In early June, IDPC attended the 2nd Annual Conference of the Cooperation Programme between Latin America and the European Union on Drug Policies (COPOLAD), in Brussels, Belgium. COPOLAD is an ambitious project, funded by the European Commission, which seeks to bring together government representatives to strengthen bi-regional dialogue and cooperative work between the EU and Latin America. More specifically, the project aims to establish and consolidate monitoring centres on drugs in order to learn more about each country’s drug problems and respond more efficiently to drug supply and demand in both regions, with due regard to human rights and available evidence. Last May, IDPC joined COPOLAD as an associate body.

This Conference was composed of two keynote speeches, one on how to develop comprehensive and effective alcohol prevention policies, and the other on the importance of community-based social inclusion programmes in Latin America. The rest of the Conference consisted in roundtables focusing on strengthening the Coordination and Cooperation Mechanism on Drugs EU-CELAC, the role of monitoring centres for informing decision making, evidence in the field of demand reduction, and effectiveness of supply reduction programmes.  Each of the roundtables was followed by discussions.

This conference clearly sought to reflect the balanced approach promoted by the COPOLAD project in the fields of demand and supply. It also gave much space to presenting available evidence and best practice from Latin American and European countries.

The event also reflected the divergences of opinion between the country representatives on how best to tackle illicit drug markets. Some country representatives, such as the Panama delegate, reiterated their views that drug control should focus on stronger law enforcement efforts against producers, traffickers and users (including for alcohol). Others, such as the Uruguayan and Costa Rican representatives, adopted a much more critical approach to the current drug control approach and raised the need to discuss alternatives to the current strategy, including drug regulation.

With regards to harm reduction, although the concept lacked prominence as none of the roundtables or presentations specifically focused on the issue, the importance of providing harm reduction services to people who use drugs was mentioned by several delegates and speakers throughout the event.

The sessions on supply reduction also demonstrated the need for balance in reducing drug production and trafficking. While the first part of the roundtable was focused on law enforcement and intelligence to tackle the diversion of precursors and the emergence of new psychoactive substances, the second part of the discussions was centred on alternative development, including preventive alternative development.

All in all, COPOLAD is indeed an ambitious project, bringing together countries from very different historical, economic, political, ideological and cultural backgrounds, to respond to a wide range of drug problems. Despite disparities in opinion, it was encouraging for IDPC to observe the level of dialogue that the conference offered on how best to use available evidence and best practice from Latin America and Europe to tackle drug problems in the two regions.

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