EuropeanDrugPolicyInitiative, January 13 2012, by Peter Sarosi

The Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSFD) was established by the European Commission (EC) to provide a platform for informal dialogue between the EC and civil society, ensuring that grassroots experience and expertise are fed into EU policymaking on drugs. Last year the forum was upgraded by the Commission from an informal forum to an expert group, a consultative entity that helps the Commission to prepare new and implement existing legislation. Recently, the CSFD has 35 members, selected through a formal procedure by the EC based on competence and relevance in the field of drug policies. At the last meeting the CSFD was asked by the Commission to contribute to the preparation of the new EU drug strategy. The CSFD is currently working on principles and recommendations that can guide the EC and member states in drafting the new drug strategy.

This is not an easy task.

Unlike the Civil Society Forum on HIV/AIDS, this forum is deeply divided along ideological lines, especially in relation to harm reduction services and to the criminalization of people who use drugs. Some members, mostly from Southern- and Northern-European countries, support the status quo based on the UN drug conventions, that is, the criminalization of all non-scientific and non-medical use of drugs and a strong emphasis on abstinence-only approaches, while others advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and a drug policy aiming at reducing the harms of drugs and respecting the human rights of drug users. Therefore it is very difficult to reach a full consensus on any issues related to drug policies.

However, a Drafting Group set up by the members of the CSFD try the impossible to come up with a document that is not only conensual but has innovative elements and added value as well. The members of the Drafting Group met in Brussels this week to discuss the draft text. Of course there were disagreements – especially on what to advise the governments on alternatives to current drug policies or what to say about substitution treatment or needle exchange. Surprisingly, there were many issues where a consensus could be reached quite easily among NGOs: that policies should be based on scientific evidence, that governments have to refocus drug policies from supply reduction to demand reduction efforts or that governments need to create forums for the meaningful involvement of civil society to drug policy decision making.

If everything goes according to the schedule, the CSFD will finalize its recommendations in March and the members of its Core Group can present the document at the April meeting of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG), a inter-governmental body. The evalutation of the last EU drug strategy is to be published in early March, so the governments can make an informed decision about the next strategy based on evidence and advice from civil society. The new drug strategy will be adopted until the end of this year, under the Cypriot presidency.

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