Ms. MaLou Lindholm
Ms. Lindholm has served as a Deputy Director Hassela Nordic Network (HNN) since September 2000. She is a member of The Institute on Global Drug Policy (USA), was an elected Member of the European Parliament in Brussels 1995-1999. For the past fifteen years she has been a frequent guest on national and international radio and TV programmes and given numerous interviews for newspapers and magazines from around the world. The themes have mostly been about children's situation, third world, drugs and drug politics, European politics, but also about being a woman in the "men's world".
In September 2000 Ms. Lindholm left party politics to work full time to promote a restrictive drug policy at HNN. She is an often consulted expert on drugs and drug policy by radio and TV-stations and newspapers in Sweden and abroad. Ms. Lindholm who is a Member of Drug Watch International, is a Member of the Swedish Drug Police Association and of the US based Institute on Global Drug Policy - consisting of physicians, scientists, attorneys and drug specialists.
Is EU a threat or a possibility
to a restrictive drug policy?
An Address by Ms. MaLou Lindholm
to the Conference of the European Cities Against Drugs
April 25, 2002
Is EU a threat to or a possibility for a restrictive drug policy?
Facts are that all the member states of the European Union (EU) have signed the UN conventions on drugs and doing so have committed themselves to act for a humane restrictive drug policy in accordance with these conventions. Secondly drug policy is not a competence area for the EU since it is a part of the third pillar, where EU has no right to formulate any binding laws or directives. Every country is independent and the national parliaments are to decide in democratic order. But the EU has big indirect impact on drug policies in its member states through recommendations, agreements, financial support, through laws and directives in other political areas.
If the EU and its bodies (the European Parliament (EP), the Commission (Com), the Council of Ministers and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)) strongly supported and worked to implement the UN conventions and the UNGASS declaration, the EU could play a positive role for a restrictive drug policy in Europe and in the world.
Sadly this is not the case! It is almost impossible to find any written or pronounced support from the EU Commission, the EP or the EMCDDA for the UN conventions on drugs. On the contrary, direct and indirect support is given to the harm reduction policy and projects. By this the EU helps to undermine the UN conventions and a restrictive drug policy.
A look at the political groups in the EP shows the same pattern as in most member states. The most drug liberal political groups are the Radicals followed by the Social Democrats (labour), the Greens, the Leftwing and the Liberals. The Conservatives and the Christian Democrats support a restrictive drug policy. However it is important to notice that there is no consensus in any political group, except from the Radicals where all are in favor of the liberalization of drugs.
The main body of Radicals in EP consists of members of the Italian Trans National Radical Party (TRP) which focus on the liberalization of illicit drugs. The TRP as well as other drug liberal MEPs takes every opportunity in the EP to write drug liberal amendments to reports from different committees. The amendments and speeches support efforts for decriminalization and liberalization of cannabis and reconsideration of the UN conventions on illicit drugs.
Drug liberal politicians consider the current drug policy as a failed one and promote the harm reduction policy to be accepted in the member states. Several attempts have been made by MEPs to carry out resolutions for liberalization of drug policy and a review of the UN conventions. Until now they have been rejected by the EP.
The drug liberal organization CORA (Radical Antiprohibitionist Co-ordination) associated with the TRP has, thanks to some MEPs, its office inside the building of the EU-parliament. This makes it possible for CORA and its members to operate and lobby the politicians directly and also to be updated on what´s on the agenda in the different committees. They can and do organize meetings and conferences inside the Parliament. They can without any charges use the phone, fax and internet of the Parliament. The EU tax payers pay the bill!
The influence and damage caused by CORA and its members, politicians, employed political experts and civil servants, should not be underestimated.
A major problem in the EU, as well as in national parliaments, is that politicians in general have almost no drug political knowledge. Their ignorance can be partly excused since it mostly is due to the fact that they are dealing with other political areas. But too often it is also a result of lacking interest, which is worrying. As a result they easily fall a victim to drug liberal or harm reduction lobbyists.
Drug issues in the EU are the responsibility of several commissioners, cabinets and committees, like agriculture, health, social, legal, civil liberties. The result is that no one actually has the full picture or can foresee the consequences of different decisions nor has the final responsibility. A big problem in the EU (the EP and the Commission) is that drug misuse is mainly seen as a health problem and only secondly as a social problem.
A problem is that even if drug policy is the concern and responsibility of the individual member states and the EU has no right to adopt any legislation in this field, legislation in other political areas may significantly influence the drug policy in a member state. One example of such influence is Sweden´s fight to keep its prohibition on cannabis cultivation.
Due to Sweden´s commitment to the UN conventions and public health, the Swedish drug policy forbids all cultivation of cannabis, which since the mid 1960´s therefore has been a criminal act.
But the EU sees cannabis cultivation only as an agricultural issue and gives subsidiaries to farmers who grow cannabis - if they fulfil certain criteria.
Some farmers in Sweden have now started to cultivate cannabis although it is against the Swedish criminal law. They refer to the EU regulations for subsidiaries, which, they mean, show that cannabis is allowed in the EU. This case got full media coverage in Sweden. More farmers started to grow cannabis and the police and prosecutors intervened. The EU sent a note to the Swedish government, demanding Sweden to change its laws and by that its drug policy! The Swedish government refused and referred to the UN conventions, international treaties (UNGASS), Swedish drug policy and public health. It also stated that cannabis cultivation is seen as a drug issue in Sweden and not as an agricultural one.
This has now become a case for the EU court which is to give an advanced notice, i.e. decide if Sweden has the right to uphold its national drug law.
The EU funds many projects in the field of drugs. A majority are projects promoting harm reduction, very few promoting a restrictive drug policy. For instance ECAD (European Cities Against Drugs), a network of 260 European cities who support the UN conventions and work for a restrictive drug policy, has twice applied for funding - and twice been rejected. While the organization ECDP (European Cities on Drug Policy) consisting of only approximately 30 cities, which have signed the Frankfurt declaration and work for harm reduction and decriminalization of cannabis, has got funding for many years from the EU!
To summarize: The EU is probably one of the main threats to a humane restrictive drug policy.
Five European Ministers of Health (from Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland) supporting the Dutch drug policy have started cooperation that was manifested in a series of conferences with the aim to get support for a "European cannabis policy". The first one was organized by the Dutch Ministry of Justice in December 2001 and was called "European Cities on Cannabis Policy". One of the main issues that was discussed at the conference was: How to circumvent the UN conventions on illicit drugs? The conventions are seen as main obstacles for "a pragmatic cannabis policy". The second conference took place in February 2002 in Brussels and was called "Scientific Conference on Cannabis". The focus was to prove that cannabis is not dangerous or addictive and definitely not a "gateway drug". Hosting was Ms. Magda Alvoet, Minister of Health in Belgium. The Health Ministers from the Netherlands, France, Germany and Switzerland participated in the conference the whole day, which shows the importance they put in the issue. The third conference is planned to take place in France later this year or early next year. Host was planned to be Mr. Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Health in France. This last conference is announced as a political conference on Cannabis Policy.
This work for a European Cannabis Policy is most worrying. The Health Ministers in the European countries with harm reduction policy form and strengthen an alliance of like-minded nations to support one another and find other allies to work for this common goal. With this background I am sure that there is an obvious risk that there will be an attempt at the UN Midterm meeting in Vienna April 2003 to get support for a revision of the UN conventions. If it succeeds it will have world-wide impact on the drug situation.
Another result that can be foreseen is that a new drug liberal Resolution might be posed to the EP. It would have a heavy political impact if the EP (= 15 European countries) supported a European Cannabis policy and a review of the UN conventions on illicit drugs in a more "pragmatic" way.
In the Council of Europe (COE) with its 43 member states an attempt was made in January 2002 to carry out the drug liberal Flynn report. If it had been adopted it would have had big political impact. The report had exactly the same aim: the decriminalisation of cannabis and a revision of the UN conventions. The report was initially heavily supported by the MPs. But a couple of days before the voting, some committed Italian and Swedish politicians managed to convince the members of the Council of Europe, that adopting the Flynn report would be a huge mistake and would go against the UN conventions and the international agreements which their countries had signed. The report was finally voted down and not adopted.