For a Europe at the Forefront of Drug Policies

On the eve of the European elections, a new manifesto calls for a drug policy that makes Europe safer, healthier and more just

The Manifesto has already been signed by numerous politicians and decision-makers, including Members of the European Parliament candidates. It is endorsed by Dianova International – Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

By the Editorial Team – The 2024 European elections will take place from 6-9 June, with dates varying by country. The approximately 450 million citizens of the European Union will be asked to choose their representatives in the European Parliament and thus have a say in the future of Europe. Given the current drug situation, influencing the future of Europe also means electing those who will best represent the interests of citizens through a pragmatic, effective and fair drug policy.

More drugs, more violence

According to the EU Drug Markets Analysis 2024, a document by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the drugs available in Europe are becoming increasingly diverse and of high potency or purity. What’s more, the evolution of the drug market is accompanied by greater efficiency in the transport of these drugs while it has shown “remarkable resilience to global crises, instability and significant political and economic changes”. From the COVID-19 pandemic to Russia’s war on Ukraine and the Taliban’s rise to power, criminal networks have adapted and diversified their methods, sometimes influencing the emergence of new markets in the process.

The European drugs market has seen an unprecedented increase in the availability of illicit drugs, as evidenced by elevated drug purity and stable prices at retail level – Alexis Goosdeel – Director EMCDDA

As a result, criminal organizations face increased competition to sell their products while fostering extreme violence in Europe. Some Member States are experiencing unprecedented levels of drug market-related violence, often related to major cannabis or cocaine distribution hubs and competitive retail markets. These murders, kidnappings, torture and intimidation of all sorts generally take place among criminal networks, but they also claim innocent victims while generating an increased perception of public insecurity.

What responses can we offer?

Faced with such a situation, the first reaction of European citizens would be to demand tougher policies against both criminal networks and consumers. Targeting criminal organizations and reducing demand as much as possible would seem to be a logical response. However, the ‘war on drugs’ policies implemented around the world over the last 50 years have been remarkably ineffective. And, most importantly, this ‘war on drugs’ has long masked a war on people who use drugs.

Fortunately, European action is now based on a different, fairer model. The EU Drugs Strategy 2021-2025 is based on a balance between drug supply reduction and drug demand reduction; it is grounded in evidence of what works and what does not in terms of policies and interventions. The European strategy also calls on EU countries to reduce the stigmatization of people who use drugs and promotes increased investment in a wide range of treatment and harm reduction services, while rejecting the outdated paradigm of a drug-free world. Finally, the European approach reaffirms its commitment to respect for human rights, gender equality and equity in health, while encouraging greater involvement of civil society.

The fact remains that when it comes to drugs, outdated ideologies die hard and the most harmful ones do not hesitate to show their ugly faces, especially during election periods. All the more so because, Europe being Europe, the European Drugs Strategy is not legally binding. Although this strategy represents the current position, objectives and aspirations of the Member States in terms of drug policy, each one of them is free to do as it pleases.

Manifesto for the 2024 European elections

On the initiative of several organizations, including the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network, the new manifesto is entitled: For a drug policy that makes Europe safer, healthier, and more just’. Safer, healthier and more just: these are the three key areas of change proposed in this short document.

Safer – the Manifesto calls for an end to war-on-drugs policies that have failed to reduce the size of illegal drug markets or curb the power and violence of organized crime. These policies, it argues, have cost billions in wasted resources and are also partly responsible for the stigmatization of people who use drugs. The document recommends exploring innovative approaches to drug markets, including the responsible regulation of cannabis as a key measure to reduce the power of organized crime.

Healthier – considering that drug use in Europe is at record levels and the growing presence of new psychoactive substances, the Manifesto calls on the EU institutions to prioritise support and funding for integrated health and care services that have proven their worth. It is essential to ramp up investment and support for evidence-based prevention and treatment programmes and for all aspects of the harm reduction approach.

More just – lastly, the Manifesto emphasizes that the development and implementation of more effective drug policies require the involvement of civil society organizations. They are best informed of new trends in drug markets. They are the ones that work with communities and are able to reach out to vulnerable populations on a daily basis. And last but not least, policies must involve first and foremost affected communities and people who use drugs.

To find out more, read the document currently available in six languages