The fight to reform UN drug laws

For over 30 years, UN anti-drug conventions ? signed by Canada, the US, Holland and every other western nation ? have been our rulers’ favorite excuse for not reforming drug laws, even under extreme public pressure. The three most powerful of these agreements were signed at the UN in 1961, 1971 and 1998.
Groups of committed parliamentarians and activists from around the world are now uniting to reform these conventions and tear up the drug war at its roots. High on the list of those fighting the UN conventions is Italy’s Transnational Radical Party (TRP). The TRP has doggedly fought prohibition in Italy and Europe for over a decade. Marco Cappato, an elected TRP Member of the European Parliament (MEP), is spearheading the worldwide campaign against UN anti-drug conventions.

Cappato was thrown behind bars in March 2003, just as the campaign against UN conventions began to gather steam. Two years earlier, in December 2001, Cappato and English Liberal-Democrat MEP Chris Davies had strolled into a Stockport police station to announce that they had cannabis in their pockets (CC#36, England’s Dutch Experience).

Cappato was eventually sentenced to a fine of 2,200 sterling for legal expenses and an additional 100 sterling for breaking the law. He forked over the 2,200 but ? on principle ? refused to pay the final hundred, choosing a 4-day jail stay instead.

Getting imprisoned for cannabis is a TRP tradition. In 1975, TRP founder and leader Marco Pannella was arrested for smoking a joint in public, but he used the bust to win a victory for all Italian tokers. Pannella created a media sensation by refusing to ask for bail or release. Instead, he demanded the government draft a bill to make the personal use of drugs an unpunishable act (CC#12, Italy getting radical).

The bill passed, and recreational use was decriminalized until 1990 when US pressure led to Italy introducing its toughest drug laws ever. Since then, more than 30 TRP members have been charged or arrested for distributing marijuana during massive public anti drug war protests, including Italian Radical Party President Rita Bernardini in February 2003.

UN blocks democracy

In 1993, the TRP organized an Italy-wide referendum that decriminalized marijuana possession in their country, but the Italian government sabotaged all further attempts to hold a referendum for drug reform. In an interview with Cannabis Culture, Cappato explained the dilemma.

“If you have 500,000 signatures you can have a referendum to abolish a law [in Italy],” he said. “In 1980, 1995, and again in 1997-98 we collected the required number of signatures to reform drug laws or utterly legalize marijuana. But Italy’s constitutional court told us the referendum could not be held, that the people could not vote, because if we had won it would have been a breach of the UN’s international conventions.”

Cappato and other like-minded European Union politicians realized that they would have to go after UN conventions directly if they were going to push the drug-peace envelope further in their own countries. They formed a coalition called Parliamentarians for Antiprohibitionist Action (PAA). The PAA drafted a motion asking the European Union to call upon the UN to reform its anti-drug conventions.

A cadre of cannabis-hating EU politicians countered with a motion that member nations must all enforce UN anti-drug conventions to their fullest extent ? that there be an all-out inquisition-style war against euphoric plants.

On April 10, 2003, the European Union’s parliament turned down both proposals, but did support a moderate motion calling for an international conference to reclassify drugs more realistically, meaning that substances like cannabis might fall into the same category as tobacco and alcohol.

International petition

Marco Cappato and the PAA ? with the support of the International Antiprohibitionist League ? have lost no time gathering signatures on a worldwide petition that demands UN officials reevaluate their anti-drug conventions with an eye to reform.

In February 2003, Cappato won considerable support for the petition from high-ranking government officials at the “Out of the Shadows” conference in Merida, Mexico, the first of its kind in Latin America. As of this writing, 245 legislators from over 20 countries and thousands of private citizens have signed. Cannabis Culture encourages our readers to do the same.