Home » Side event: Exploring responsible legal regulation to promote human rights, health, and security in Europe

Side event: Exploring responsible legal regulation to promote human rights, health, and security in Europe

Organized by Foreningen for Human Narkotikapolitikk with the support of Czechia, Germany, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the International Drug Policy Consortium and the International Network of People who Use Drugs

Marie Nougier, IDPC: IDPC is a global network of NOGs that promote drug policies that advance social justice and human rights.Solidarity with the Palestinian people. Legal regulation is a reality for over 300 million worldwide. More in the US, Canada, Luxembourg, Malta, Thailand and Uruguay have legal frameworks allowing access to cannabis for nonmedical purposes. Many countries are also considering bills for the legalisation of cannabis. The 2023 report of the OHCHR also encouraged member states to consider legal regulation as a way to eliminate profits from illegal trafficking, criminality and violence. Legal regulation is on the table. Two key questions: not all models are equal, and there is a need for a serious discussion on bills on how legal regulation can redress instead of perpetuating the harms of prohibition, especially for marginalised groups. Models established can promote health, social justice ,racial justice, gender justice and avoid the risk of corporate captures. Another question is the tensions with the Conventions. We cannot wish the problem away. We need a serious discussion on reviewing the treaty regime which is out of sync with realities on the ground. This side event is a space precisely for that. 

Ann Fordham, IDPC: WE have the smallest rooms in the house…maybe a sign of where this conversation sits in Vienna. BUt a room nonetheless. Its been difficult opening this conversation in Vienna but also other jurisdictions worldwide. The conversation on regulation, when we started, was a ll based on cannabis. Even those of you here who remember Uruguay’s cannabis regulation in 2013, it was so controversial. The GCDP released a report also on legal regulation, a groundbreaking one calling for the regulation of all drugs; very controversial at the time. That report was of its time because we’re now having that conversation. Even at the UN level we have now an agency, the OHCHR, taking this step recommending responsible regulation. Having the High Commissioner here in person was an incredible milestone —it’s taken 20 years of civil society advocacy to make that happen. At the last minute, his invitation was rescinded by some member states, so we’re delighted he could deliver his remarks at the plenary. At the side event organised by Colombia and Bolivia he restated this support for responsible legal regulation. We also need legal regulation because of the market itself. Synthetic opioids, the threats we’re facing because of devastating consequences (overdose) si . These drugs aren’t dangerous in and of themselves —people use it in medicine because it’s an important and safe medication. The unregulated nature makes the supply toxic, unpredictable and deadly. We need to have this conversation, thus, to see how best to tackle this issue. We will also hear about the Mayor’s office of Amsterdam who organised a conference on the regulation of all substances, breaking the taboo.

Peter Walinga, City of Amsterdam: I’m a ‘speaker’ but I also organised that Conference and made a movie that just shows the issues at city level and what was discussed at the conference. First movie, then I’ll talk about how we’re taking this further. [VIDEO]  This conference was about a month ago. The Mayor asked us to take some further steps to define a good agenda for this topic, and that’s what I’m doing. For now, it would be wonderful to have the Manifesto —usually there’s a closing statement, with this conference we wanted an opening manifesto. It’s relatively short. It focuses on the challenges that we expect legal regulation to address, including the reduction of organised crime, violence, impacts on vulnerable individuals and challenges for the economy. This is why mayors are interested. We consider the possibility of the markets growing smaller, actually. Some people may stay in crime but others will transition away from the criminal market into formal markets. But it’s not just about crime, it’s also about health, harm reduction. Cities are well placed to start. Of course, designed wisely and in ways that are scientifically based.

Jindřich Vobořil, Czechia: Two bills. One in parliament for the regulation of currently unscheduled substances, such as kratom or HHC. I was surprised of the reaction of the cannabis community against it, I have to say. It was not very welcomed because there’s a growing business behind it and we want to, instead of prohibiting, regulate HHC. Regulate rather than prohibit. We will have 2 lists. In parallel to the prohibited scheduled substances. Any new substance coming to the market will be taken off the market initially, but not under criminal sanctions —rather with food regulations. With scrutiny and risk assessment. Afterwards, we’ll decide what to do with it: leave it in the market, put it in the second list, or schedule those substances. Regulations are going to be very strict: specialised shops —only sales above 18. The people running the shops will have licences and rule breaking can lead to losing the licence. Czechia is a country with a big alcohol problem —highest consumption among underage. The law of not selling to underage people is really hard to enforce for many reasons —but I think we can make it work. In many ways it’s quite conservative… even if I’m perceived as extremely liberal. Another piece of legislation is with the government and relates to cannabis and I won’t have time to discuss it today. We’ll see where this takes us. When I put it in Parliament, started discussions, the parliament was very positive. A big campaign came in to target me… I have served under 6 Prime MInisters. I was accused by the media that I am going to legalise cocaine and that I’m probably involved in the cocaine market. Then, I’m making money from HHC and kratom. That reached the highest levels. It reached the government. I started digging and there’s money dedicated to this campaign. It’s not to elicit pity or anything like this…but rather considering that there’s enemies out there. Ideology is possible to break down. But when you have industries behind it that are against you. Globally organised crime, led by the highest levels o f people in totalitarian countries, they have billions. They have good market research. They have people in different positions that owe them. We are fighting that. There’s allies of the Kremlin everywhere.They benefit from prohibition. There’s also businesses behind the police. Millions poured into activities in ports. Many people live off this. We need to name it. We talk loads about human rights but we need to name these particular issues or otherwise we cannot stand against it.

Johan Wicklén, journalist: I’ll take you on a journey down memory lane now. In 1948, the Swedish government decided to eliminate drugs as ‘foreign’. It restricted drug policy and was followed by a drug-free society in 1988. Drug supply was considered secondary and demand was everything. Users were seen as both a problem and the solution. An alliance of anti-drug activists, parent crusaders, right-leaning politicians, and police aimed to criminalise youth who used drugs. This became a reality in 1988 and was enforced more strictly. Police could take people’s blood and urine to test for drugs amidst a raging HIV epidemic. The police slogan in the late ’80s and early ’90s was ‘It must be hard to be an addict’. Zero tolerance was the way forward, pursuing a drug-free society. Treatment was used solely as a means for outward abstinence. Harm reduction was considered as ‘giving up’. “What would the next step be? Legalisation,” said a Swedish politician. A few scientists who dared to discuss these options were ostracised. At a conference with the Ministry of Health, one scientist was booed for asking whether cannabis was really as bad as heroin. EURAD was funded to spread the Swedish model. “When the Swedish drug policy is criticised by foreigners, a deep and fundamental thing is touched —Swedes tend to be rational and calm, but rationality seems to be distant, and emotion takes the upper hand…”. In many ways, this still applies. But no one adopted the Swedish model. And in the late 1990s, we were further than ever from drug-free societies. In 2015, a colleague and I interviewed the OHCHR in relation to the lack of treatment for people who use drugs. The response was clear: it was insufficient. MAT and NSP now exist. Politicians have changed their tune compared to 10-15 years ago. If morals triumphed before, now politicians listen to researchers. Partly true because if we consider two tracks: Treatment and control; progress has been made only in the former. As many of you have heard, Sweden is ravaged by gang crime: “drug policy-related violence,” according to some scholars. Swedish politicians from left to right have said no to investigating whether decriminalisation is good policy. Many are re-evaluating the war on drugs. Intent to buy for possession is criminalised, with mandatory sentences of 6 months in prison for selling 1g of weed —even if the person is doing it only for themselves. Drugs and crime are heavily discussed in Sweden. There’s no real drug policy debate, however, because the focus is put on users. STOP USING DRUGS. It’s a very simplistic slogan for a complex issue. Sweden is not an island; we see the world changing. Responsible regulation is being explored as a means to affirm rights. Safe supply is being discussed to combat overdose. Cities are talking about cocaine regulation. What could Sweden bring to the table? Equally interesting. In this new world of drug policy, laboratory Sweden has a place. It’s a stark contrast to a more lenient approach. Don’t take your eyes off Sweden.

Arild Knutsen, FHN: This matters greatly to us. Our organization has advocated for harm reduction and decriminalisation for 18 years. Since the 1960s, when we adopted prohibition, we’ve witnessed a wave of human rights violations against indigenous people, women, people of colour, different sexual orientations, against farmers, producers, and poor people; human rights violations against vulnerable individuals. We’ve seen a wave of open drug scenes, overdoses, injecting drug use; a wave of marginalisation putting people in such vulnerable situations that in our societies, we don’t do that for any other group of people and health conditions, we don’t care about their lives and dignity. It’s an evil policy. It’s a totalitarian policy. It’s gang violence. It’s the environments that breed these politics. We’ve experienced a wave of HIV infections, Hep C infections. A wave of harm reduction? No… that came from the bottom. They cannot even pronounce harm reduction in the Plenary room. It’s about inclusion. Preventing transmissions of violence. Giving people an opportunity to live lives as equal human rights. We had this discussion in Norway about decriminalisation to remove the stigma that criminalization creates; it also hinders access to health. They said it won’t stop stigma. Decriminalisation is about police running after the streets, taking the drugs —not punishing you but forcing you into treatment. That’s prohibition. That’s stigmatising. We must break the taboo and move forward. This is a totalitarian ideology. You don’t have to be drug liberal. Just consider. There are fewer people in the world living in democracy than before. Now we have organised crime exerting power. They don’t care about people’s lives. People are being bombed, shot, in their houses. Infiltrating political parties and the welfare system. Involved in money laundering. Infecting our economy and destroying trust in banks, democracy, politicians. Destroying our democracy from the inside. We cannot do this. If you’re afraid of liberalism —then for those 10% that use the most, make it legally available for them so that organised criminals don’t make their lives and environments a destruction. We were considered idiots, liberals, etc. We’re seeing a break in the discussion. We’re happy with the Amsterdam Manifesto, the OHCHR report considering responsible regulation, distinguished guests in the room can speak to that.

Zaved Mahmood, OHCHR: Thank you for the invitation to the OCHR event. We have addressed this issue in the report. Current drug control policies have taken a punitive approach to suppress markets. Many countries adopted repressive policies with consequent impacts on human rights. The report shows the human rights consequences of the current drug policies. The recommendation that our commission has approved is based on our findings of the human rights impacts in the report. We recommend shifting from punitive policies to policies that promote health and human rights, which are essential to control the drug supply. Alternatives to criminalization and zero tolerance are necessary. ‘Drug-free world’ ideals need to give way to decriminalisation and responsible regulation. I want to elaborate further. In his two statements to the Commission, at the high-level segment, clarified what that means. We’d like to see member states take on this recommendation and report and initiate the discussion on how to achieve that.

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