THE RADICAL-GANDHIAN CAMPAIGN FOR THE ANTIPROHIBITIONIST REFORM OF THE UN DRUG TREATIES


Marco Cappato
Member
European Parliament
Transnational Radical Party
International Antiprohibitionist League

Statement at a press conference
The National Press Club
Washington, D.C.
April 29, 2003
I should first of all thank Arnold for organizing this event and for agreeing to be a "radical." I am aware that in the U.S. the word "radical" is used in the meaning of a violent extremist, but the Latin semantic meaning leads us to the word "root". Being a radical means to us going at the root of a problem. For us, the roots of illicit drug-related problems are, more than drugs, drug prohibition. We fight to eradicate those roots, to repeal drug prohibition embedded in national laws and international drug treaties. Presenting our views, we call on scientific evidence, cost-benefit analysis and open debate. The extremists are in the other camp: they prefer moralistic propaganda and ideological commitment, not the objective facts. Moreover, they do not always disdain violence: violence of anti-drugs efforts –against drugs users, and exploited peasants – but also violence of dictators around the world who are using drug policies to curb political dissent with brutal methods.
In 1998 the Special Session of the UN General Assembly solemnly adopted in New York an ambitious plan for a drug free world by 2008. Virtually all the governments in the world were united in saying, "We can do it"; and they tried hard to do it. Taxpayer money – hundreds of millions of dollars - has been spent to fumigate thousands of hectares in the Andes – forcefully displacing as many local communities – or even to finance the Taliban in Afghanistan – until 09/11 - in order to convince them to give up poppy cultivation. Much more significant sums have been spent at local and national levels to implement prohibition: police and courts resources are substantively absorbed by drug-related crime all over the world.
Despite those efforts, positive results are virtually non-existent. In his report before the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the head of the UN Drugs and Crime Program, M. Costa, recently stated:

  • about the number of people abusing heroin: "there is little indication that this figure has changed much since the late 1990s";
  • about cocaine: "abuse appears stable in South America", "15 percent lower than 1998 in the US", but "there are indications of a shifting market", "increase of trafficking towards West Europe"; in Central America and Caribbean "abuse is increasing";
  • about cannabis: "abuse increases have been reported in almost all regions";
  • about synthetic drugs: "the expansion of Amphetamine-type stimulants market is growing".

The title of Costa’s report wavers between psychology and wishful thinking: "Encouraging progress towards still distant goals." At IAL we published a World Drugs Report based upon a critical reading of public official information. That report is available at this press conference. With all their limits and manipulations, official data would be enough to state definitively that the War on Drugs is a failure. Unfortunately, when confronted by ideology, facts are ignored: the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs has just confirmed in Vienna its unachievable goals.
Arnold Trebach told us that prohibition cannot stand forever. It is true. But it is even more certain to say, as his example is teaching us, that we cannot wait for prohibition to implode by itself. We can’t, because in the meantime terrorists and organized crime profits are on the rise, official corruption, violence and public health problems grow with them. This is why we are also here to explain our actions, more details of which you can find in your press kits, which also explain the pioneering work of our Canadian friends.
After the Brussels Conference of October 2002, held at the European Parliament in the framework of the global campaign "Out from the Shadows", for the re-launch of the International Antiprohibitionist League (IAL), we presented a resolution "for the antiprohibitionist reform of UN drugs Conventions.” This resolution asked for the legal control of currently illegal substances. After a few days, 109 MEPs formally presented the text at the EP, starting a process that finally led, on April 10, to an historic vote that came up only one short (222 against 223) of the EP approving the reform proposal. The text has been signed by 245 legislators from 27 countries, and signed online on the site www.antiprohibitionist.org by 8,000 citizens from 91 countries. It has been formally presented as a parliamentary resolution also in Greece, New Zealand, Canada and Colombia. In particular, in Colombia and Peru – on the occasion of my Central and South American tour with Marco Perduca - we found the support of legislators from those areas devastated by forced crop eradication and narco-destabilization. I firmly believe that the antiprohibitionist alternative is the only one that could convert campesino upheavals into non-violent political proposals, while the current situation is playing into the hands of terrorists and organized criminals.
As I said before, the recent UN meetings have failed to face reality. Governments showed that they are more scared of an open debate than anything else. In the final Joint Ministerial Statement of a few days ago the officials eloquently stated: " We are gravely concerned about policies and activities in favor of the legalization of illicit narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances that are not in accordance with the international drug control treaties and that might jeopardize the international drug control regime."
These officials are making a destructive mistake. We do not want to jeopardize anything. We want to reform, with democratic and non-violent tools. We do not want to insinuate de facto policies with a hidden legalization agenda. Our agenda is crystal-clear. This country once prohibited alcohol – as it is now the case in many Islamic countries – but then had the political courage, in the face of mounting mafia organized crime and violence, to legalize it almost overnight. Our mission, at the International Antiprohibitionist League and the Transnational Radical Party, is to legalize illicit drugs as the U.S. did for alcohol. If "harm reduction" policies are often accused of being "soft on drugs", legalization proposals are usually smeared as being "pro-drug." But after almost a century of prohibition, the burden of proof is on the prohibitionists. Because of their destructive and repeated failure, we see the need to take illicit drugs from the hands of criminals and place them in the hands of the law, a whole new set of laws. We want to eliminate criminal profits and treat drugs users and abusers as citizens, not as criminals.
We will go on following all the peaceful institutional paths: parliamentary resolutions, public petitions and referendum. From our experience, the more the people are directly involved, the more the reform camp gets strong. In Italy the Radicals organized and won with 53% of the votes a referendum for decriminalization of marijuana in 1993. In Switzerland, Swiss people repeatedly backed the ten-year-old heroin prescription program. In the US, many ballots on marijuana got through, even if many have not. The anti-war-on-drugs movement is for sure stronger among the people than it is among elected representatives; and it is stronger among elected representatives than it is among government officials in international fora, as the split vote at the EP and the unanimous vote at the UN show us.
Faced with continuing irrational prohibition, we are also aware that institutional tools cannot be enough. Mahatma Gandhi used to say that you have the duty to disobey unjust laws. Ancient Romans used to say: scandals are welcome. In the Radical movement we are disobeying unjust drugs laws, voluntarily submitting ourselves to the heavy legal consequences, for over 30 years now, as you can see in the Radical antiprohibitionist chronology. Currently, there are around 40 Radical leaders and activists under trial or serving their sentence. To put at stake our freedom is just another tool to place out in the open and in the sunlight the consequences of prohibition where those consequences are covered under ideological clouds. The country of Martin Luther King, even if today it is leading the War on Drugs, is in a better position than others to understand our reasons and methods -- and to lead the path toward reform.
Indeed, we all must face the fact that until the leaders of the United States have an epiphany regarding the horrible costs of prohibition, the UN treaties and the war on drugs will persist on their destructive course. That is why this press conference in such close proximity to the White House carries so much symbolic significance and it is also why we in the International Antiprohibitionist League intend to intensify our efforts in North America.