Topic Overview LIBE II

Topic Overview LIBE II

Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs II (LIBE II)

With the availability of drugs remaining high across Europe and countries such as Norway planning on decriminalising their recreational use in small quantities, what stance should the EU take on the decriminalisation of drugs keeping in mind their possible medical applications?

Chairperson: Carlos Drexhage (ES)

Photo by Sebastian Gelbke/Fotolia

INTRODUCTION

There is an ever growing presence of illicit substances within Europe, between 2010 and 2014 alone the number of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) discovered within Europe more than doubled. Moreover, the potency of recreational drugs had been increasing steadily with drug related  hospitalisations also rising. There seems to be a disparity between our current knowledge of how addiction works and our approach to treating the issue. Modern research has shown the medical benefits of various substances such as cannabis, the fact that these substances remain illegal mean that medical research are severely impaired when investigating possible beneficial uses for these substances and the general public doesn’t have access to new groundbreaking treatments. Other substances such as ketamine have shown promise in treating mental illnesses such as depression, however the research remains narrow due to the illegal status of the drug. 

EMCDDA statistics on drug potency and price in Europe

KEY TERMS

  • EWS (early warning system): This system is designed to detect the presence of illicit substances across Europe and report it to the authorities. The EWS has been responsible for discovering various new substances, proving to be an essential tool for drug researches within the European Union
  • NPS (new psychoactive substance): These are substances that mimic established illicit substances such as cannabis or LSD, by creating combinations that mimic these illegal drugs but remain chemically different, allowing drug producers to stay ahead of the law. 

MAIN ACTORS

  • EMCDDA (the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) serves as a reference point for information on drug usage, addiction, and drug related health issues. The EMCDDA produces research for European lawmakers and Member States to use in enveloping their approach to drug policy. 
  • Europol (the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation) is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, it tackled criminal issues such as possession and trading of illicit substances. Europol has a department dedicated to drug issues. 
  • EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats) provides a platform for an integrated approach to the EU’s internal security. This institution is vital for any European wide security or criminal policy. 
  • The Pompidou Group is a platform that is part of the Council of Europe and seeks to encourage intergovernmental cooperation on drug policy. 

MEASURES IN PLACE

The primary onus for the development of drug policy rests on the individual Member States. There are, however, various European laws dedicated to monitoring illicit substances and sharing information between different national authorities. In 1993, the EMCDDA was established, its role is to provide policy makers with information on drugs, drug addiction, and emerging trends within the drug market.

The EU council  has approved the EU Drug Strategy 2021-2025, this 4 year plan aims to improve public health and provide appropriate care to those affected by drugs, raise awareness on drug use, and tackle illegal drug trade and production in the EU. The EMCDDA had developed an Early Warning System designed to detect illicit substances and bring them to the attention of authorities as soon as possible. This system has been helpful in tracking drugs across Europe and it can provide essential knowledge to lawmakers and researchers. 

The EU Justice Program provides a platform for judicial cooperation and provides funding to support criminal and judicial matters. The Internal Security Fund serves to support the implementation of the Internal Security Strategy. It provides funds for issues related to drug crimes and the supply of illicit substances. 

The EU’s Health Programme seeks to improve health in the EU by assisting cooperation and promoting effective healthcare practices. The programme can help victims of drug use by providing rehabilitation and encouraging healthier lifestyles, it has a large budget, part of which is used for health-related drug projects. 

KEY CONFLICTS

With drug related health issues, drug potency, and new psychoactive substances rising across Europe, the EU’s drug policy is proving to be inadequate. The disparity between drug policy in different countries had become an obstacle to tackling this problem on a continent-wide level. 

Freedom of movement in Europe has become beneficial for drug trade while countries like the Netherlands have become popular destinations for drug tourism. Any legalisation of drugs in any given European country will likely result in another hotspot for drug tourism, highlighting the need for an international approach to the issue. 

Drug use is a cross-border issue that national governments haven’t been able to tackle. While other developed nations such as Canada and various parts of the United States have made strides in legalising various hard drugs for personal and medical use, yet Europe seems to be falling behind in formulating a more modern approach to drug policy based on our current understanding of addiction and drug use. 

Moreover, the internet has become a useful tool for the distribution of drugs, posing a new problem for authorities and lawmakers. Any drug policy aimed at thwarting trade must contain an important digital element. Cooperation with non-European countries is also badly needed, the EU cooperates little with important exporters of NPS such as China

On the flip side, modern research has shown that cannabis has the potential of alleviating chronic pains and easing insomnia and anxiety. Meanwhile substances such as LSD or ketamine have shown promising therapeutic potential. However, the illegal status of these substances across most of Europe has severely narrowed the research on the potential medical benefits of these substances. 

Report on New Psychoactive Substances in Europe

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The EU has so far failed at addressing drug issues on a continent-wide scale. With drug policy being mostly dictated by Member States, the EU could use its vast legal and economic capabilities to formulate an effective and homogenous drug policy common for all its members. Drug policy in the EU has for the most part been a side issue that has been only partially addressed by other larger programmes that are not entirely focused on drug issues, such as the justice and health programmes. With drugs becoming a cross border issue, an international approach should be sought. 

  • What can the EU do to improve the lives of people affected by drug addiction?
  • What can EU institutions do to reduce the demand for recreational drugs and reduce the production of NPS?
  • What approach should the EU and its Member States take regarding the potential medical benefits of various substances that are currently illegal in most countries?
  • How should the EU and its Member States cooperate with other nations and international institutions to tackle the production and trade of illicit substances?

LINKS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH

  • EU Drug PolicyThis site has a good overview of the European Union’s approach to drug policy. 
  • EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin – Here you can find various data sets about drug use across Europe. 
  • European Drug ReportThis report analyses the situation of drug related issues across Europe. It reviews trends and developments in drug consumption and drug related health issues. 
  • A review and assessment of EU drug policyThis report provides an overview of current drug policy in the EU, it also includes various case studies of drug policy in EU Member and non-Member States. 
  • Legalisation of cannabis in LuxembourgLuxembourg recently legalised cannabis in a huge step forward towards comprehensive drug policy
  • The legalisation of drugs in PortugalThis article analyses the long term effects drug legalisation in Portugal over the past 20 years
  • Best Practice PortalThis portal contains evidence based recommendations on what constitutes efficient drug policy
  • Polish drug policyAn analysis of the failure of Poland’s hard-line drug policy