European Drug Policy at Crossroads

European institutions are taking a wrong turn with simplistic messages and priorities of the failed policies of the past
IDPC Advocacy Note
January 2012

idpc-europeIn recent years of global debate on policies and strategies on controlled drugs, the European institutions (European Commission and Council, and the EMCDDA) and member states have broadly been a progressive and civilizing factor in pushing for balanced, evidence based and humane drug policies and programmes. However, just when the wider global debate is shifting in accordance with these principles, and there are real political opportunities to create more balanced, humane and effective drug policies, there are worrying signs that the European institutions are taking a wrong turn – the vision and leadership on this issue is notably absent, and some of the more recent positions taken seem to indicate a return to the simplistic messages and priorities of the failed policies of the past.

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We urge European leaders and member states to engage, both within the EU and in external engagement, in a fundamental debate on the future objectives, direction and effectiveness of drug policies, based on the following principles:

• The recognition that the market for psychoactive drugs cannot be eradicated, so needs to be managed in a way that minimises the damage to the health and welfare of EU citizens.

• The recognition that the arrest and punishment of drug users has minimal deterrent impact, while being discriminatory, and creating significant social and financial costs.

• The refocusing of law enforcement strategies on reducing the health and social harms of drug markets, and increasing human security, rather than simply reducing the flow of drugs.

• The recognition that the use of certain recreational drugs – in particular cannabis - has become so widespread and socially accepted in large categories of the population that the idea of reducing consumption through prohibition has become unrealistic.

• The facilitation of experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs (for example legal highs) in order to undermine organised crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.

• The wider use of Europe’s external affairs and donor capacity to promote humane and effective drug policies and programmes in other countries and regions, and in multilateral forums such as the United Nations.

• To improve coordination and delivery of drug policy at EU level through the creation of a truly system wide co-ordinating and resource allocation mechanism.

Big changes are happening in drug policy at local and national levels, in particular in North and Latin America. It would be a tragedy if the European voices, that have done so much to improve the effectiveness and humanity of drug policies and programmes in the last 20 years, were absent from these positive developments or, worse, came to represent the blind faith in outdated strategies. On drug policy, Europe needs to avoid making the wrong turn at the wrong time.