Her Majesty Queen Silvia opened the 4th World Forum Against Drugs and ECAD 21st Mayors’ Conference in Stockholm, Sweden. She shared her vision of a drug-free society. If this vision, or dream, were to come true, she observed that there would be no need for the World Forum.
She noted that drug use and the negative effects of drugs and their supply impacts all of us. She emphasized that we all have to work together to work together on this issue because so many severe social issues result from trafficking, production and use of drugs.
She emphasized that this issue is most difficult for children and young people. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a human rights treaty which sets out civil, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. These rights are infringed when children are affected by drug abuse – including if they initiate drug use at an early age or grow up in a family where drugs are part of their lives. We cannot let drugs and their use be a part of our every day lives.
She stressed the need for policies grounded on zero tolerance based on prevention, treatment, and control aimed at both reducing supply and demand for drugs. She added that she is convinced that the UN drug conventions are the most important tools we have to achieve these ends.
As the drug liberalization movement grows stronger, it is often asked if legalization is the solution to the drug problem. An analogy would be like taking an aspirin to treat a chronic disease.
Two months ago Her Majesty took part in the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna with Maria Larsson, Swedish Minister for Children and Elderly. This was a starting point for the UNGASS Special Session in 2016, the outcome of which will be of crucial importance for global drug policy.
She emphasized that changing young people’s attitudes toward drugs is crucial in our work. Her Majesty is the Patron of the international NGO, Mentor Foundation which empowers children and young people to make healthy decisions and avoid drug use.
Her Majesty concluded her remarks by encouraging all NGOs present to work together with one another and with their governments to successfully tackle the drug problem.
Maria Larsson, Swedish Minister for Children and Elderly, stressed the need for all present to be persistent in our efforts as we work toward a drug-free society. Some NGOs, think tanks and more recently, even a few governments, have suggested that a more liberal policy is the way forward, focused on the decriminalization and legalization of drugs. Thereby they also question the UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In Sweden there is strong support for the UN Conventions and for a restrictive – but balanced – drug policy.
She noted that we have an obligation to cooperate with others on a global level. We must take both a top-to-bottom approach as well as a bottom-to-top approach to drug policy. In the first, top-down approach, governments must show political leadership. It is the job of government leaders to decide about measures of universal prevention, treatment as well as supply reduction.
Minister Larson said that governments cannot do this job alone. Much work has to be done at the societal level, through the work by NGOs. The bottom-up approach is just as important to help create and maintain a strong anti-drug culture.
She mentioned that a recent conference in Stockholm addressed cannabis and reviewed the effects on the brain and body, which makes the drug dangerous in itself. Cannabis is also dangerous because it serves as gateway to other drugs. The presentations shared at the Forum will provide strong arguments against liberalization of cannabis laws.
She emphasized that the Swedish drug policy has integrated the areas of the justice system and treatment. In Stockholm, a person involved in drug-related crime is questioned and tested at a special center, rather than at a police station. Drug users are immediately introduced to staff at social services and offered access to treatment. This is an example of the cooperation of law enforcement and treatment.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is the most ratified human rights treaty and the only human rights convention that focuses on the protection of children from drugs.
Ms. Larson concluded her remarks by encouraging coordinated efforts among those at the Forum and in preparation for the UNGASS special session on narcotic drugs in New York in 2016. She added that support for the UN Conventions can never be taken for granted. It is our joint responsibility to ensure they continue to be supported and to create alliances across borders.
Sten Nordin , the Mayor of Stockholm,thanked Her Majesty Queen Silvia for her devotion to helping others, and for dedicated work to create a safer life for children, serving as inspiration for us all. The greatest victims of drug use are children.
ECAD has a long history of leadership in Sweden. Twenty years ago, ECAD was founded by his predecessor. Much important work has been done but today some things are not going the right way. We know that drug use poisons our society on all levels. Drug addiction knows no social boundaries, no geographical borders and no easy solutions.
He emphasized that we must stand up against those who promote legalization as the easy answer to the drug problem. Governments must not accept the false arguments of those who support legalization.
Local governments are using economic arguments to support drug legalization. As tempting as financial gains may be, it is wrong for governments to be willing to profit off of other people’s misery, profiting from drug use and addiction.
The drug policy answer is not only about limiting the supply of drugs. The key battle we must want to win most is that against the demand for drugs. The Mayor stressed that we are not at war against our own citizens but that we are working to help them. This will be a hard battle won through treatment, social support and other measures. We are trying to help people break free from their addiction to these drugs.
Kian Reme, Chairman of ECAD, recognized the noble cause of drug-free societies represented at the joint World Forum and ECAD Mayors’ Meeting. She acknowledged Sweden’s leading role and Her Majesty Queen Silvia’s leadership as patroness of ECAD.
He reinforced that ECAD is proud to join with the World Federation Against Drugs which have a common vision of ending the use of illicit drugs. While ECAD focuses on the European scene, the organization recognizes the need for leadership in this area is global.
230 cities in Europe are signatures to the ECAD statement. Their position on drug policy has much wider popular support than the other side which promotes drug legalization. ECAD is strong is Eastern Europe and is looking to expand its membership to more representation among Western European cities.
ECAD announced that at the conclusion of the meeting, while maintaining the name “ECAD” the meaning is changed to European Cities Action Network for Drug-Free Societies which offers a clearer view of the organization’s vision.
First, is the idea of inevitability – that drug use inevitable, that everyone will take or try drugs so there is no point in trying to prevent it. In addition to this idea is the concept that the legalization of cannabis (or other drugs) is inevitable. Drug use – and legalization – is not inevitable.
The second area to push back against is Big Marijuana (Big Cannabis) which is now developing. The goal of this industry is to increase addiction. The intention is to make money. The industries around two legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco) are the drivers for spreading their use.
The third area to push back against is the false notion that somehow legalization equals social justice, or that the only way to have compassionate drug policy is to legalize drugs.
Fourth is the notion that cannabis doesn’t kill you, and that it is harmless. In fact, there are many negative physical and mental health consequences to cannabis use – including deadly motor vehicle crashes by drivers impaired by cannabis.
Fifth is that scientists and the body of scientific evidence support legalization of cannabis and drugs. This is not true.
Dr. Sabet noted that tobacco was once considered not addictive. Only until the 1950-60s was tobacco acknowledged widely that it was addictive. But its addictive potential was in fact well-known 50 years earlier.
He noted that the early initiation of drugs – including cannabis – dramatically increases the likelihood of addiction and later drug problems.
He added that one of reasons why parents are some of the most misinformed people about cannabis (in United States especially) is because the cannabis used and sold today is different than what they used in the 1960s. Additionally, the way cannabis is ingested has changed. Years ago ingesting cannabis with THC levels upwards of 90% was unheard of. This is because over 90% THC levels do not exist in smoked cannabis. But technology has evolved and THC can be extracted, combusted and inhaled.
We also know about harmful effects of marijuana use on mental health. The United States has a silent epidemic of mental illness – and now a silent epidemic of cannabis addiction.
Present at the Forum is Madeline Meier, PhD, a researcher who conducted a landmark study on IQ based on a longitudinal study. Her results show that adults who were heavy cannabis smokers in their youth have a 6- to 8-point reduction in IQ.
There is also new data examining the differences between cocaine abusers, comparing those who did and did not start with cannabis. Those who did not start drug use with cannabis had less severe dependency on cocaine than those who started with cannabis.
In the United States, there is a call to legalize cannabis as a so-called “safer choice” than alcohol. This false argument has been successful and is one of the leading reasons why a slight majority of Americans support cannabis legalization. What this overlooks is the fact that most marijuana users also use alcohol.
Dr. Sabet encouraged participants to push back against the concept that alcohol and tobacco are models for drug policy. Use of these two legal drugs are so much greater than illegal drugs, including cannabis. Worldwide less than 8% of the population smokes cannabis while 65% use alcohol and 30% use tobacco.
Our global experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries offer clear warnings about the future of drug legalization. The only way these industries make money in business is if they target children. They will not make money if they target adults; Big Marijuana will promote addition and target kids. The vast majority of people addicted to drugs started using when they were young. Industries have to start with young users to gain life-long customers.
The idea promoted that cannabis legalization is about responsible adults smoking cannabis in the privacy of their own home is a fantasy. It is about hooking the next generation of kids on a new product of the Big Marijuana industry. The intersection of Wall Street and cannabis has never been greater. There are many well-educated, successful individuals looking to making huge profits in this industry.
Some of the very same claims being made today in support of cannabis were used for tobacco advertising. In Colorado, where cannabis has been legalized for persons 21 and older, pre-rolled cannabis joints are sold. As are edibles – like cookies, candies, sodas, and ice creams – that are THC-infused. These products are advertised and stores offer discounts and coupons. This is about targeting young people.
The third largest tobacco company in the world is mass-producing electronic cigarettes/vaporizers. These products are used for both nicotine and cannabis. These products are commonly sold but not specifically identified for cannabis use – rather, “dry herb, wax and oil.” Cannabis is also being sold in vending machines. It took 50 years for preventionists to get rid vending machines selling tobacco.
Dr. Sabet encouraged attendees to aspire for the ultimate destination goals in drug policy, lowering drug use to the lowest levels possible.
The liberalization of cannabis laws in the United States has been part of a 40-year movement. The push for medical use of cannabis, known as “medical marijuana” started in 1970s. The movement focuses on an appeal to compassion. We must be compassionate – in our work we must talk about why early intervention and treatment is compassionate and why stopping a global machine that is the cannabis industry is compassionate.
Dr. Sabet encouraged attendees to remember that the choices are not between legalization and incarceration. Sweden provides the world with a remarkable example of compassionate socialism, drug policy that is compassionate and effective.