Marco Taradash, Member of the European Parliament, Executive Secretary of the IAL
Since the International Antiprohibitionist League was founded in 1989 up until today, many things have changed in the international policy against drugs. The Harm Reduction strategy - considered at that time a heresy, defended by the prudent reserve of its pioneers themselves and strongly opposed by its adversaries - is today the unofficial practice of many nations and even the official policy of certain others. Today, in these countries, abstinence from drugs is no longer considered the main "moral" value to protect nor the only political objective to pursue.
The spread of AIDS, linked - in some countries to an enormous extent - to the multiple use of syringes; the overcrowding of prisons due to harsher penalties inflicted even on users; the increase in delinquency among young people; the uncontrollable expansion of organized crime due to a large extent to the differential value of drugs caused by prohibitionist laws; all these factors, as well as other related ones (such as the blocking of judicial activities caused by the extremely high number of drug-related trials) has forced many governments to abandon the ideological view of the phenomenon and to try to find remedy in the pragmatic solutions offered by the experiences of Harm Reduction made at local levels.
This also had repercussions on the juridical and legislative level, so much so that the French daily "Le Monde", commenting on the judgement of the German Constitutional Court with which it summoned the States (Länder) to no longer prosecute persons arrested with small quantities of cannabis, spoke of "European cacophony" on the matter of drug laws. Infringing, in fact, the old prohibitionist regulations of the Council of Europe and the numerous international organisms set to guard the U.N. conventions, the system of repression of the European countries, including the Twelve of the European Union, are very different: some distinguish between hard drugs and soft drugs and others don't; some punish the simple possession of drugs for personal use, others don't; some inflict penal sanctions and others only administrative ones; and in any case, penalties vary greatly from one country to another.
The projection of European differences on a worldwide level may lead to the disconcerting conclusion that there is really no harmonization in the fight against drugs and that, on the contrary, the tendency seems to be more and more that of experimenting different means from one country to another. This is not true, or at least it's not the full truth. The panorama of incertainty and changes of mind of the different governments and parliaments in fact threatens to alter the prospects and to obscure the fundamental political fact.
In actual fact, notwithstanding the worldwide failure of the prohibitionist strategy, Prohibition continues to be the motionless propellent of national legislations. Even there where, fortunately, a more respectful concept of personal freedom and one more open to pragmatic solutions to the problem has made some progress, thought comes to a halt before the fundamental problem: the illegality generated by the prohibitionist system.
It is now widely recognized - thanks also to the intense polemic activity of antiprohibitionist movements - that Mafia, AIDS, urban marginalization, political corruption, economic polution, are all to a great extent (thatis to say, to the extent that it transformed physiological elements of deviance into a devastating social pathology) poisoned products of the incapacity to curb drug trafficking. This awareness is today also shared by government personalities as well as institutional authorities. And yet this awareness has not been able to produce its most sensible consequence: thatis, the questioning at an institutional and legislative level of the prohibitionist ideology.
The media reports - searching in quantity what can only be found in quality - that Parliaments are constantly passing new anti-crime laws, new anti-money laundering laws, launching new anti-drug red-tape. But even the debate on how to halt the illegal drug market once and for all, on how to entirely avoid the forming (not the laundering) of dirty drug capital, and on how to cut with one blow the knot that ties drug addiction to delinquency remains taboo. Prohibition is experienced, even by those who criticize the results, not as a policy subject to revision and renunciation, but rather as an ethics of the state, a terrible but unavoidable government religion.
If critical reason has not been able to dismantle this mechanism, the causes are many. One is certainly the "dictatorship of the status quo" that Milton Friedman speaks of, and that in any case causes the preference of the certain misfortunes of the present over the uncertainty of a different future. At the root of the governments' imperviousness to the demands to re-discuss Prohibition, is, however, the fact that the war on drugs, like all wars, generates (besides bereavement and ruin) also the profits of war, and that these are divided amongst all the belligerent parties.
In fact, Prohibition, on the one hand, produced the rise of criminal powers and favored their infiltration into public, economic and political life, but on the other, it provided governments with an extraordinary potential of repression. That it is inversely proportionate to the capacity of repression doesn't matter. The drug concept has become a gigantic blind that keeps not only the public opinion but also its governers from distinguishing the many and complex social and political phenomena that are crystallized in that concept. Having identified the enemy in drugs, it is easier to avoid the duty of understanding and governing social conflicts. One can even do so with a clear conscience and leave the dirty work to the police.
From this, in addition to organized crime, arose a major threat to the fundamental rights of freedom and to the democratic foundations of living together in society. To what extent, in fact, does such repressive potential remain within the limits of democratic rules and of proper guarantees of a constitutional state? The answer varies from one country to another with maximum negative levels in Central America and some Asian countries, but with a not at all reassuring average (especially with regard to trial guarantees or to the defense against police arbiters) even in some European countries and the U.S.A.
The publication of this report aims at contributing to the dismantling of an ideology - that goes to say, of an abstract structure of thought, indifferent to the results of its practical application - trusting that soon it will be replaced by a critical debate on the effects of laws decided by men and parliaments. We therefore ask to measure the human and social costs of such laws, to evaluate them by comparing the benefits we draw from them to possible alternatives.
The writer has tried twice in five years of activity as member of the European Parliament, to break the political taboo of Prohibition. A first time, in Spring 1991, the Parliament overturned the conclusions of a committee of inquiry and with zeal confirmed the prohibitionist policy. A second time, in Spring 1994, it withheld its consent both to a strictly prohibitionist text as well as to another which was tendentially antiprohibitionist. It was indeed a step forward but, once again, the opportunity was missed to go beyond the limits of ideology.
For the larger and more informed part of the antiprohibitionist movement, for which the LIA (Italian Antiprohibitionist League) has today made itself spokesman, the fundamental themes of the antiprohibitionist policy may be summarized in the triad coined a few years ago when it launched the first campaign for drug legalization in the weekly The Economist: Legalize, Control, Discourage. By the word "legalization" we do not mean the absence of laws (whereby, in matter of fact, the law of the jungle would predominate as it does now with the excess of laws) but, on the contrary, a regulation that would a) without prohibiting everything, b) but allowing every adult citizen some kind of legal access to the use of narcotic substances, c) so as to drastically demolish the value of drug-goods, d) consent a true control of every phase of the process relative to the drug phenomenon: production, trade, use.
In order to achieve these goals, the IAL, as opposed to other movements, will increase its pressure on the electoral assemblies. With this report, the IAL intends to put forward a series of concrete propositions in order to reform drug legislation within an international juridical framework that - through the revision of the UN conventions that today impose Prohibition - would leave the individual Parliaments sovereign with regard to the procedures of legalization.