The European Union will not block any initiative of EU Member States to start the legal regulation of cannabis and other currently illegal drugs. This was repeatedly stated by Dana Spinant, the new Coordinator of the European Commissions Anti-Drugs Unit, at a Public Hearing on Drug Policies in the European Parliament today.
The hearing was organised by Member of European Parliament Michael Tremopoulos (Greens, Greece) and ENCOD, a coalition of citizens for drug policy reform. It brought together the expertise of representatives of civil society -among others leading Spanish activist for legal cannabis Martin Barriuso, spokesman of the Union of Dutch Coffeeshops Marc Josemans, and Richard Cowan, former director of NORML, USA’s largest reform organisation. Members of European Parliament Rui Tavares (GUE/NGL, Portugal) and Dennis de Jong (GUE/NGL, Netherlands) also spoke at the event.
The hearing considered the financial implications of decriminalisation of drugs and regulation of cannabis for public expenditure. Based on an extrapolation on data provided by the EMCDDA the total amount that could be generated by a combination of measures could be estimated between 35 and 60 billion euro/year, or between 70 and 120 euro/year for each of the 500 million people who reside in the European Union.
In March 2009, the European Commission published the results of a research report (“Report on Global Illicit Drug Markets 1998 – 2007”, edited by Peter Reuter and Franz Trautmann) which conclude that prohibitionist policies are failing in their main objective, which is to reduce the demand and supply of illicit drugs. The report even stated that these policies might be a crucial factor in generating and increasing harm to individual drug consumers, their direct surroundings and society at large.
“Drug prohibition is a blessing for organised crime”, said Dennis de Jong, Dutch Member of the European Parliament for the Socialistische Partij (SP). “My own government unfortunately is now moving towards more repression on the coffeeshops. In stead of the more reasonable approach towards regulation, the authorities now want to ban foreign visitors by installing membership cards, which will only increase the illegal market”.
The testimonies of Barriuso, Cowan and Josemans made clear that legal regulation of cannabis is taking place in several parts of the world and has produces satisfactory results. Decriminalisation of drug use as has taken place in the Netherlands and Portugal does not lead to increased use, but to safer conditions for drug consumers, and more efficient approaches in law enforcement. The same goes for Spain: “In the Basque country, the Cannabis Social Club model, a form of collective cultivation of cannabis for personal use, has been recognised by authorities and proves to be a very succesfull approach that is not questioned”, explained Martín Barriuso.
On the hearing Encod called on the European Commission to evaluate the costs of drug prohibition in terms of public spending and the benefits that alternative policies could generate. But Dana Spinant made clear that the Commission has no competence to take any initiatives for opening the debate on drug reform. “The responsibility lies entirely with the EU Member States, it is there where you should address yourself”, she said.
– Press Release from the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD) .