We have dedicated the bulk of this edition of The Drug Policy Letter to some trends in urban drug policy in Europe. There is much more going on than we can cover at one time, but we have focused on a few key trends:
The Swiss, having closed their infamous "Needle Park," are now beginning a program where they will prescribe heroin and, sometimes, cocaine to addicts.
The Dutch, often criticized by hard-liners for being too lenient in their drug policies, are showing how law enforcement can operate in a post-drug war world.
Frankfurt is among a few key cities where new harm reduction policies are being implemented. The city's drug policy coordinator describes how Frankfurt's system operates and how it all began.
It has long been our feeling that the real laboratories of drug policy reform have been European cities. The current drug policy experiments in Switzerland, the Netherlands, some German cities, England and other countries only strengthen that conviction.
Even where new city-level policies are not yet in place, the trend away from support for the drug war is evident. In Italy this year, voters passed a referendum recommending elimination of criminal penalties for possession of personal-use amounts of drugs. This vote solidified a move by the government to abandon a two-year-old zero tolerance experiment. In Spain, penalties for personal-use amounts of cannabis have been effectively eliminated, and users of hard drugs are less likely to be arrested, especially if they are participating in one of several new needle exchange programs. In France and England, the debate on legalization of cannabis and other drugs is brewing anew.
Where cities are breaking new ground, their policies are no longer being carried out in isolation. Through the European Cities on Drug Policy network, set up by top harm reduction proponents, more than 50 cities are able to readily exchange information with
top officials from countries where new approaches are under way.
At the initiation of the Drug Policy Foundation, the network will soon be expanding to include some U.S. cities and others in Australia and Latin America. These new cities will be part of a new International Network of Cities on Drug Policy, which will be inaugurated
at the first conference of the network in Baltimore Nov. 16-17, 1993. The Foundation and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke of Baltimore are co-hosting this historic conference, which has than trying to bypass the FDA, been officially endorsed by the United Nations.
The significance of changes in city policies is tremendous. It is at the urban level that drug policy can be stripped of its characteristic platitudes and promised "toughness," and effective new approaches begun.
City officials have no choice but to be pragmatic. With the repeated failure of the drug war paradigm, many of them have been forced to accept some form of compromise on drug policy.
The fundamental shift in mindset is this: we should not try to break heads to break habits. Addiction to black market drugs in the age of AIDS can be deadly in and of itself. If someone is addicted to hard drugs, we need to bring them into a supportive situation,
not force them into a life in the alleys or demand that they foreswear all drug use before help is offered.
By dealing up-front with hard-core users, crimes committed in search of drugs can be reduced. The health of users can be improved, and deadly disease avoided. If users are weaned from drugs or provided substitute substances by doctors or treatment programs, the criminal underworld can also be disempowered.
Drug-related problems are not solved by taking a new approach to drug policy. But the scale of them can be reduced, and the waste inherent in the war strategy of the last two decades can be ended.
The potential in new policies is great, and this is why the interest runs so high in approaches that break the drug war mold. We look forward to helping cities worldwide with the courage to try new methods of drug control. It is long past time to chart a new course.