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Arnao Giancarlo - 1 novembre 1988
THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ANTIPROIHIBITIONISM 1988
Giancarlo Arnao

ABSTRACT: Intervention to the Conference of the Drug policy foundation, Washington, Nov. 1988.

The International Conference on Anti Prohibitionism took place in Brussels from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. It was promoted by Italian Partito Radicale and CO.R.A. (Coordinamento Radicale Antiproibizionista).

The aim of the conference was to gather the experiences of different countries in the research of alternative strategies to the present drug policy, based on legal prohibition.

The countries represented in the Conference were: Belgium, Cana da, France, Great Britain, Italy, Netherland, Spain and USA.

As we know, the problem of drugpolicy involves different issues:

- legal and ethical (constitutional rights)

- medical (health safeguard of drug users and of general population)

- social (problems created in the drug users by the illegality: microcriminality and social marginalization)

- political (international drug trade)

- financial (cost of law enforcement related to its functionality).

In the Brussels Conference the social, political and financial issues were mostly pointed out.

Marco Pannella (M.P. at the Italian and at the European Parliament) stressed the "criminogenic" nature of the prohibitionist law: in Italy we have an endemic micro- criminality by drug addicts, that accounts for at least 50% of crimes against property; moreover, many young people are sent to jail for possession or sale of small amounts of drugs (also cannabis), and in jail they are often introduced to a criminal carrier. The drug market, said Pannella, is now "free", as far one can by drugs everywhere; if it would be legal, it should be ruled and controlled.

In Italy, we also have an ever increasing phenomenon of macro- criminality: the heroin market is in the hands of mafia, the cocaine market is dealed by the "camorra" (criminal organization based in Neaples). Both organizations have a relevant political involvement and are practically creating an outlaw counterpower in two Italian regions: Campania and Sicily. They have been killing hundreds of people every year - and most of these crimes were never punished. According to the sociologist Amato Lamberti, the illegal drug market in Neaples is aggressive and efficient: in other words, the heroin market is widespread in a context of endemic illegality; its promotion is based on the fact that most of addicts are forced to sell the drug to other people in order to afford its price.

The political aspects of the problem were analized by M.Andre' Bertrand (Canada), who stated that

"in the late 60s and early 70s, no less than a dozen countries proceeded trhough the agency of national committees or commis sions to investigate the drug problem...No one of those commis sions, recommended to maintain the status quo...Yet, in no country, did the reports of these committees have any effect on legislation"

Giancarlo Arnao (Italy) and Wijnand Sengers (Netherland, founder of the European movement for the Normalization of Drugpolicy) pointed out the policy of UN and WHO, whose scientific bases are obviously questionable, insofar they are subjected to political considerations. The policy of WHO was also exposed by Gino del Gatto (President of CO.R.A.), who claimed the right of "therapeutic freedom" by medical doctors.

Legal problems were pointed out by French judge Georges Apap, who said that paradoxically "the drugs are not forbidden because they are dangerous, but they are dangerous because they are forbidden" and exposed the illegalities of the drug law enforce ment in France.

Thomas Szasz sent a written paper, where he tackled some philo sophical aspects of the problem. One aspect is the problem posed by "temptation": "some drugs offer us certain new temptations that we must learn to resist or enjoy in moderation". He con cluded that

"Just as we regard freedom of speech and religion as fundamental rights, so we should also regard freedom of self-medication as a fundamental right...The war on drugs is the longest, most protracted formally declared war of this turbulent century...Indeed, because this war is a war on human desire, it cannot be won in any meaningful sense of that term"

The Dutch experience was described by Peter Cohen. In spite of the well known tolerant Dutch policy, the prevalence of cocaine and heroin use in the so called "drug capital of Europe" (Amsterdam) is rather low: cocaine life prevalence is 5.6%; heroin, which is available at low price, has a life prevalence of 9.9% and a last month prevalence of 0.9% .

Another country that tried the tolerant approach was Spain. But, according to the spanish jurist Jose Diez-Ripolles, this approach was under pressure on an international scale and should be repealed recently. According to the Spanish police officer Manuel Sanchez, some 80% of the crimes are bound to the drug question in his country.

Economical problems of illegal drug traffic were vastly analized by Peter Reuter (US) and Richard Stevenson (GB).

According to Reuter, drugs are cheap to produce. They are so cheap, that "seizing drugs close to the source imposes little penalty on the distribution system". Actually, 99% of the street price in US is accounted for payment to people who distribute the drug. Therefore, assuming that the interdiction agencies were able to seize 50% of all cocaine shipped from Colombia to US, this would have added less than three percent to the retail price of cocaine. He concluded that the real issue is whether we might obtain a greater reduction in the social costs of drug abuse if the money allocated in drug enforcement (about $ 6 billion in 1986 in US) were allocated in other programs (like prevention, that had only about $ 0.8 billions in 1986).

According to Stevenson, the structure of trade illegal organi sations is such, that each operator can contact only one stage

above him. This limits the damage which follows the arrest of one of its members.

Practical alternatives to prohibition were proposed by Lester Grinspoon (US) and Bruce Alexander (Canada).

Grinspoon stated that "between traffickers on one side and moralists on the other, no intelligent man think there is any solution at all". US federal and local governments spend now 8 to 9 billion dollars per year on drug enforcement. Instead of this enormous money waste, he suggested that currently controlled substances should be legalized and taxed; the taxes would be based on the actual cost of each drug to society, and would be used for drug education and for paying the medical and social costs of drug abuse. In the first phase, this regulation would include alcohol, tobacco and cannabis: this would likely increase the cost of tobacco and alcohol compared to that of cannabis. Then would be the turn of cocaine and lately of heroin.

Alexander proposed a local form of drug control. Instead of a worldwide centralized set of rules, he advocated rules established by local communities, according to the different fashions and cultures.

These proposals aroused a lively debate, that took place in the last day of the Conference. The graduality of Grinspoon's approach was criticized by those, who advocate a more radical alternative to the legal prohibition: in fact, this raised the issue if the aim of the anti-prohibition movement could be, by now, only marijuana legalisation, leaving illegal the other drugs. The proposal to ascribe to local communities the right to legislate about drugs was considered risky, as far as it puts the civil rights of drug users in the hands of some collectivities, than can be as much prejudiced as national level politicians.

Summing up, from the Brussels Conference we can draw the following conclusions:

1) In the European countries, the prohibitionist strategy seems to create the same kind of problems as in North America;

2) In no country this strategy seems to be able to solve these problems in a forseeable future;

3) In almost every country (except Netherland) the governments are planning to solve the problem through more repressive laws;

4) In many European and North American countries is growing the debate about alternative drug policy; as far es we know, this debate was geiven a relevant mass-media coverage in Italy, Spain and Great Britain;

5) 75 years of prohibitionist policy created a series of problems, some of whose are complex and contradictory; the anti- proihibitionist movement must now elaborate some factual proposals, in order to solve most of them with the minimum social cost;

6) In this context, international cooperation is a basical need; therefore, CO.R.A. and Partito radicale propose the creation of an International Anti-prohibition League.

 
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