Drug Policy Conference – Saturday morning

Workshop: Europe and Drug Policy Reform: Stepping Forward or Falling Back?
Moderator: Craig Reinarman, UC-Santa Cruz,

Michael Jourdan, Centre of Alcohol and Drug Research, Copenhagen
Sebastian Saville, Release, London
Peter Sarosi, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
Joep Oomen, ENCOD, Antwerp, Belgium
Sophie Pinkham, Open Society Institute
Paul Thewissen, Royal Netherlands Embassy
Sebastian Saville: UK
– There are now quite a number of reports are showing that UK drug policy is a mess. However, evidence has little affect on political action.
– There is, perhaps, an opportunity to further discuss the difference between use and abuse.
– Treatment is more openly accepted, but more of it is focused through the criminal justice system.
– Cannabis remains high on the press agenda. Lots of propaganda from the Daily Mail and the Independent.
– Celebrity obsession – Kate Moss, Amy Winehouse, George Michael
Peter Sarosi: Hungary (website)
– Hungary’s civil liberties union is based on the ACLU model
– The Freedom of Information Act is used heavily to help drug policy reform in Hungary.
– Civil Obedience Movement [this is pretty interesting]
In 2005, a whole bunch of activists turned themselves in to police to confess having used illicit substances in the past, with HCLU there to represent them. Lots of press attention. There were some controversial police decisions — young drug users were prosecuted but police rejected the confession of a 64 year old grandmother. The HCLU represented one man who went to trial in a very interesting case. In Hungarian law you have to prove that a crime harms society, and the young man showed up in court with his own cannabis plant – to prove that nobody else had been involved in his drug use, so society had not been harmed. Lots of press attention again. The HCLU fully expected that the man would be arrested when he left the court with his cannabis plant, but the guards forgot to arrest him (which the press really enjoyed).
Sophi Pinkham: Russia, Georgia and the Ukraine
– Large scale HIV epidemic connected to injected drug use.
– Lot of the same policies in the former Soviet Union as in the United States.
– Drug use is seen as something that makes women ineligible for motherhood. Doctors will lie to women drug users (claiming that medically speaking, their child will certainly be deformed) to encourage abortion, even late term. Those who refuse to follow the advice end up not getting medical assistance in their pregnancy.
– Harm reduction is difficult to implement because of hyper-criminal laws. Police may choose to prosecute needle-exchange workers for the residue in the used syringes.
– Police extort very large bribes from drug users.
Paul Thewissen: Netherlands
– Asked how many of the audience had been to a coffee shop in Amsterdam (lots of hands raised)
– Use of cannabis is lower in the Netherlands than the U.S.
– In the Netherlands, health is the leading focus in drug policy. Department of health is responsible for drug policy.
– Any use of drugs is not a punishable offense. Selling, manufacturing can be, but there should be no barriers for users to find help, so no punishment.
– Cannabis is considered a soft drug
– Easier to do research in the Netherlands because drug policy is more open, so they can actually do detailed research on THC levels, etc.
– Coffee shops are fine if they sell less than 5 grams to a person, no hard drugs, and no cannabis to minors.
Michael Jourdan: Denmark
– Closer to the Dutch model than the United States, but still far from the Dutch model.
– Lots of stepping forward and falling back in Denmark.
Falling back…
– Narcotics Advisory Council provided advice to the government for years, but the recent government abolished it.
– Zero tolerance has become “political tender.” It has been imported. Young people are being prosecuted for the minutest amounts of drugs.
– Ketamine has been criminalized.
– Christiana in Copenhagen (open cannabis market) for 30 years, has now seen a severe crackdown. So now we’re getting more crime involved in the drug market, etc.
On the other hand…
– Government provides large amount of free treatment for drug users.
– Habitual users will no longer be prosecuted for small quantities.
– Move to re-classify heroin into the pharmacopaedia, so it can be prescribed.
What causes this strange dichotomy?
– Drug policy is subject to a constant dove/hawk conflict, leaving many laws strangely ambiguous, or else two different laws completely inconsistent with each other will be passed.
Other interesting point
– Swedem has tried to influence Denmark, with its hard core prohibitionist views, but in fact, the reverse is happening.
Joep Oomen: Much of Europe
– In the north of Europe (protestant tradition), you find the more rational-based policies and more transparent policy making
– In the south (catholic tradition), you find more moral-based policy making.
– Two tendencies in the Eurpoean union. 1. And increasing cooperation between drug agencies, exchanges of information, etc. and therefore an improvement by learning (that harm reduction policies are effective, for example.
– Regarding harm reduction, most countries have decriminalisation, maintenance-based treatment and needle exchange. A few have pilltesting, user rooms and controlled heroin distribution. The best overall in his harm-reduction chart are Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland. The worst overall are Greece and Sweden.

[Note that this is only in western Europe — Peter Sorosi indicated that the meeting of demand for needle exchange and treatment is far behind.

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