European Union Group Urges Censorship of Pro-Cannabis Web Sites, Activists Plot Counter-attack
A European Union (EU) working group on drug policy has issued a draft resolution identifying marijuana as European drug problem number one and recommending, among other things, that governments move to censor or criminalize Internet sites that provide information on cannabis cultivation or promote its use. The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (http://www.encod.org), an umbrella organization of drug reform groups that seeks to influence EU drug policy, was working this week to formulate a response.
Meeting on July 6, the EU’s Horizontal Drug Group approved the Draft Council Resolution on Cannabis. It will now be presented to the European Council for approval as the EU works toward completing its continental drug strategy. Noting its concern about the rising popularity of cannabis (marijuana), the high potency of some marijuana, possible ill health effects, and the role of organized crime in the cannabis trade, the drug group called for more international law enforcement cooperation against trafficking, “alternative development” for cannabis producing regions, demand reduction at home, no marijuana in prison, and more research.
But it was the drug group draft’s 21st paragraph that was the attention-getter. It encouraged “Member States in accordance with national legislation to consider taking measures against Internet sites providing information on cultivation and promoting the use of cannabis.”
“This is nothing less then a direct attack against many organizations, groups of people, and individuals, who are active on the Internet giving information on cannabis cultivation and use,” said Joep Oomen, ENCOD coordinator. “If member states really adopt these measures, they could even address them to all sites that have a cannabis leaf on it,” he said. “If Western authorities start to limit the freedom of expression of their own citizens — and we are talking about 25-40 million cannabis consumers in the EU — we can be sure that something is really going wrong.”
“It is also a silly measure,” he told DRCNet. “Local and national authorities are well aware that allowing consumers to cultivate cannabis is not leading to massive health problems. On the contrary, if you persecute them, conditions for obtaining cannabis become harder, and all kinds of problems start to arise which had disappeared with depenalization,” he argued. “Cultivation of cannabis for own one’s consumption is depenalized in several EU countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, and in practice in all the EU — no one will get into trouble for cultivating some plants. So allowing them to cultivate but forcing them and others to keep their mouth shut about it is a ridiculous policy.”
ENCOD, which includes more than 75 different European drug reform organizations in its membership, is plotting a response, said Oomen. “After the European Union drug summit in Dublin in May (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/338/dublin.shtml), we have a foot inside the door for the debate on the new EU drug strategy,” he said. “We were already preparing a proposal to organize a dialogue between civil society and policymakers on the new strategy, and we may use this issue as a good example to explain our main criticism to policymakers, namely that they are completely out of sync with reality. We will offer them our help to design and implement reality-based drug policies.”
Still, said Oomen, there may be less here than meets the eye. “It is a nonbinding resolution and is really meant as a symbolic measure, with which the national and supranational policymakers hope to strengthen the repressive trend in recent European drug policies,” he explained. “It comes just before the start of the discussion on a new EU Drug Strategy, and is meant to push this discussion in a certain direction.”
The resolution was the work of the governments of Sweden, probably Europe’s leading prohibitionist government, and Spain, but the conservative Spanish government of Prime Minister Felipe Aznar has since been replaced by the more reform-friendly Socialists. “It was presented in March by Sweden and Spain in an even more repressive form, but afterwards a lot of member states presented objections, but chose to agree on the final version as they did not want this discussion to be mixed up with the debate on the new EU Drug strategy that starts in September,” Oomen reported.
Support for the resolution is not strong, Oomen said. According to one government official who spoke to Oomen, “everybody, including the governments that presented it, prefers now to forget this resolution, and go on to the discussion on the EU Drug Strategy.” This official advised laying low, saying, “Don’t paint the devil on the wall — then it will appear in person.”
But ENCOD’s membership appears disinclined to simply watch and wait. “Perhaps everyone has forgotten about this already, but the main trend behind this resolution will not go away if we just sit and pray, so we definitely plan actions,” said Oomen. “First we want to see how far they allow us to go with the dialogue process, and if that is unsatisfactory, we have other ways to put pressure on them.”
Read the EU Horizontal Drug Group’s Draft Council Resolution on Cannabis online at: http://register.consilium.eu.int/pdf/en/04/st11/st11267.en04.pdf