommendations on how to build bridges between authorities and citizens who are affected by drug policies.

Meanwhile, Encod is constructing transition models towards a future where drugs-related problems are treated as a social and health issue in stead of a criminal justice one.

Although Encod will not initiate any big events outside the UN building in Vienna this year, due to organizational problems, we will instead send a delegation of people inside who together represent experiences from some of the citizens who are most affected by drug policies around the world.

It is possible to meet the members of this delegation at the conference that Encod will organise on 4 March, the week before Vienna, in the European Parliament, under the title “Coca 2009 – from persecution to proposal”. At this conference, organised in collaboration with the Bolivian government and coca growers’ organizations under the auspices of European Parliament Member Giusto Catania, Encod will propose a model to start commercialising traditional coca leaf products in Europe in a fair trade scheme.

According to this model coca products will not be available on the free market. The commercial transaction will take place between associations (of both coca leaf growers and consumers of coca products), without the intervention of private companies. The model is based on an agreement signed by Encod and various federations of coca growers in Bolivia, who will be share the ownership of this initiative.

The idea is to introduce the world to a healthier use of coca leaves than in the way it has been used outside the Andean Region until now: in either cocaine or Coca Cola. The bibliography on the positive effects of coca on the functioning of body and mind is impressive. According to a Harvard study in 1978 the consumption of the coca leaf in tea or other products has no negative side effects, acts as a mild stimulant, anti-depressive and local anesthesic, improves the function of the stomach, the muscles and the throat, and can be used in the treatment of obesity and diabetes.

At the UN Summit in Vienna, the Bolivian government will present a proposal to end the persecution of the coca leaf. When considering this proposal, Barrack Obama should realise that yes, he can end a war that has turned the Andean region into a drug policy Guantanamo. By decriminalising the cultivation of coca leaves in the Andean Region and allowing the market for coca leaf products to extend across the world, a more just and effective control system on coca cultivation can be introduced, and perspectives for sustainable development in coca producing areas can be created.

Since 1995, Encod has been campaigning together with organisations of coca growers from the Andean Region for the legal use of traditional coca leaf products in Europe as a way to teach the Western world the right way to use this product and reduce the availability of coca to the illegal production of cocaine. This call has been repeated by the European Parliament in several occasions. And since coca grower leader Evo Morales became Bolivia’s president, the government of that country is also proposing that the UN take coca off the list of prohibited drugs.

The same theory can be applied to the legal use of cannabis that is traditionally grown in Morocco, of opium in Afghanistan, and to the cultivation for personal consumption of any kind of plant anywhere.

With the green light from the White House, the UNODC and the EU should take their responsability and start the dismantlement of conventions that have made the world into a playground for organised crime. Each society should have the right to establish its own culturally accepted way of controlling the production and distribution of substances that people desire to consume, within the context of human rights.

By: Joep Oomen (with the help of Peter Webster)

* Those of who cannot be in Brussels on 4 March: you can participate in the discussion by sending your comments to

Those of you who can be there, click here to register.

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