Stoner Symphony

Will Europe Continue With ‘Harm Reduction’ Approach To Illicit Drugs After Political Shift To The Right?

THIS week marks a new beginning in the approach to illicit drugs in Europe with the launch of the European Union Drugs Agency (EUDA).

Spawned from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), which was established some 30 years ago, it comes with an increased budget and remit.

The agency says it intends to branch out from being a monitoring agency into a drug agency; one that is proactive, one that will aim to anticipate future challenges, and help countries develop their response through evidence-based interventions.

And, the EUDA says it is intent on developing an ‘evidence-based’ role in the emerging, continent-wide approach to cannabis liberalisation.

At the official launch in Lisbon on Wednesday this week, the EUDA’s senior team were pressed on whether the shift to the right in Europe, following last month’s European elections, would damage its ability to deliver on a ‘harm reduction’ approach to illicit drugs.

EUDA’s Executive Director Alexis Goosdeel acknowledged that this new political reality posed ‘risks’.

But, he highlighted how the EU has established a ‘strong and explicit approach in relation to the human rights, based on harm reduction and the active involvement of civil society’.

“We have an EU aquis (on drugs). There are risks and there are threats, they are everywhere, all the time.

“We cannot predict If there will be a complete change in drug policy but we can stand with what we know and the role we play, in line with EU policies and values.

“When needed, and requested, we can stand for something and testify on our methodologies and approach.

“We should be able to…stand side by side with member states and support what has been built over the last 30 years based on scientific evidence – what you could call the European best practice.”

A harm reduction approach to drugs legislation is viewed as a pathway to liberal reform that will align with the international conventions on narcotics as outlined here.

Developments Since 1993

The evolving extent and nature of the continent’s drugs’ landscape since the EMCDDA’s foundation in 1993, has prompted its transformation into the EUDA.

In a press release the EUDA highlights its four overlapping areas of activity;

-identifying and issuing alerts on emerging risks and drug-related threats

-anticipating new and future challenges

-assessing needs and available responses; and assisting stakeholders by evaluating

-and disseminating new knowledge and best practice.

Initially established to monitor drug use patterns across the continent its brief will now see it side-step into policy areas, such as cannabis liberalisation.

Earlier this year Business of Cannabis reported the EUDA was looking to create a ‘toolkit’ with ‘resources to support policymakers with the implementation of evidence-based decisions in the cannabis policy field’.

It said it will ‘scale up its focus on developing resources in the area of cannabis policies and interventions’, due to changes in the cannabis market over recent years which have seen cannabis products become ‘increasingly diverse in Europe’.

And, it added “In recent years, the EMCDDA has accommodated an increasing number of requests from Member States in this field, and has provided support to national initiatives, specifically with cannabis indicator development and monitoring of the impact of cannabis policy changes in this area.”

Everywhere, Everything, Everyone

Meanwhile, in one of its last acts, the EMCDDA published its latest analysis of the illicit market entitled ‘The European Drug Report 2024: Trends and Developments’, in June.

In summary, it says that the impacts of illicit drugs and substances with psychoactive properties are now visible in all walks of life.

It contends that this means that everyone, ‘whether directly or indirectly, can be affected by illicit drug use and the problems associated with it’.

It highlights how Europe’s ports – particularly in Belgium and the Netherlands – account for 70% of drug seizures with large-volume seizures of drugs, particularly cocaine, detected in shipping containers.

For example, in 2023 Spain reported its largest ever seizure of cocaine in a single shipment, with 9.5 tonnes of the drug concealed in bananas from Ecuador.

It adds: “The methods used by crime groups operating in this area have become increasingly sophisticated with well-documented instances of infiltration of supply chains and exploitation of key staff through intimidation and corruption.”

The report highlights the march towards cannabis liberalisation across Europe, and identifies cannabis as ‘by far the most commonly consumed illicit drug in Europe’.

An estimated 8% of European adults (22.8 million aged 15 to 64) used cannabis in the last 12 months.

It raises health concerns over the level of THC, at 25%, now commonly found in cannabis resin, saying: “This is very high by historical standards, potentially creating elevated health risks, particularly when associated with early onset of use.

“In contrast, the average potency of seized herbal cannabis has hovered at around 10 % THC for some year.”

It also raised concerns over the semi-synthetic cannabinoid derivatives such as hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), hexahydrocannabiphorol (HHC-P) and tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) which are derived from low-THC hemp.

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