Cohen, Peter (1993), Future drug policy in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc: The difficult choice to be non Western. Paper presented on the European Colloquium on the Crisis of Normative Systems, organised by the "Groupe Européenne de Recherche sur les Normativités", La Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris, 25th February 1993.
© Copyright 1993 Peter Cohen. All rights reserved.
Future drug policy in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc
The difficult choice to be non Western
In this paper I want to draw some attention to a process of drug policy formation that is now taking place in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc and to discuss the choices these countries have (or may be not have) in developing their drug policies. Their choice is to conform to the long established policies that are the norm in the West (policies based on drug prohibition), or to learn from the West's experience with these policies - and to look for different solutions. Some of these different solutions will be presented here, not as blue prints, but as normative criteria that may govern highly diversified policy options.
Problems with Prohibitionary Drug Policies
Western policies relating to botanic psycho-tropic substances and to newly made "designer drugs" have been based on constantly elaborated and extended prohibitionism.
In Western Europe and North America we have seen many years of this approach. While there are differences between nations' severity in applying drug legislation, these differences are not that significant. The exceptions are the Netherlands, Denmark, and Spain - countries which have gained some real experience in non prohibitive approaches to cannabis. Otherwise full force prohibition has remained the established drug policy in most of the world.
In Western Europe, prohibitionist approaches are well anchored. In 1989 the French set up CELAD, (Commission Europeenne pour la Lutte AntiDrogue) a bureaucratic body under whose auspices national EEC member governments cooperate to improve application of prohibitionist drug legislation. The Groupe Pompidou, an earlier (1971) French initiative working under the umbrella of the Council of Europe, still assists governmental experts of police, customs, prison management, and epidemiology meeting regularly for similar purposes as CELAD.
The World Health Organization has created a WHO-Europe branch, with its seat in Copenhagen, which, insofar as far as drug policy is concerned, shows some moderation in relation to the most severe orthodoxies of prohibitionism but has shown no interest in finding new ways for effective drug control outside these paths. The United Nations maintains their large drug bureaucracies in Europe, UNICRI in Rome, UNDCP in Vienna, and WHO's new Program on Substance Abuse (PSA) in Geneva. Interpol, with its seat in Lyon, also produces a constant pressure in the direction of prohibitionism and, as I will discuss, exerts its influence in Eastern direction as well.
The American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has its agents connected to most American Embassies in Europe, and is, via its diplomatic status, a formidable pressure group sitting very close to each national Government. In Eastern European countries, DEA agents are frequently seen as genuine and objective experts in the field.
Indeed, when the new Eastern European countries look for assistance in the field of drug control, one of their few options is to go the specialized bureaucracies in Western Europe and North America. But they will find nothing there but people who professionally defend a "religion" of drug control that has caused so much damage, death, and disadvantage. Other than these large bureaucracies whose very existence is dependent on the survival and spread of prohibitionist policy, Eastern European countries may look for expertise within national drug control departments where they will find a somewhat greater variation in policy outlooks.
In almost all European countries, lower and middle level drug policy bureaucrats have been critical of what present policy is doing to drug users, drug addicts, legal institutions, prisons, prisoners, levels of corruption, and organized and unorganized crime. The group of cities that signed The Frankfurt Resolution (among others, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Basel, Zurich, Ljublana, Hamburg, Athens-Kalithea and Rotterdam, and in the Fall of 1993, Baltimore in the United States), support a resolution that is critical of prohibitionistic forms of drug control because it incapacitates their cities. The resolution asks for decriminalization and depenalization of drug use. One of the central statements in the resolution is that "Criminalization is not only a barrier to assistance and therapy, but also forces the police and the judiciary system to perform a task which they cannot fulfill." Within government bodies individual experts are more and more weary of prohibitionist forms of drug control. But cities like the ones organized in the Frankfurt resolution (or anti-prohibitionist individuals or departmental branches in national governments), are almost invisible vs the Governments of the new Eastern democracies.
I would like to present the hypotheses that the development of drug policy is a function of other, more important policies, on the current agenda of contemporary politics in that region. For Eastern European politics a main goal and motivation is to be unlike the former party political system of communism. Market economies, pluralistic democracy, and parliamentarism are some of the broad models for these countries. Drug use and (certainly) drug addiction were virtually non existent on the agenda of the former communist countries; or, if they were present, they had low status because of the taboo atmosphere surrounding them. One of the important points of the political agenda in these countries is ending this taboo of issues that could not be spoken about during the past regime. But since these countries have not developed their own political institutions or theories of drug use, they have no model of their own that can serve as a point of departure to formulate drug policies.
But these might not be the only reasons for these countries to eagerly look for Western models. The need for all kinds of material and political assistance is important. Just as adherence to the criteria of the International Monetary Fund for the reorganization of the economy, is the price to paid for economic assistance from the West, so is the acceptance of the ideas of the main prohibitionist bureaucracies the price to pay for assistance from the West in the area of drug control. Many of the new Eastern European countries have had no Customs service. To set up these services, they need apparatus and money, which Western countries or organizations might be willing to give, if local institutions would play some role in the control of drug flow from these new countries to the West.
Western countries may look at the new Eastern countries as formidable threats, perhaps even larger threats than they were during the period of the Cold War. These new countries are feared as sources of massive immigration and as major openings through which new sources of illegal drugs might gain entry to Western Europe.
Although the basis of this latter fear is unclear (there is no shortage of drugs on the Western Markets where prices are falling constantly) such fears motivate Western Bureaucracies to visit the East with Missions of Drug Control and to organize conferences about strengthening drug control. Western interest in developing effective border controls in the new States might be based more on the fears of large scale uncontrollable migration (above all emigration of criminals) than on fears of massive inundation with drugs, for which the West actually has no or little market. If the new Eastern Republics could be convinced to set up effective border controls under the perceived threat of drugs, this might be relevant to a major western concern: controlling the outflow of immigrants into W. Europe. The Western powers strong interests in making the Eastern Republics adopt drug control policies are based not upon the analysis and evaluation of options in the field of drug control alone, but on other political priorities. Accordingly, their effectiveness as drug control per se may be immaterial.
For the East, parallel interests might be the fear of uncontrollable criminal growth. These economies are, for the time being, unable to provide acceptable levels of wealth to their citizens, so large black economies arise and threaten the establishment of legal economies. The development of a drug-related criminal caste, who through large scale drug dealings might become major earners of western currency, must be a real nightmare in the eyes of eastern European governmental bodies. In Poland, for instance, the existence of many experienced I.V. drug users and a black economy of drug manufacturing that goes back to the seventies, has developed a market for amphetamine type drugs. These substances are also exported to the West, mainly to Sweden and Germany, and generate significant quantities of hard currency in Poland (cf. Meyer 1992). The possibilities of criminal drug trade in the vast area of the former Soviet Republics is also recognized by the local authorities there.
Other reasons to favor suppressive drug policy in the East are that, very often, heavy and destructive patterns of drug-use co exist with political and social chaos and political transition. One might assume that the current and largely unsuccessful policies for diminishing alcohol consumption will attract a lot of attention to the use of illegal drugs, which can be given the symbolic function of being even more of a danger than alcohol. Some countries report a rise in the use of illegal drugs as a result of alcohol suppression, (e.g.Latvia), and,in Poland, home made opiates are reported to be cheaper now than vodka. Also some countries, notably Hungary, report very high levels of use of legal hypnotics and sedatives among under-privileged groups, stirring fears of a large potential market for illegal drugs. Last but not least, the Eastern European countries have a lot of experience with suppressive policies. Although this type of policy is associated with the old regimes, the technology and mind set for government agencies to apply to the new field of drugs are readily available.
Alternative options in the field of drug control for the new Eastern democracies have to take into account all of the factors stated above. But one of the certainties of the drug future is that the East will compete for the Western drug consumer's market. A side product of this competition will be enlarged availability of still uncommon psycho-tropic substances in the interior drug markets of the East. I would like to detail this thesis a little bit further before trying to sketch drug control options for the East that I believe would be far less destructive than the ones advocated by Western governments and drug control bureaucracies.
When we look at cannabis alone, the former Soviet Republics could become a formidable competitor for Lebanese, Turkish, Moroccan and South American cannabis producers. According to the UNDCP mission to 7 former Soviet Republics, just the three republics of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia offer 1.2 million hectares of wild growing marihuana that is hard to eradicate or control. Since marihuana is the most important illegal drug of the West, it offers attractive income generating possibilities to populations who have little or no economic future.
The situation regarding opium is similar. Although the Western market for illegal opium products has never served more than a few tenths of a percent of the different populations, after the onset of Prohibition, illegality provided these products with a price level that assures the creation of intricate criminal organizations around them in the new Republics. And since the former Soviet Union had highly developed education and all the technical know-how for complicated chemical production, chemists and pharmacists will almost certainly offer themselves up for the production of illegal opium products like morphine, codeine and heroin, as well as the illicit manufacture of "designer drugs" and prescription drugs. Poland is already operating on the amphetamine market, and the former Eastern German area's have been reported to produce MDMA for the Western market.
But the cannabis market is by far the most important. Accordingly, I believe that the new Republics must avoid modelling their cannabis policy after the dominant western example. Accepting the irrepressibility of this market would leave the capacity to focus on more important criminal areas. The Netherlands offers an excellent model for this type of policy that could be studied by governments who are seriously interested in approaching cannabis policy in a different way.
Further, the new Eastern Republics would also have to accept that there will be some demand for other new psycho-tropic substances within their borders, e.g. MDMA, and that such demand is just as irrepressible as it has been in the Western democracies. A humane and decent policy would not prosecute the users of such products, unless they commit crimes, in which case they would be treated as criminals and not (mainly) as drug users or abusers. Many of the legal systems of the new Eastern Republics already leave individual consumption unpunished. In Kazakstan, drug abuse was excluded from the new Penal Code as late as 1990, something the UNDCP mission covertly regrets in its report. This permits the development of a drug policy geared towards harm reduction.
Success Potential of Prohibitionist Drug Control
I would like now to discuss some of the ideas Western modes of drug control have to offer the East, by quoting and commenting upon the remarks of Börjesson, an officer at the Lyon Headquarters of Interpol, who spoke at the "Baltic Cities Expert Meeting on Drug Supply and Demand Reduction" in Ala-Lemu, Finland in June 1992, where he spoke of the need for closer cooperation between law enforcement authorities. The reason I highlight his speech is that it demonstrates the kind of thinking that emanates from drug law enforcement agencies in Europe today. His conclusions about the present situation in Europe almost mirror the conclusions of the yearly INCB reports about the world drug situation. According to Börjesson drug trafficking and abuse is "the major social issue the world has to face to day..." It goes without saying that the situation is alarming and the problem will continue to rise. "Seizures are increasing, all drugs are easily available and prices are falling..." It can clearly be stated that whilst a demand exists there will continue to be production and supply... Despite all efforts from law enforcement authorities the availability of drugs increases."
Interpol neatly summarizes the effects of prohibitionist drug policy since early this century: no matter how much Western European and North American nations invest in a law enforcement approach to drug control, the goals of prohibition remain out of reach, and, what is worse, produce health, social, and criminogenic consequences of drug use far more negative than they have to be.
The Interpol officer stated that: "Instead of concentrating all our efforts to stop the flow of already produced drugs, we must try to stop the drugs being manufactured".
This phrase illustrates the strategy behind the latest of the U.N. Conventions (1988). It envisages stretching Prohibition one step further, from the domain of drugs to the domain of chemicals needed to produce them, the so called precursors and essential chemicals.
The problem, however, is that except for little used, complicated designer drugs like MDMA and LSD, the essential chemicals to manufacture the more classic drugs like heroin and cocaine are not difficult to produce. They can be bought, even in large quantities, if not in the legal market, than in the gray or black areas of the market. Complicated nuclear and missile systems technology can change hands outside the legal arms trade, and so can common chemicals.
Another problem is that many drug producing countries do not need chemicals or need very little of them to produce potent drugs. In Poland production of home made "kompott" (a liquid opiate used for i.v. routes of ingestion) is completely based on widely available poppy straw and normal kitchen utensils. And in the vast areas of the CIS Republics available for marihuana growing, only labor is needed for harvesting, without any addition of chemicals. This means that for the most important western drugs for illicit consumption, cannabis, the U.N. Convention of 1988 offers only its anti-money laundering statutes. And money laundering is not going to be the problem of the CIS Republics and other Eastern Republics, where hard currency (illegal or not), is badly needed to start a 'free market' banking system from scratch.
The philosophy behind this new phase of international prohibitionism seems no more sound than the original one. In spite of the impossibility of even a slight guarantee that increased Western style drug prohibitionism, will decrease oncoming drug problems in the new Republics, this line of drug control is still exported with great emphasis. A good example of this is the mission sent by the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) to some former Soviet Republics in early 1992. This mission was aimed at, among other things, strengthening "links of cooperation in the field of drug control," at assessing "the existing anti drug legislation" and "Compliance with the United Nations drug control conventions."
According to the four members of the investigating committee in the new Republics there was "an urgent need to draw their attention to the U.N. international conventions and encourage them to adopt the provisions of these conventions."
"The desire of the authorities today is to establish links with the international drug control bodies or to strengthen such links"(p.5)
The Mission offered direct support to the new republics in the spheres of technical laboratory assistance and legal assistance. In its report the UNDCP Mission mentions providing a "model drug law" to each of the new Republics it visited, models that, of course, do not reflect any of the real experience the West has had with full Prohibition.
But the United Nations' bureaucratic orthodoxy is not the sole influence on the new Eastern democracies. Hungary, for instance, is about to sign the 1988 U.N. Convention, participates in the Pompidou Airport Group, accepts aid in training Customs officers from the USA and police officers from the German 'Bundeskriminalamt'. "The Hungarian Police forces are in active working relationships with the DEA European liaison officers" (cf. National Report of Hungary). Furthermore, the Budapest Police has a program of cooperation under the name of "DADA" with the Los Angeles Police (well known for its violent techniques of law enforcement).
Many of these observations that show cooperation with Western drug control agencies are also true of Romania Bulgaria the CIS Republics and, in a lesser degree, for the new Baltic States.
But collaboration and importation of prohibitionist thinking does not only take place in the realm of law enforcement and drug legislation but extends to treatment philosophies. Latvia, for instance, has a Daytop Therapeutic Community within its borders and the Russian Ministry of Health is reported to have negotiated a cooperation agreement with the cult-like "Le Patriarche" that (for unknown reasons) was ended by this French center of ultra prohibitionism.
Another recent initiative comes from the European Commission and consists of the so called PHARE Program for Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. With 2 million ECU the Commission wants to help these countries against "increasing drug problems" stating that "75% of all heroin reaching demand markets in EC member States comes through Central and Eastern Europe and there is growing evidence of drug trafficking and supply from the Southern Republics of the former Soviet Union."
The PHARE program takes into account the input of drug related assistance to the countries mentioned, particularly in the customs area. Still, 45% of the budget has been earmarked to support demand reduction programs in the target countries.
Drug Policy as Seen From the Interests of the New Republics
The development of normative systems for new drug control policies in the East should not be based on different principles than those of the established democracies of the West.
The main core of such systems should be harm reduction, by which is meant focusing drug control on minimimization of harm that might result from drug use, in place of simply outlawing a particular class of drugs.
But, for the new Eastern Republics, such an approach is even more essential and urgent than for the Western nations. Illegal drugs will be increasing in use in these new democracies and be attractive to some as a sign of modernity and belonging to new subcultures, and to others to help them deal with the large and highly threatening social changes that are taking place. Still others will use these drugs as a side effect of the economic possibilities the drug trade offers. Illicit drug use is a relatively new phenomenon in most Eastern countries and therefore has the potential (if handled improperly) to become a destabilizing social force in itself. Conversely, there is no reason to fear that a lack of suppression will create higher levels of drug use prevalence than without such suppression.
Due to the extent of economic under and retro-development, if drugs are repressed massively, drug use and drug trade will assist in the creation of a large and difficult to control class of organized criminals who will exert serious power both financially and politically. This means that it is in the interest of the new democracies to at least tolerate individual drug use and allow the development of a non monopolized system of small scale and competitive distributors.
Instead of investing enormous sums in general drug law enforcement (by means of which they will worsen their situation considerably) the new republics should consider investing in information campaigns that teach people which mistakes not to make with the different drugs; which real dangers and real pleasures these drugs may yield; and which modes/routes of ingestion are safe when basic rules are followed. In this way natural resistance against abusive forms of drug use will be strengthened. Further, these states should invest in highly accessible and varied assistance options for those who develop problems in relation to the use of drugs, perhaps along the lines of assistance with individual alcohol problems.
Of course the best investment in good drug and alcohol policy are programs that prevent mass unemployment or marginalization during the period of adaptation to new market and political mechanisms. This is the area where Western investments will be most fruitful.
The main advantages of allowing drug use under conditions of minimal criminalization are that:
Unfortunately, these arguments, although available to anyone, are rarely seen in official drug policy documents from the new Eastern Republics. The only conspicuous exception is Czechoslovakia, with a contribution of the Prague Center for Drug Addiction that criticizes conventional drug policies. Of course, it would be more elegant to transform the Penal Codes of the new Republics in such a manner as to allow legal and fully taxable distribution systems for all drugs to be established. But such a drastic change will be politically impossible in the near future. It is within the capacity of the international drug conventions, however, to give very high priority to attacking organized forms of the drug trade and to give a much lower priority to small scale production and distribution and to not prosecute individual use.
It would also be in the interest of the new Republics not to sign the U.N. Convention of 1988. Apart from the fact that this Convention (if taken seriously) will create a large, costly, and ineffective bureaucracy trying to control a vast range of psycho tropic substances and other chemicals, it will just add another limitation to rationality of action in the field of drug policy. Of course a liberal drug policy that does not follow U.N. orthodoxy will be proclaimed as against the interests of the West. The hidden themes behind such exclamations might be xenophobia and fear of uncontrollable emigration. Overtly, Eastern republics will be accused of worsening the drug situation in the West, of allowing cheap drugs to cross the Western borders, etc. One should not be surprised if a liberal drug policy, however profitable for the prevention of drug misery in the new Republics, will be used by Western powers as area of blackmail in relation to economic or technical assistance in other fields. South American countries have been subjected to such blackmail for years. We can expect the USA, France, (and possibly the UK) to take a lead in this type of confrontation. However, one should just look at what these countries have to show for within their own borders in the field of (succesful) drug control in order to ask: "Who are you?"
Last update: May 25, 2016