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Peter Cohen (2006), Europe and the mumbling grave stones. Presentation in the European Parliament, Brusssels, November 7, 2006. Amsterdam: CEDRO. Online: http://www.cedro-uva.org/lib/cohen.gravestones.html.
© Copyright 2006 Peter Cohen. All rights reserved.

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Europe and the mumbling grave stones

Presentation in the European Parliament, Brussels, November 7, 2006

Peter Cohen, Encod[1] member

Ladies and Gentlemen

In 2008 the UN will discuss its plans to have realised a drug free world, by that year. "A drug free world - we can do it" - the directors of the UN drug-policy circus said 10 years ago.

 To begin with, I am sure none of the people gathered here want a drug free world. But I can assure you that the world is not drug free in 2008 and that the world is not going to be drug free ever. And I can assure you that recreational drug use in Europe will slowly grow, at the rate of  about one half of a percent of the population per year, a movement quiet and determined like the rivers Rhone or Rhine flowing inevitably towards the sea.

For our UN drug treaty institutions this is heaven. For them to exist and for their salaries and perks  to exist, a drug free world would be a catastrophe. A world where drug use and drug production is growing, that is business, fat and risk-free business for the UN.

So 2008 is not going to be a sad year for them. They are not going to say: damn, we did not make it, we did not do enough, apparently the world has the drugs it is asking for, we quit. No, they are not going to quit. They will write and plan and pontificate and fly all over the world and prepare new meetings about this ambition to create paradise on earth. Because that is their job. They create a dream of paradise on earth, for all of us. Their work can best be compared to the big managers in Hollywood and Bollywood where fake worlds and fairy tales about love and evil are created. Their work can also be compared to that of the priests in any church, who all over the world promise a better future to their followers if only they would really follow and really believe in religion or religious books and texts. I have said many times to my friends that the UN bureaucrats should be dressed in robes, and wear colourful miters and chant holy texts from the UN treaties and have their audience repeat key parts thereof. If they would act like that we would all understand that the Treaties are old and holy, and can not be rewritten by us mortals.

But, I do not expect the director of UNODC, nor the drug policy bishop of the EU, nor the representative of the American Drug Czar and the countless cardinals from all over the world will sing Treaty texts in Vienna. They will do something that is close enough, however. During the daily sessions they will speak of their vision of a drug free world, they will quote the holy Treaties, they will come with plans, they will ask for money, they will shout out how wonderful it is when some plants in some country are pulled out of the ground, they will call for more faith, and in the evenings they will have dinner and chat. That's about it. That is what has always been. It is wonderful and amazing to behold.

And the journalists will write and the journalists will try to quote the faithful cardinals who suffer for us and want to help us to reach the drug-free Paradise on earth. And the people will read the papers, and will skip everything that relates to Vienna. Nothing is changing and that is precisely the Vienna agenda: nothing should be changing!

Some of us, poor mortals that we are, think that the drug treaties are about making the best possible drug policy. But poor mortals, that is not what the Treaties are about. Please read them! They are about prohibition. Since 1909 the prohibition business has flourished, and after 1945 better than ever. Thousands of substances are now prohibited for use by us mortals. Plants themselves are even illegal, and every year our prohibition priests find new evil in new compounds. And they list them in the Holy Book of prohibited substances and they pray that one day there will be enough police to enforce just a part of this ever growing body of rules.

The treaties are texts in which it is not drug policy that is outlined, ladies and gentlemen, but Prohibition. Countries, these poor and powerless entities, can not say HEY, prohibition is not working for us, or it is counter productive, we would like to use our brains and come up with modern policies, policies into which modern theory  about human behaviour and policy success - or lack of it - can be woven.

We would like the mayor of Maastricht or of Cancun or of Lodz or of  Santa Cruz in California to do what is best for their communities and the democratic process that steers them. No ladies and gentleman. These mayors are morons, idiots, they use their brains! And in a subject matter where you can only use the Holy Texts!

Drug policy, as a potential  body of thought and practice in which access to all compounds is regulated for everybody , along lines that can be very different in Rio or in Ulan Batur, such a body of thought and practice is outlawed by the UN Treaties. There is only one Faith, and its chief sits not in Rome but in Vienna. There is only one policy and that is Prohibition. If Prohibition creates destruction and death, decay of human rights, crime and terror and poverty and prisoners and immense criminal wealth, and overdoses and unfathomable bureaucratic stupidity, destabilisation of whole regions....? yes, exactly, that is what we have impaled ourselves on to want.]

So, when ENCOD asks me what should Europe do in Vienna in 2008, I have no answer. There is absolutely nothing to do in Vienna in 2008. The Holy Texts are written. They are written in stone. Not Europe, not Japan, not Africa, not ENCOD has the slightest influence on the Holy Texts. The Treaty is written in a way that makes it easier to change the Bible than the Treaties. For the Bible one can at least make a new and modern translation where the newest linguistic knowledge can be used to change the text and its meaning. The UN Treaties do not allow such a flexibility, such unorthodoxy. They are as unchanging as their target, the ineradicable propensity of humans to seek chemical means to alter consciousness.

Of course Europe could say, "we leave the Treaties. It was wrong that we as a European Union signed the Holy Texts. It makes us responsible for this never before seen fundamentalism and its collateral damage." They could say, "if member countries want to sign, it is their business. If member countries want to delete certain texts in the version they signed, that is their prerogative."

"If member countries want to leave the Treaties altogether because they are not going to wait for the 'never ever' of the Treaties to be adjusted to modern times, that is their right."

And most important for Europe to say is No, we are not going to make our Union bigger, since we are already helpless in managing it. But we apologise to the newest member countries for forcing them into signing the UN Treaties. We were so wrong there, your original legislation often was better!

But Europe does not say that. Europe was seduced into the Trap of the Treaties, and now it is imprisoned because on the issue of drugs the intra-European differences in view and perspective are paralyzing.[2] Too big anyway to play a role in a EU that is now itself stranded in conflict and megalomania. The topic is untouchable, like the Pariahs in India.

Of course Europe could use its brains. And say we will sit in Vienna and fall asleep and wait for the next ritual meeting but in the mean time  we will fund some things that are useful. We will create a ten million Euro budget and give 5 million over a 5 year period to researchers who create theories and then test them about why drug use levels in Europe are so diverse.

And we will spend 5 million Euros in a five year period to organise research that allows us to create quality criteria for official drug use data. We are no longer paying EMCDDA for making pretty lists of figures. We want good and above all, comparative figures. So, for instance, we want criteria that predict how good a survey has to be to be published in these lists. Up until now EMCDDA basically adds layout to figures they receive from governments and put their layout in print and on the Internet. They have no say in how national figures are created nor about how the underlying research is done. They assume the data they receive from countries are comparable to each other. But they do not check that.[3]

This proposal is not about Vienna but about Brussels. I propose that Europe should  expand social scientific drug use research enormously. I do not propose that Europe should spend a lot on brain research or pharmacological research, thereby subsiding the already wealthy pharmaceutical industry. But instead Europe must promote research to better understand drug use in different cultures and why drug use levels are so different between and within European countries. That is useful! Up until now no one understands why London uses more drugs than Paris,and why Paris uses more drugs than Amsterdam and why Amsterdam uses more drugs than Rotterdam and why Rotterdam uses more drugs than Bremen and why Bremen uses more drugs than Corfu. We want to know about drug use , most of all what factors have an impact on it. Europe should do useful things if we want to neutralize some of our shame about its brainless ritual of going to Vienna to participate in a crowd of mumbling grave stones.

I thank Peter Webster for his help in turning this text into proper english.


  1. European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), Lange Lozanastraat 14, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium. Tel. 00 32 (0)3 237 7436. Mob. 00 32 (0)495 122 644. Fax. 00 32 (0)3 237 0225. E-mail: encod@glo.be. Website: www.encod.org.
  2. "Several institutions and forums of the EU are engaged in a power struggle over this policy area. This is partly because drugs are such a multi-faceted issue that they provide groups with ample opportunity for expanding their powers. Many departments have become involved in aspects of the drugs problem, and yet there is no proper coordination. This complex, non-transparent structure generates confusion about where the responsibility for making decisions actually lies. This helps to ensure that the drugs issue remains a fixed item on the agenda, and that it is constantly pumped, as it were, around the structures of the EU."
    Boekhout van Solinge, Tim (2002), Drugs and decision-making in the European Union. Amsterdam, CEDRO/Mets en Schilt. http://www.cedro-uva.org/lib/boekhout.eu.html
  3. In order to find out out and evaluate how the member countries do the research that they base the data on they send to EMCDDA, minimum technical, non response and data processing standards have to be developed. Such standards do not exist. A mechanism to do an inside job on checking the quality of the data that arrive in Lisbon is absent. Having underlying research that at least satifies a minimum quality is the minimum pre condition for comparability, but by far not the only one. Cross comparability of national data is a highly complex set of problems ,very costly to investigate and EMCDDA has barely touched the surface of it. If EMCDDA data are used for policy making, they better be trustworthy and under constant monitoring
Last update: February 9, 2010