VII CONGRESS OF THE CORA - Brussels, 5-7 December, 1996
8th Congress of the CORA (Anti-Prohibitionist Radical Coordination)
Brussels, 5-7 December, 1996
Speech of EU Commissioner Emma Bonino
Having no religious faith whatsoever, I believe that our convictions must always bear the burden of proof.
Thus, year after year, ever since - almost a decade ago - I came to the conclusion that prohibitionist policies on drugs were a failure, I look around me to find some evidence to the contrary.
To no avail, at least so far. Only six days ago, on november 30, a headline in the International Herald Tribune read: "Dramatic Rise in Opium Production Is Reported". It appears that global opium production has doubled since 1988 and is now well above 4,000 metric tons a year. I say well above because already last year, in 1995, it was estimated at 4,157 metric tons, a jump of 22 percent over the previous year! This translates into roughly 400 metric tons of heroin available worldwide.
New producers have entered the business. For example, heroin production from Mexico and Colombia combined is now enough to meet the U.S. demand. No wonder that the U.S. authorities see "disturbing trends". According to the 1996 National Drug Control Strategy:
"In 1993, the rate of heroin-related emergency room episodes among persons aged 35 to 44 was almost double of what it was in 1988 for this age group. The users of heroin are also initiating use of the drug at a younger age and they are beginning to rely on routes of administration such as smoking and snorting, rather that injecting. This may make use more accessible to a wider range of users, particularly those users of other drugs that were unwilling to inject drugs".
Also, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), "During 1995, the nationwide average purity for retail heroin from all sources was 39.7 percent, much higher than the average of 7 percent reported a decade ago, and considerably higher than the 26.6 percent recorded in 1991".
Meanwhile, in the same country, the U.S., "Each year over one million persons are arrested on drug-related charges". Drug-offenders constitute the vast majority of inmates. And note that the U.S. has the highest prison population relative to total population among democratic countries.
Meanwhile, the budget of the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy has continued to grow: the Administration requested $15.1 billion for 1997. Within this budget, however, the percentage spent on demand reduction declines, while resources going to interdiction efforts - whose effectiveness remain highly dubious - hold their own.
The United States and Europe have cumulatively about 1.5 million heroin addicts, or 5 percent of the world total. It is a figure which is worth bearing in mind, because we tend to forget that heroin addiction is actually swelling in the developing world. Last summer, I had a chance to visit Burma, the country where some 55 percent of world opium production comes from. Needless to say, heroin is illegal in Burma.
There I heard the same tragic stories that I had heard so many times elsewhere: heroin addiction is increasing, needles are shared (in this particular case it is even illegal to own a needle for non-medical purposes!), ergo AIDS is spreading at a very alarming rate.
The story with other drugs is more or less the same. World cocaine production continues to hover around 800 metric tons per year. While U.S. authorities claim that "the number of Americans who use cocaine has been reduced by 30 percent since 1992", they also admit "that the price and availability of cocaine in the United States remains relatively stable".
To me this means rather clearly that neither prohibition nor the so-called interdiction strategies worked: the drug is as available as it has ever been. If something worked here is demand reduction through dissuasion or moral suasion, or simple weariness on the part of users. The same policies or attitudes, in other words, that are working with tobacco but that do not require, nor have anything to do with, prohibition.
While cocaine use may be declining in America, in Europe "there have been modest increases in most countries" - as informs us the first Annual Report on the State of the Drugs Problem in the European Union published by the newly-established European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in Lisbon.
And while heroin and cocaine continue to be as available as ever all over the world, new and old drugs are freely offered. I do NOT have in mind here marijuana - a so-called drug that has never killed, nor made addict, anybody. It is the first that should be legalized, as the CORA and the Movement Marco Pannella undertook to do in an upcoming referendum in Italy, for which more than 500.000 signatures have been collected.
I have in mind all sorts of psycho-active substances which are incessantly coming to the market. From methamphetamines to MDMA (including ecstasy), from LSD to methcathinone: you name it.
So, as I look around me once again, the picture remains the same: despite the gigantic prohibitionist infrastructure, including no less than three UN Conventions, put in place since the sixties, the drug outlook is not getting any better and, if anything, it worsens year after year.
Sometimes I wonder: how was the world dealing with drugs before the sixties? And for all I know, the answer is always the same: better than now.
Thanks to prohibitionist policies, drugs are now goods whose production, trade and consumption are illegal. And yet, they are probably the only goods which one can buy anytime and anywhere. McDonalds outlets occasionally close. So do gas stations. But you will always be able to buy an illegal drug, no matter where you are and if it's Christmas' Eve or Ramadam.
Why? Because peddlers never stop: they have such fat margins that they just cannot afford to tire. Where does this money end up? To criminal organizations which prosper to the point of casting a shadow on the political life of whole countries, from Burma to Colombia.
The world economy is polluted by the narcodolares, and money laundering is a problem of gigantic proportions that the 1988 UN convention on the traffic of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances has done little or nothing to tackle - as Giorgio Giacomelli, the director of the UN International Drug Control Program pointed out yesterday in the International Herald Tribune.
The impact of prohibition on drug users is well-known: they are thrown in the arms of criminals. They are often put behind bars. They have no guarantee, nor information, on the quality of the substances they buy.
It happens every day: some traffickers change the content of the drugs they sell and users die of overdose.
But also those who do not use drugs pay a price: by being exposed daily to the violence of those who need the quick buck for the next dose. The next dose of a substance that they pay dearly but whose real production cost is next to nothing.
We have been experimenting with drug prohibition for several decades now, and those are the results. Should we not try to experiment with drug legalization and dissuasion, i.e. reduction of demand through moral suasion, as we did so successfully with tobacco? - and please forget for a moment that I am a chain smoker.
My answer is clear and it is yes. It is the answer of a private citizen, NOT the answer of a European Commissioner who, by the way, is not even in charge of the problem.
Some previous stances I have taken on this subject since I took office have triggered quite a few touchy reactions. Thus, let me take this opportunity to restate once again that drug policy is a matter for member states to decide. As a European Commissioner I have neither the power nor the intention to influence member states' policy-making on a subject of their exclusive jurisdiction.
The oath I took when I assumed my duty, though, said nothing as to personal convictions. In other words, it would seem that a European Commissioner is entitled to harbor her or his opinions as any other European citizen. Therefore, I hope I will be forgiven of the use I made today of this liberty.
Let me thus close this speech by making clear that I am against drugs. I do not use them (except tobacco), nor I think that using them it's the right thing for others to do.
I simply believe in personal responsibilities and personal choices. The state is not there to dictate personal choices and behaviors. Any meaningful interpretation of the rule of law should lead us to hold that where there are no victims there is no crime. He or she who uses drugs victimizes only herself of himself. We can try to convince drug users that their choices are self-destructive. But we have no right to impose on them our choices.
Roughly ten years ago, if my memory serves me well, Nancy and Ronald Reagan came up with a beautiful and incisive slogan on drugs.
It went: JUST SAY NO.
It is indeed the root cause of all our prohibitionist failures on drugs to believe that it is governments which have to JUST SAY NO.
On my part, I keep believing that only free individuals have the right, if they so wish, to JUST SAY NO.
Thank you for your attention.
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