Alternatives to current policies on illicit drugs

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46th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the high-level Ministerial Segment

In Vienna from the 16th to the 17th of April the UN will hold a half time evaluation meeting of the 1998 UN General Assembly special session on narcotic drugs. The session of 1998 set the aim of a world without illicit drugs by 2008 which should be accomplished mainly through further criminalisation and harder penalties. This and other UN resolutions on the matter reinforces policies of strict control and has greatly limited the possibilities for the member states to develop and use alternative ways in dealing with problems associated with drug consumption.

While many of the member states have substantially sharpened their legislation on the use of drugs during the last ten years there has not been a corresponding decline in the consumption. On the contrary we have little evidence of the effectiveness of the tougher laws that are now in force; there has been an increase in the use of both the so called soft drugs such as cannabis and the number of people heavily addicted to hard drugs. Policies which foremost concentrate on punishing and not helping people with drug problems have more often than not the effect of stigmatising and excluding them from society with human tragedy as consequence.

The policies used so far have also had a tendency to focus on certain expressions of youth culture for which the rave culture is the clearest example. Moral indignation over “incomprehensible” youth activities has lead to numerous mass arrests and forced urine control of people participating in raves or events with the “wrong” kind of music for example techno, house and reggae. Individuals, mostly young, are subject to the suspicion of using drugs the moment they choose which kind of music they like to go and listen to. Consequently their civil rights get trampled when they from the society’s perspective find themselves in the wrong place in the wrong time. It is not acceptable in a modern society that prejudice and ignorance about a social phenomenon should decide how a person would be treated by the law enforcement. A continuation of such practices will not lessen the use of drugs by young people but only reinforce young people’s disbelief in institutions, which may make it even harder to reach them with accurate information. The statistics tells us that in spite of more and more repressive measures there has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of young people that have tried drugs since the beginning of the 90’s.
The FYEG believes there are alternatives to further criminalisation and tougher control of individual users. During the Vienna meeting we want our governments the EU and the UN to consider the following points:

  • The UN and the EU should not work for more criminalisation but explore alternative and not necessarily repressive measures guided by rationality and care for those effected.
  • Harm reduction, such as programs for syringe exchange that both reduces the spread of diseases (HIV, Hepatitis) and create a way for social and health services to get in contact with individual drug users, should be considered acceptable.
  • Legislation and law enforcement should focus on major suppliers of illegal narcotics such as smuggling cartels rather than individual victims or users.

Open debate on drug use and exchanges in ways of which to deal with associated societal problems should be encouraged and seen as an important mean to work together and in the same time give sufficient space for local solutions.

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