Sometimes people, even governments, will shy away from an idea that seems radical. People fear change so governments tend to bring in changes quite slowly over time. The trouble is that it is not always possible to do this in every event and make the change effective. Consequently every government in my lifetime promises at every election to do something about education, hospitals, welfare reforms, crime and punishment and so on. Equally, every government fails to deliver anything of value, hence we pay more and more taxes for little reward or gain.
Perhaps it is not such a terrible idea to think outside the box. Why should only those organisations involved in the drugs market, be it rehabilitation or law enforcement, be the only ones who might have the solution to making our streets drug free and safe?
What follows is my letter to the Directorate General for Justice Freedom and Security, Unit C2 - Anti Drugs Policy Coordination Unit, Brussels, Belgium. I wonder if they will even respond to my letter? But what do you think? Does my suggestion have any merit or is it just plain silly?
The letter in full...
Dear Sir/ Madam,
I would like to contribute to your proposal regarding the Green Paper on drugs policy in Europe. I should point out from the onset that I do not represent any group or organisation. I am, however, what you have described as a member of the ‘civil society’ in the United Kingdom who is an ex smoker but has touched no other drugs. Never the less I have experience of the damaging effect and the cost of drug use through family members. I live in an inner city where drug users abide and where sellers drive people to hide behind their front doors. I have been a victim of drug related crime. In short, I believe that I am qualified to offer some suggestions to the EU policy on drugs.
I speak plainly for the sake of clarity and please accept that what I offer is of my personal opinion. I have not read the EU drug strategy and while the Green Paper refers to it there is no easy link for individual members of the civil society to view. This would be a good start to communicating effectively and would demonstrate openness and transparency. Also your email address did not work on your internet copy of the Green Paper in question. I am sending a fax in the hope that your fax number is correct and works. [It did I believe]
Active civil society involvement needs popular public support, which any policy will not get if the said proposals are too vague or prove to be as ineffective as every other strategy (if there ever was one) to date.
I note your conference held in January 2006 (p4 paragraph 6). I would not have known of its existence had I not read the Green Paper. Clearly it is impossible to make people aware of every initiative that is undertaken, suggesting that the EU may find some profit in targeting interested organisations, however, most organisations may be inclined to promote their interest rather than consider the wider picture objectively, thus calling into question the notion of consulting only so-called ‘expert opinion’.
Curiously enough, this point is highlighted in the conference questions:
- What works in the drugs field? From experience and practice to action plans and strategies, optimising impact of local actions.
- How can civil society work with European institutions?
- European civil society and drugs
- What kind of contribution from the civil society in the implementation of the present Action Plan and views on the next one.
Question 1 presumes that nothing new would work. Consequently no new solutions, however much outside of the box they may seem, will be offered. I would like to change that.
Question 2, I would imagine, is predominantly integral to the policies and resources of individual countries and their attitudes towards drugs. Consequently question 3 suggests that every EU country must adopt a common policy for the EU to become an effective base for discussion, policy and coordination.
Question 4 relates to action plans that I have not found and therefore I cannot comment upon constructively.
I believe that part of the answer to creating an effective drugs policy lies in your definition of the concept of civil society:
“the associational life operating in the space between the state and market…”.
What this is implying is that the individual law abiding citizen is sandwiched between what the state will do to reduce drug dealing, drug taking and drug related crime in its country in reflection to a market that demonstrates evidence of opportunities to make money by supplying and stimulating the demand of illegal substances.
In setting out EU policy, the Commission needs to consider carefully the disparity that exists between what individual member states support and what individual civilians support. The state is more prepared to accept some kind of watered down proposal that, to the individual civilian, might be almost palatable (and if not palatable then simply ineffective or non invasive) that costs as little as possible and does not involved major shifts in governmental policy or law. Conversely, the view of individual civilians is likely to be that they just want to live in an environment that is drug free and drug related crime free. I believe that you will find the simplicity of this attitude to be common at least among individual civilians.
What the EU said it is doing now to tackle drugs is:
“The EU is tackling supply reduction through a combination of legislative law enforcement initiatives”.
I predict that if this policy continues unchanged and unchallenged it will remain the same EU policy for the next 50 years and will remain equally ineffective. Whilst this may be an agreeable state for short term elected government ministers it will hardly attract active support from civil society. I would imagine that the current policy is quite a costly undertaking and, along with the cost of drug related crime and the inclination of such criminals to become repeat offenders the bill for tackling drugs is unlikely to cost less under the current way of thinking. The same money would be better spent, in my opinion, by removing the demand for drugs from the market.
Drug dealers make money by selling addictive drugs. If EU countries invested in a program to offer free drug rehabilitation to all drug users, it is possible that most drug users would consider seriously the advantage of getting free drug rehabilitation treatment as opposed to buying more drugs that they do not have the money for. Drugs that are addictive create a captive market. Addicts must have easy and, importantly, immediate access to rehabilitation alternatives, otherwise their continued purchase of drugs will most likely lead to the more expensive route of criminal activity with all its costs and consequences.
Many drugs are smoked. The argument in the UK against legalising cannabis was that taking a soft drug would lead to taking hard drugs. Exposure to smoking cannabis commonly happens with the smoking of tobacco. EU countries should consider their policies on the display and sale of tobacco. Children are exposed at a young age to undesirable notions about cigarettes. They are displayed prominently like adult sweets in confectioners and supermarkets and then curious children are told that they are bad. This association of tobacco with children’s confectionary is very unhelpful in the battle to prevent young adults and children from becoming smokers. One should consider how many non smokers smoke cannabis? For information it might be useful to note that nicotine is more addictive than heroin.
I would recommend that the EU and its member countries consider seriously to take action on these points by banning the sale of cigarettes in sweet shops and certainly to ban public displays of tobacco products. Present smokers would not be inconvenienced if tobacco was sold, for example, via a pharmacist. This might make common sense in countries where pharmacists have diversified into delivering smoking cessation services and I believe would be a very positive move to the medical profession and the World Health Organisation. Such an EU directive to restrict tobacco sales in this way would probably attract a legal challenge from the tobacco industry (as it has already done in Iceland I understand) but, if fought collectively by EU countries and fought collectively through a European court, the cost would be split.
There are organisations that would deal with drug rehabilitation and counselling. My proposals would not diminish their importance within their communities. What it would do in the longer term, however, is reduce the demand (and hence the cost and resource) for these organisations to grow continually and unabated. I also feel, however, that it would take a European agreement to avoid the possibility of ‘migration’ of addicts from one country to another. It may also be worth considering a structure for deferred payment for the cost of treatment by the individual to repay when he or she has recovered; perhaps not unlike the policy for repayment of student loans in the UK.
With fewer drug users there will be savings in cost to drug related crime, the judicial system, police and medicine. Stemming the flow of drugs without treating the addicts will only increase the demand, and the cost, of the drugs themselves. Restricting the availability of drugs makes them rarer and more expensive, which must surely encourage drug manufacturers to continue in their trade. Removing the market (i.e. remove an addict’s dependency on its supplier) and you instantly remove the purpose of manufacturing the drugs in the first place. The cost of manufacturing would soon become greater than its street value. What drug dealer can compete with free rehabilitation at the point of sale? Essentially every country in the EU should work towards making the entire industry worthless. No profit – no drug manufacturing – no addicts = less crime, fewer criminals, less violence, fewer guns, happier society, safer streets.
I have more that could be proposed but it would depend very much on the adoption of that which I have proposed here. I will, of course, be happy to answer any questions or clarify that which has already been stated should the need arise.