The Journal of
Cognitive Liberties

This article is from Vol. 3, No. 1 pages 63-100
All rights reserved worldwide.  ISSN: 1527-3946




Drugs and Decision-making in the European Union

Tim Boekhout van Solinge

The Centre for Drug Research (CEDRO) is an innovative drug research center operating from Amsterdam. CEDRO examines drugs and drug policy from a socio-scientific perspective, and regards drug use as natural human behavior, primarily shaped by contextual and social variables. CEDRO’s findings indicate that treating drug use as a crime or as pathological behavior, stands in the way of rational policy making.

Drugs and Decision-making in the European Union, authored by CEDRO researcher Tim Boekhout van Solinge, and released in January 2002, presents an analysis of European anti-drug measures which is both scholarly and fascinating. The book examines why drugs have acquired a prominent position on the European political agenda and identifies the political function that they serve. The study concludes that rather than solving “the drug problem,” the European Union's bureaucracy actually perpetuates and exacerbates the problem.

Drugs and Decision-making in the European Union, is an important study that should be read by any person interested in understanding global drug policy. The book is available for purchase or download from the CEDRO Web site, and is highly recommended. The URL to order or download the book is:

Here we present selected excerpts from the book, which may be of particular relevance or interest to our Journal’s readers.


Background: international drugs control

Many voluminous and well-informed studies have been written about the remarkable history of international drugs control. It is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most of today’s illicit substances, such as opium, coca and cannabis, were legal at the beginning of the 20th century, and were used both medicinally and recreationally. In some countries opium was produced under state supervision and retailed at state-owned outlets or by physicians. Coca too was legal, and served as the basis for cocaine-containing drinks, notably in the United States.1 It also had medicinal applications, for instance as a local anaesthetic.

In the course of time, however, the three best known drugs—cannabis, coca and opium—came under an international ban. The stimulant amphetamine was in general outlawed much later—not until the 1960s and 1970s in many European countries.

The history of the international ban on drugs begins with the meeting of the Shanghai Opium Commission in 1909, attended by representatives from 13 countries, the aim being to arrive at a stricter international policy on drugs. As this conference took the form of a Commission, its recommendations were not binding.2 Then, in December 1911, the first opium conference took place in The Hague, which resulted one month later in the 1912 convention on opium. This convention marks the beginning of today’s international drugs policy, based on prohibition.

Most studies on international drugs control have been written by Americans and focus on the role played by the United States. This is entirely understandable, since the United States played a key role in the genesis of the international drugs control regime at the beginning of the 20th century and has continued to dominate its further development. A classic study that should be mentioned in this connection is The American Disease—Origins of Narcotic Control by the American physician and historian David Musto. His study shows that the US was the driving force behind the Shanghai Opium Commission and the Hague Convention of 1912. The United States’ attitude served certain domestic political causes and was fuelled by economic and foreign policy considerations. Compared to European countries, the US had a relatively large number of addicts at the time (both at home and in the recently acquired Philippines), but this ultimately proved a less important factor than political and commercial motives.

Around the year 1900, the US experienced a number of drug scares, situations in which drugs were singled out as a source of social evil, which invested the struggle against them with significance and legitimacy.3 It was towards the end of the nineteenth century that the US passed the first laws against smoking opium. This ban had unmistakable racial undertones: it was prompted not so much by problems associated with opium use as by general anti-Chinese rabble-rousing in California.4 This increasingly led to an association in the public mind between Chinese people, Chinatown communities, opium, prostitution and gambling. The Chinese were even alleged to be using opium to entice white women into sexual slavery. Although opiate use was far more common among white Americans than in the Chinese community at the end of the nineteenth century, it was above all the smoking of opium by the Chinese that was seen as a problem. As time went on, opium smoking became a focus for general anti-Chinese sentiments, and this group and its use of opium came to be perceived as a threat to American society.

At the beginning of the 20th century, cocaine and several cocaine-containing drinks, including Coca-Cola, came to be associated with black Americans, who reportedly became incredibly powerful and wild after using it. To incapacitate “cocaine crazed Negroes,” some police stations switched from .32 to .38 calibre revolvers. Another popular rumour was that African Americans were raping white women under the influence of cocaine.5 David Musto concludes that this opium scare resulted not from problems in cocaine use, but from white fears of black rebellion against segregation and oppression.6

Another drug scare arose in the 1930s, this time around marijuana. Harry Anslinger, who had headed the alcohol prohibition task force during Prohibition, was later appointed head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In his zeal to ban marijuana, he published propaganda describing murders committed by people under its influence. Since marijuana was mostly used by Mexicans, they became the focus of this new anxiety: marijuana supposedly made them violent. Anslinger also alarmed the public by pointing out that the “killer weed” was gaining popularity among young white Americans.7 As a result of the ensuing “reefer madness,” engineered almost single-handedly by Anslinger, Congress declared marijuana illegal in 1937.8

Notwithstanding these fears in American society, however, foreign policy and commercial considerations were the prime motives in the United States’ active role in international drugs control. Tellingly, the US did not introduce its own federal legislation in this area—the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act—until 1909, the year in which the Shanghai Opium Commission was convened. Since the US was advocating a ban on drugs, it had to protect its credibility on the international political stage by showing that it was putting its theories into practice at home.

The United States’ policy on drugs stemmed first and foremost from the country’s new status: its war against Spain in 1898 had yielded Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.9 With these new overseas possessions the US had become a political and economic world power. As an entrepreneurial nation, it had to compete with several European powers for the expanding markets in the Far East. One of the reasons that the US had conquered the Philippines was to use it as a bridgehead for the huge Chinese market. However, the trading ties between the US and China were marked by friction. As Jan-Willem Gerritsen has pointed out, “What united China and the United States was their common adversary—the European colonial powers, and Britain in particular. By emphasising its aversion to the colonial opium trade, the United States was able to distinguish itself from its European rivals.”10 Fifty years after losing the opium wars to Britain, a vigorously nationalistic anti-opium mood prevailed in China, in which the nationalists in particular wanted to reopen debate on the opium trade. The Americans presented themselves as the ideal partners to help the Chinese with their opium problem, starting off with an international ban. By currying favour with the Chinese they hoped to gain access to their vast economic market. Besides, an international ban on opium would not be a bad thing for the US, since the country hardest hit by it would be Britain, its main commercial rival.11

Another study on international drugs control, also written in the 1970s, is by three Scandinavian authors, Kettil Bruun, Lynn Pan and Ingemar Rexed: The Gentlemen’s Club: International Control of Drugs and Alcohol.12 Documented with interviews and case studies, this book covers seventy years of international drugs control and describes the part played by the diverse protagonists, countries as well as pressure groups and individuals. It paints a rather discreditable picture of the way in which international drugs control came into being. In particular, its account of the “Gentlemen’s Club” describes how a handful of men managed to secure the introduction of international drugs control policy.13 Many of these key players were diplomats, law enforcement officers or health-care officials. More importantly, many were friends and had close ties with the pharmaceutical industry.

The Gentlemen’s Club makes dismal reading. It is a tale of ill-conceived priorities, disputes about the powers of organisations, conflicting national interests, the influence of the pharmaceutical lobby, and the lack of expert knowledge among the leaders of decision-making bodies. The book also provides an interesting picture of the way international organisations work, including their policy-making and administrative apparatus. It describes the often arbitrary way in which subjects end up on the agenda and subsequently lead lives of their own, culminating in some policy measure. It also demonstrates the immense influence that may be exerted by a single individual. Harry Anslinger, for instance, not only played a decisive role in American policy, but was also a leading player in the drafting of international drugs policy, especially on cannabis.

Approach and methodology

The two historical studies just mentioned, The American Disease and The Gentlemen’s Club, demonstrate the complexity of drugs policy and identify the factors and events that have helped to produce international drugs control. They show the frequently irrational nature of this policy and the political role that the drugs issue may play. They also make it clear that the role of the US has been decisive.

Drugs and Decision-making in the European Union represents a relatively short period of research and does not lay claim to the same depth or sophistication as the two books discussed above. Nor does it have their historical dimension, since the EU has only become active in the realm of drugs in the past few years. But the EU is now starting to make its influence felt in the arena where international drugs policy is made: the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and its executive agency, the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP).14 This influence can be expected to expand in the future, as EU countries are contributing an increasingly large proportion of the UNDCP budget—their share has now reached 70%.15

The EU’s growing influence was already noticeable at the last Special Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS), convened in June 1998 to deliberate on the global drugs problem. The largely European emphasis on demand reduction clearly gained ground in relation to the American law enforcement approach that had been more traditional in UN circles hitherto. Prior to UNGASS, countries had already reached agreement in the CND on the guiding principles of demand reduction. Part of it was reducing the negative effects of drug use, which means that “harm reduction”—though not yet referred to as such—has now been incorporated de facto into UN drugs policy. One year later these guiding principles, including the harm reduction measures, were translated into the Action Plan on Demand Reduction. UNGASS also adopted the principle of shared responsibility, which means taking a balanced approach to demand and supply reduction. This helps to shift the burden of “blame” away from the producing countries in the South.

UN policy still lags behind European practice: harm reduction is an integrated part of policy or even the basic point of departure in most EU countries, while the UN adopted this approach only recently, at UNGASS, and even then in guarded terms as part of demand reduction. It is still impossible to use the phrase “harm reduction” in UN texts, any more than it can be used in the US. For the rest, the UN still follows the American usage of defining all use of illicit drugs as “abuse.” Nonetheless, it is fair to say that the US no longer plays the all-important role in international drugs control that it had for almost the entire 20th century. The countries of the South and the member states of the EU are making their voices heard more clearly than before. However, the EU is too divided to exert itself in this respect as an organisation; it may do so in the future, if the member states can agree on a uniform approach.

The EU’s appearance in the arena of international drugs control, and the likelihood of its growing influence in the future, makes it important to understand the way in which policy within the EU is formulated and agreed. This information is particularly relevant to member states, as they have less and less autonomy when devising domestic drugs policy. Although the EU has decided that member states need not harmonise their drugs policies, a certain amount of coordination and agreement is essential. Yet little is known about the way in which this takes place, or the mechanisms involved. This book therefore sets out to clarify the ways in which the EU deliberates and adopts policy on drugs.

Drugs measures can also have dramatic consequences or side-effects that go far beyond drugs control. One salient example is the “prison industrial complex” in the US.16 At over two million detainees (in 1999), the American prison population is many times larger today than it was in the early 1980s. Stricter drugs policy is the driving force behind the growth in registered crime; the number of drug arrests is eight times more than it was 20 years ago, and more than half of all detainees have been incarcerated for drug offences, largely for possession of small quantities. The US now has by far the highest percentage of detainees in the Western world. An increasing proportion of its jails are private companies, to whose owners they constitute a lucrative growth market.

Other side-effects of the fight against drugs include human rights violations, infringements of privacy and environmental damage. US anti-drugs programmes in Latin America, for instance, involve both human rights violations and substantial damage to the environment.17 As for infringements of privacy, the US government and most American companies have now introduced compulsory drug tests.18 In some states people have to pass drug tests to qualify for welfare or food vouchers.

In Europe, only Sweden has introduced blood and urine testing thus far. Since 1993 it has been possible under Swedish legislation to force individuals to submit to testing if they are suspected of being under the influence of drugs. This means the police may intervene without individuals being in possession of drugs or any other offence having been committed. So in examining drug-related measures in the EU we should bear in mind the possibility of such side-effects coming into play. The history of international drugs control shows that drugs sometimes play a specific role in politics as a scapegoat for other social problems.19 What is more, policy is decided more often by political factors than objective facts. Drugs are a ready vehicle for populism. Since they can be perceived as a threat to safety, something everyone finds important, they can easily generate public anxiety.

It is always a good idea—especially when dealing with large organizations—to look at processes from an outsider’s point of view. Employees are often so preoccupied with their day-to-day work that they are unable to take the necessary distance essential to a more inclusive, holistic analysis. An outsider’s analysis is not just useful, but perhaps essential. It will become clear in the following pages that the EU’s decision-making machinery is complex in the extreme. Drug-related issues are discussed in many different bodies within the EU. Even people who have been working in Brussels for years do not always have a grasp of how all these bodies work. This complexity is one of the constraints on the present study. It is impossible to look at all the EU’s procedures and decision-making mechanisms and every single body in which drugs are discussed.

In the course of the research another reason for this study became clear—the importance of the policy-making procedures and political decision-making processes themselves, along with the non-transparent mechanisms that play a role in the background. This study shows that internal bureaucratic mechanisms within the EU greatly influence the formulation of policy. It became virtually unavoidable to examine these processes closely. So this study of EU policy on drugs can also be seen as an analysis of the way in which decisions in general are made within the EU, with drugs policy as an example.

Drugs on the political agenda:
The need to tackle organised crime

It is often claimed, both in policy documents and in interviews, that the main reason for the prominence of drugs on the EU’s political agenda is the close relationship between drugs and organised crime. Drug trafficking is one of the primary activities and sources of income of organised crime, not only in Europe, but worldwide. The UN estimates the turnover in the international drugs trade at US $400 billion. This means that drugs represent 8% of world trade—a figure comparable to the automobile industry—and constitute a key sector of the global economy. Criminal organisations derive their income from a variety of sources, but drugs appear to be among the most important.

As the EU is concerned about the growing influence of organised crime, it has declared drug trafficking a priority policy area. Policy documents regularly refer to drugs as one of the biggest threats facing society. The threat is greater still, they go on, with the forthcoming accession of countries from Central and Eastern Europe, making it more urgent still to tackle organized crime.

The constant repetition of this line of reasoning is rather curious, since its logic is far from watertight. It is certainly true that organised crime takes a keen interest in traffic in illicit drugs. This is obviously because it is such a lucrative sector. Drugs became a part of youth culture a few decades ago, and since then they have spread and acquired a fixed place in Western societies. The large majority of recreational users, including a great many adults, choose to use drugs and are willing to take certain risks related to their illegality. For many of these recreational users there is little difference between smoking cannabis, in particular—the most popular illicit substance—and drinking alcohol. Their consumption is part of their normal lives, and does not dominate it.

Then there is a small group of problem or compulsive drug users, for whom drugs occupy a prominent place in their everyday lives. They persist in this habit for a variety of reasons, in spite of the harm it may cause, for instance to their health. It is impossible to make any sweeping generalisations about the causes or underlying reasons for this problem drug use, nor would it be appropriate here.20 It may be noted, however, that specific population groups account for a disproportionately large share of the addict population. Many addicts come from minorities and other vulnerable groups, often from poor inner-city neighbourhoods. What is more, a sizeable proportion of female addicts may be former victims of sex abuse.21 Some male addicts have connections with a criminal subculture, in which criminal behaviour and drug use have become part of a certain lifestyle.22 Finally, a relatively large number of problem drug users have psychological problems or a psychiatric disorder.

In spite of the many anti-drugs measures that have been taken nationally and internationally, the demand for drugs has not declined. On the contrary, it has become more differentiated in comparison to the 1960s and 1970s. This trend is related to the advent of synthetic drugs, the composition and hence effect of which can easily be varied. As the demand for the drugs that are currently illicit is unlikely to diminish, there will always be suppliers interested in operating in this market, whether in an organized framework or not. Socio-economically disadvantaged groups or individuals with few opportunities for advancement see drug trafficking as a way of improving their position. Look at Albania, for instance, the poorest country in Europe. Over the past few years Albanian heroin networks have rapidly become major suppliers in the European market. The crime this generates is in part a direct result of the illegality of drugs. As long as there is a big demand for illegal drugs, and while the current approach is maintained, operating in this market will always be financially attractive. The reasons that the EU advances for continuing the fight against drugs crime are little more than a circular argument: the crime that arises from criminalizing drugs is presented as a reason for continuing to criminalise them. The fact that the current approach in a sense actually generates drugs crime is seldom brought into discussions on policy.

Occasionally a lone voice is raised within the EU that questions or nuances the current drugs policy, such as the EP’s 1992 Cooney Report on drug trafficking and organised crime. The Report noted that the financial profits from drug trafficking enable criminal organisations to corrupt government structures at every level and sometimes to impose conditions on those who are responsible for making political decisions. It also alluded to several instances in which clandestine agreements had come to light between criminal groups and secret services and other state agencies. Current policy had scarcely had any impact, it went on; it had not even reduced the quantity of drug trafficking in the EU. The Cooney Committee therefore wondered whether such a reduction could be achieved by trying harder, or whether it was time to explore a new approach. Without answering this question, it called for a cost-benefit analysis of current drugs policy, an analysis that would include the consequences of the fight against drugs. However, in a resolution adopted in response to the Cooney Report, the European Parliament rejected legalisation and called upon member states to conform to the UN conventions. This basically put an end to all discussion, as it confirmed a general desire to continue as before. No evaluation of drugs policy was commissioned.

A fresh, modern appraisal of the phenomenon of organised crime would also be useful. Contrary to what is regularly suggested by politicians and the media, organised crime is not a “hostile power infiltrating civilised Western culture.”23 A better premise, deriving from the criminological literature, is that organised crime comes from society’s demand for illegal goods and services; it provides a provisional solution for problems that have been neglected or poorly regulated by government.24 In other words, crime fills up the gaps that arise in between pieces of legislation.

International drugs policy and general attitudes to crime are unlikely to change within the foreseeable future. Organised crime will always exist, and for the time being drugs will remain a welcome and substantial source of income for it. This is obviously a problem for individual countries and for the EU, especially in the light of people’s increasing mobility, the unstable situations in Central and Eastern Europe, and the growth of criminal activity both targeting and within the EU. Notwithstanding the seriousness of the problem of organised crime, it is legitimate to inquire whether it is truly as serious as it is suggested within the EU. Several people whose work within the EU involves tackling organised crime stated when interviewed for this book that they believed that politicians have rather exaggerated the problem of organised crime and the seriousness of drug-related crime. It therefore appears that the problem has been given higher priority on the political agenda than it merits on purely objective grounds.

Public concern

Another related reason that is given for the EU investing so much in the battle against drugs is that the European public is so concerned about it. European politicians and people who work in the field regularly cite opinion polls indicating the great public concern about drugs. The booklet The European Union in Action Against Drugs gives an overview of the EU’s anti-drugs initiatives. The question of why the EU is taking these measures is answered in its introductory chapter: the “active approach” to drugs, it explains, is “in response to European citizens’ concerns” as reflected in answers to a questionnaire on a variety of issues.25 The results of the poll on “fears among European citizens” cover an entire page at the beginning of the pamphlet, with fears about “increase in drugs/organised crime” topping the list. Other surveys supposedly reflect similar anxieties. Given the regularity with which these polls are cited and the importance that is evidently attached to them, it is worth dwelling on them here in detail.

The ranking order of public fears is determined by presenting interviewees with a number (ranging from 10 to 30) of possible areas of concern and asking them whether they are personally worried about each one in turn. According to the 1996 poll cited in The European Union in Action Against Drugs, 69% of interviewees had fears about an “increase in drugs/organized crime.”26 This was slightly higher than the percentage who feared “more taxes” (68%), and the “loss of small farms” (62%). In a similar poll of fears held in 1997,27 increased drug trafficking and organized crime came second (65%), after tax increases (68%). In a subsequent questionnaire held at the end of 1997, EU citizens were asked which of various policy areas they thought should be given priority. The first two places were taken by “reducing unemployment” (92%) and “fighting poverty and social exclusion” (89%). In joint third place came “fighting organised crime and drug trafficking” and “maintaining peace and security in Europe” (88%).28 Finally, in 1998 people were asked what policy areas should have priority in the European Parliament. Reducing unemployment clearly led the field at 52%, followed by “tackling drug trafficking and crime” (36%) and in third place “protecting the environment and consumers” at 27%.29

These polls lead to the conclusion that organised crime and drug trafficking rank among the constants in the concerns and fears of the general public. Nonetheless, the way in which the drugs theme is dealt with in these questionnaires is open to criticism. To begin with, given the way the questions are formulated, it is hardly surprising that fears about an “increase in drugs/organised crime” or “organised crime and drug trafficking” end up with a high score. People are being asked here about not one but two phenomena at the same time, whereas most of the other questions relate to a single issue. One would expect this ill-considered formulation to yield a high score. The answers also need to be seen in perspective. In the two questionnaires about public fears, the increase in drugs, drug trafficking and organised crime had to compete with the issue of higher taxes. One would be justified in concluding that the level of public concern in the prosperous EU is rather low. Citizens appear to have “luxury worries” rather than real anxieties.

More important than this criticism of the content of questionnaires and the political weight attached to them, however, is the question of whether the explicit concerns they reflect justify EU policy on drugs. After all, EU politicians point to them as a primary reason for their active anti-drugs policy. The preface to the EU drugs booklet states “The fight against drugs is of more fundamental importance today than ever before. Drugs are a source of pain, suffering and social isolation for too many people, especially the young. Though we cannot dispense with punitive measures, we must try to understand the underlying social malaise and the reasons behind this scourge if we are to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat it.”30

This seems a rather curious line of reasoning, and strictly speaking it is untenable. For what the polls express is concern about crime. If you want to reduce this concern, you should surely focus on law enforcement, or better still, take steps to deprive criminals of the basis for their existence. After all, criminal organisations prosper under current policy, and it is far from clear that tightening it up would do them much harm.31 In other words, if tackling organised crime were really the main aim, it would make more sense to try a different approach altogether.

First among the measures listed, it should be added, is “action on drug users.” This is puzzling. Why take action against drug users if citizens are concerned about organised crime? To put it differently, can people’s fears about an increase in organised crime, which is in part funded by drugs, justify the pursuit of a more active drugs policy? The only way these two phenomena can be linked is by assuming that taking action against drug users will reduce the demand for drugs, which would make drug trafficking less attractive for criminal organisations. But there are no facts to back up this assumption. There is nothing to suggest that taking action against users has ever led to less or less frequent drug use or that it has reduced dealers’ profits.

The political use of drugs

Some European politicians are said to have been surprised, even shocked, about the degree of public concern about drugs reflected by the various opinion polls. But given the formulation of the questions, the presentation of the results, and the way in which EU policymakers respond to them, it is legitimate to ask whether drugs are really such a problem, or whether they have largely been made into one. The answer probably lies somewhere in between. In any case, it is important to note that policymakers’ responses to the public’s real or projected anxieties help to shape the drugs problem. By focusing on what are perceived as the dangers of drugs, as discussed in the previous section, they create the impression that they are taking them seriously and acting accordingly. In this way they validate the poll findings, although not a single expert would maintain that drug use is likely to have the consequences listed in the above table.

This raises the question of the role and responsibility of leaders and politicians. Should politicians respond objectively to unrealistic anxieties and place them in perspective, or should they go along with the vox populi? On the one hand, politicians should have the courage and sense of responsibility to resist the tide of emotion by adopting a more objective, rational point of view.32 On the other hand, they must take the public’s concerns seriously and take initiatives based on their political responsibility, for instance by placing the subject on the political agenda. This will reassure citizens that their voices have been heard. But just how far politicians should go is the key question, as the slippery slope of populism is never far away.

For it is undeniable that the idea of drugs can strike fear into the general public and create a sense of insecurity. This is particularly true of older people who have no experience of drugs, parents who are worried about what their children may encounter, and members of small communities. The same paradox can arise with drugs as with immigrants: the more unfamiliar something is and the less likely one is to come across it, the more fear it provokes. Big city dwellers are more familiar with the phenomenon and can often put it in perspective. A questionnaire held in eleven European cities on drug problems, policymakers and public opinion revealed that people who do not encounter drug-related nuisance are more in favour of strong law enforcement measures than those who are confronted with it.33 What is more, people who have themselves tried illicit drugs favour a health-oriented approach rather than punitive measures—even more so if they have some experience of drug-related nuisance. And since young adults and relatively well-educated people have in general experimented more with drugs than people of older generations and those with less education, the former are more in favour of a health-oriented approach than the latter.

The fact that drugs can provoke feelings of unease, especially among people who have had little or nothing to do with them, makes them a potent political issue. By emphatically referring to drugs as a problem or by magnifying the problems that do exist—whether deliberately or not—politicians exploit and inflame these fears. Noam Chomsky has remarked that one of the most traditional and clearest ways of controlling people in societies is by frightening them, something easily achieved with the drugs issue.34 People in politics set out to acquire power to achieve certain ends,35 and drugs can serve a useful role in this endeavour. The subject has ranked high on the political agenda in the United States for many years. In the 1996 presidential election, the Republican candidate Dole used the rise in experimental drug use among young people as one of his main weapons against Clinton. As the economy was doing well and unemployment and violent crime were on the wane, the opposition needed other ammunition with which to attack Clinton. By accusing Clinton of being “soft on drugs” and presenting himself as “tough on drugs,” like Reagan and Bush before him, the Republican hoped to win votes. Clinton’s answer was to “out-tough Dole on drugs”: he adopted an even more rigorous approach, which he underscored by appointing four-star general Barry McCaffrey as drugs czar, coordinator of national drugs policy.

The political use of drugs in Europe is somewhat more muted, but it certainly exists. In France the phrase discours de securité refers to the bold and uncompromising rhetoric that politicians adopt when speaking about certain problems or threats to society, such as violence, terrorism or drugs. The chief spokesman is generally the Minister of the Interior, a job that therefore tends to go to a forceful, unyielding individual. By claiming that he will tackle the problem or “evil” rigorously, and by creating a strong police presence in the streets, he sets out to reassure certain sections of the community. This presents the image of a politician who takes his responsibilities seriously and protects the general public. The far right Front Nationale has used this discours de securité skillfully in recent years, attracting voters away from traditional right-wing parties, which have therefore been obliged to respond in kind. This is part of the explanation for President Chirac’s rigid stance on drugs and his unflagging efforts to harmonise European drug policy along French lines.

In Swedish politics too, drugs became a major election theme in the 1980s and 1990s, with parties trying to outdo one another in the severity of the punitive measures they advocated. As a result, Sweden now has the harshest anti-drugs legislation in the EU.36 Throughout this process, drugs were increasingly labeled as a problem, although prevalence statistics and other indicators did not point to a growing problem. In their book on the harsh anti-drugs policy of several Scandinavian countries, Bruun and Christie call drugs and drug addicts “the ideal enemy.”37 Starting from the premise that no phenomenon is a problem until it is labeled as such, they posit that the drugs issue has acquired the role of the perfect social problem because of the lack of any power or influential lobby arguing an alternative point of view. The authors list several characteristics of the perfect social problem: there is no one standing up for the “enemy”; the fight against the problem confers prestige; the battle is largely paid for by underprivileged groups; and the lifestyle of the majority is not disrupted by it. Finally, the problem can be used to explain all manner of social ills, such as problems associated with young people, crime, poverty and violence.

It would be going too far to suggest that the EU’s drugs policy can be entirely explained in this way. Nonetheless, this approach can clarify the role that drugs sometimes play in our society. There is a distinct mechanism at work in the EU tending towards a demonisation of drugs on political grounds. Given the remoteness of EU decision-making to ordinary citizens, as reflected in questionnaires and above all in EP parliamentary elections, EU leaders and policymakers have even more need than their national counterparts of themes with which they can enhance their image and reach the electorate. Drugs, with all the fears and insecurities they may arouse among the general public, are undoubtedly a good vehicle for populism. And partly for this reason, drugs and drug use are now regarded by definition as a problem in EU politics—so much so that it has become quite customary for EU drugs documents to start out by identifying drugs as a major threat to society or even to humanity.38

A Vicious Circle

Max Weber wrote at length about bureaucracies and the way they operate. Though dating from the early 20th century, many of his analyses can be applied to present-day society and the way it is governed. In particular, his insights into the significance of bureaucracy, the mechanisms at work in it and the potential dangers it poses, especially to democracy, are still extremely valuable today. Bureaucracy was originally created as means of furthering justice and equal rights. But it gradually developed a dynamic of its own and made its influence felt in an increasing number of places in society, eventually becoming an apparatus that was no longer amenable to control. Weber used the term Schicksal (fate) in connection with such mechanisms: human beings set in motion social developments that they are later unable to control. He also believed that a fully-fledged bureaucracy is one of the most indestructible of all social structures.39

The attitude to drugs within the EU has set in motion such a strong internal dynamic that the likelihood of a different approach to the problem being adopted in the foreseeable future is very slim. Officials have a certain amount of leeway in the confidential Council working groups, which sometimes leads to a discrepancy between national policy and the positions adopted by the country’s representatives in Brussels. The fact that changes in a member state’s national policy do not automatically filter through to the meetings held in Brussels is part of the internal dynamic. Some officials interviewed for this book were unaware of all sorts of developments in other member states because those countries’ representatives had said nothing about them. Some had not even heard about the policy of tolerating soft drugs adopted by Belgium—even though its government is in Brussels! And yet they regularly travel to Brussels to discuss drugs policy in the EU member states. One gets the impression that within these forums, a specific, almost ritualistic approach to the drugs problem is mandatory. People want to continue along the familiar path without getting into fundamental questions about the point of it all.

Examples of other self-perpetuating systems are not hard to find. Such a system becomes so complex, it consists of so many participants with their own interests, that the entity as a whole not only sustains itself but acquires its own momentum and gradually expands. One example is the military industrial complex in the United States—the system of the arms industry together with the employment it generates and the powerful lobby that keeps the industry great. A more recent example is the prison industrial complex in the United States.40 This industry has grown to such an extent, and combines so many different interests, that it too has become self-sustaining. Following a wave of privatisations, prisons have become a major branch of industry that has quite simply developed into an attractive growth market. Prison companies have to compete for the contract in a particular state. Since their goal is to make a profit, the product is supplied for as low a price as possible (resulting in cheap prisons, sometimes in camps) for a maximum yield (with prisoners working on the roads in chain gangs, for instance). As these companies look on prisoners as profit-making factors, they have an interest in keeping their jails full. And since increasing numbers of jails are private companies, a large commercial and employment interest has been generated in maintaining and even expanding prison numbers. The interest that should really be at stake, that of creating a peaceful society and preventing people from ending up in jail, and if they do end up there of ensuring that they are rehabilitated as well as possible, is no longer of prime importance in this situation.

Of course there are many differences between the commercialised US prison system and the way in which the EU tackles the drugs problem, but the mechanism at work is basically the same. So many parties are now involved in every aspect of policy in the EU today that a sort of perpetual motion machine has been created. Changing any part of it is becoming increasingly difficult. The situation can endure, since there is no holistic vision or central orchestrating agency. The development of a holistic vision is impeded by the fact that so many parties are involved in the current policy, especially since they all pursue their own ends and sometimes obstruct each other. Understandably, the results are insubstantial and incoherent. Another part of the bureaucratic dynamic is that what counts for those involved is not the end result but their own role, the link they form in the chain. The larger the organisation and the more people join a system, the stronger are the interests in favour of preserving the status quo.

EU booklets sometimes assert that the EU’s bureaucracy is not really that big—that it has no more officials than a city the size of Stockholm. However, there is a big difference between the work and dynamics of a local authority such as that of the city of Stockholm and those of an international organisation such as the EU. Local authorities concern themselves with highly practical matters. If these are not carried out, the people responsible will be called to account. Since numerous channels connect local authorities to those involved with day-to-day practicalities, shortcomings generally come to light quite soon. Take refuse collection, for instance. If a city adopts an inadequate policy on refuse collection and the system breaks down, those in charge will soon face repercussions. In the EU, on the other hand, there is a large gap, and plenty of background “interference,” between officials and everyday life: there are no clear, direct channels connecting them. The EU’s administrators are far higher up the hierarchy. Their responsibilities have to do with defining broad lines of policy, distributing money to other organisations in different countries, and in general delegating and contracting out a great many tasks. As a result, if something fails to work properly, it will not be noticed straight away; in fact it may not be noticed at all, with the result that no one will be called to account.

To stay with rubbish for a moment, let us look at a fictional example of European refuse collection policy. Suppose that the EU is planning to harmonise refuse collection throughout the Union. Perhaps politicians have decided that closer integration means that countries must have identical refuse collection systems. They might advance practical reasons as well: perhaps some noxious virus has originated from bacteria found in household rubbish. The risk to public health could be so great that the Council of the EU decides that refuse collection, transport and incineration in all EU countries must henceforth conform to strict European rules. Before this policy can be implemented, of course, a comprehensive list will be needed of the refuse collection services in all member states. The next step is to perform a feasibility study to find out whether harmonisation is possible. Part of the work is contracted out to specialist consultancies. Gradually, hundreds of people and numerous forums become involved in the project. Working groups of experts are created, largely first-pillar groups since it is a public health matter. But the third pillar is also involved, as the police and judiciary bear joint responsibility for enforcement, to guard against refuse being taken to illegal dumps inside or outside the EU. And to prevent illegal transports of contaminated refuse to countries outside the EU the second pillar will also come into action, as agreements must be made with third countries. So eventually all sorts of people will be working on the many aspects of the problem, from collection services, transport and incineration to safety, research, public health and enforcement.

The point is that by this time, something has been set in motion that is almost impossible to stop. So many people are working on the project, and so much money is being invested in it, that substantial interests are now involved. The fact that there are money and power to be distributed generates competition between different parts of the EU’s bureaucracy. If harmonization breaks down, for instance because it turns out to be insufficiently tailored to local conditions, this will not lead to a rapid rethink of the whole approach. The problems will be most obvious at local level, and the EU is unlikely to be called to account. Even if certain clear-headed individuals conclude at some point that it would be better, after all, for refuse collection to be regulated at national or local level, the harmonisation plan is unlikely to be ditched, since too many interested parties would oppose such a move. The harmonisation project would by then be many people’s livelihood, which they would not want to lose. What is more, when a project involves such large numbers of people, in the EU as well as in member states, it becomes hard to determine who is really in charge. Added to this, perhaps, is the fact that the heads of government have nailed their colours to the mast of harmonisation, something that has received extensive media coverage throughout Europe. Since heads of government hate suffering a loss of face, they will not want to consider throwing the whole project over-board, especially with a view to forthcoming elections.

The fictional situation sketched above provides a good illustration of the way in which the drugs issue is dealt with in the EU. Numerous individuals and forums have become dependent on the current approach through their work, and they have therefore become part of the system that preserves it. They automatically oppose any change, for fear of losing their jobs. They are imprisoned, as it were, in the machinery of their bureaucratic system. The British historian Theodore Zeldin once commented on the EU in general, “Brussels is full of intelligent, well-meaning people. If you talk to them they are full of ideals, but they are prisoners of the system.”41 A clear indication of this, where drugs are concerned, is the lack of any debate on the policies pursued. It is quite unclear whether all the measures that are in place have any impact, and this issue is rarely discussed. This is quite odd, when you consider the heavy burden drug-related measures place on the police and judiciary, the poor results that have been achieved with crop replacement projects, the fact that the supply of drugs seems to be increasing rather than diminishing, and the criticism that has been levelled of international drugs policy, from academic circles in particular.42 Although some of those involved, EU officials as well as representatives of member states, do feel that the current policy is not the answer, and that it creates problems of its own, they rarely air these views with other EU colleagues; it appears to be impossible to debate the matter.

One reason for the absence of any debate on drugs policy is the general lack of expertise on the subject. Most of those involved in decision-making know little about drug use and the different patterns of consumption; they are barely acquainted with standard works on drugs, or the literature on the history of drug use and regulatory control. This lack of knowledge makes a discussion of the drugs problem among officials a rather dreamlike or surrealistic affair to anyone who does possess expertise on the subject.43 Some of the people interviewed for this book who are well-read in the drugs field (and they count as rare exceptions) complained of the lack of expertise of most of their colleagues—the EU’s bureaucracy contains too few specialists and too many ill-informed technocrats. The latter’s eagerness to come to grips with the drugs problem sometimes produces absurd proposals. For instance, one working group drew up a list of substances that needed to be banned because they were used in the production of drugs—it included oxygen!

Another aspect that becomes clear when we look at specific measures is that EU decision-makers are ill-informed about what is being done outside the Brussels machinery. In fact their approach lags behind developments in many EU member states, especially at local level. Numerous authorities throughout the EU have opted for a pragmatic approach, for instance by according low priority to investigations of drug use. And while several EU member states have shifted the emphasis of drugs policy towards health aspects, the EU itself still focuses primarily on containment, for instance by trying to reduce the supply from third countries. The underlying hope and belief is that reducing drugs production will diminish the supply and hence the consumption of drugs. These measures too are taken without any debate on their likely effectiveness, and without taking on board the United States’ longer experience in this field. For the US has focused on supply reduction for many years without making any impression on the drugs market or consumption levels. Nor have its crop replacement projects been at all successful. Yet none of this is really taken into account by the bureaucrats in Brussels.

Another characteristic feature of the drugs issue is that all manner of pronouncements can be made, for instance about the dangers of drugs, without advancing any corroborative evidence. References to the literature are few and far between in EU documents. The problem with many bureaucrats is that the drugs issue is too remote from their world, enabling them to formulate all sorts of ideas that have little to do with reality. Their views may be influenced by their age and position in society, which may mean that virtually the only time they are confronted with the issue is at meetings. In their lives, drugs exist solely as a problem that needs to be tackled.

In consequence, it is taken for granted at every meeting that drugs are by definition a problem, regardless of the substance concerned or the mode of consumption. They are discussed almost exclusively in terms of the harm they cause. It is assumed that all drug users will have problems of some kind, which totally discounts the fact that most people who use drugs do so because they attribute positive qualities to them. The men and women sitting around the conference table seem to be ignorant even of the fact that the vast majority of drug users do not get into difficulties. The distinction between use and abuse is seldom made, nor is any attention paid to the fact that many drug users are adults. The general lack of expertise is reflected in the “solutions” that are put forward. For instance, various documents propose compulsory treatment for addicts as an alternative to a custodial sentence. They deal with treatment rather glibly as a sure-fire solution, without adducing any proof of its effectiveness. These discussions also fail to take into account the background factors in the lives of problem drug users and the functions drugs may fulfill for them.

Given all these omissions, the fact that bureaucrats automatically discuss this whole policy area in terms of problems is probably not so much because of any intrinsic characteristics of drugs, but quite simply because the drugs issue has been classified as a problem in an institutional or bureaucratic sense. As this interpretation is of a different order from the way in which drug use is perceived by experts, discussions of drugs in the EU are suggestive of a virtual problem. Since the drugs issue has been accorded this specific role, there is no room for a different perspective. For instance, drugs are seldom discussed—although a cautious change of attitude is perceptible here—in terms of the wider framework of public health, taking on board the fact that tobacco and alcohol constitute a greater health hazard than the use of illegal drugs. One isolated exception was the Cooney Report, commissioned by the European Parliament, which stated explicitly that cannabis was less harmful than tobacco and spirits. Yet when Parliament convened in a plenary session to respond to the report, it ended up emphasising the need to retain the ban on drugs. Similarly, nothing was done with the Cooney Report’s proposal for an evaluation of drugs policy.

The distinctive, almost ritualistic way in which drugs are discussed within the EU, with all knowledge of the subject being superfluous, does in fact serve a purpose. Not, of course, in the sense that it brings a solution any closer, but for those involved and the bureaucracy as a whole, it is convenient to keep things as they are. This raises the question of how this situation came about, and why drugs acquired this role. One probable explanation is that drugs have for many decades served as a scapegoat for social ills. In this connection they have been defined as the ideal problem. One insider observed, “With drugs you can always find some horrifying story to tell. That will immediately get plenty of people in high places on your side.” Other interviewees noted that the end of the Cold War heightened the need for a new common enemy. The drugs theme fits the bill perfectly.

One important feature of the “ideal problem” is the lack of power or a lobbying group. Hosts of unfounded claims are made about drugs. This would be impossible in any other policy area, since interest groups such as unions or employers, which are so crucial to Brussels politics, would immediately protest. So the drugs issue contrasts sharply with other European policy areas, which have strong interest groups such as the European Round Table of Industrialists and the agriculture lobby.44 Users’ organisations do exist in some countries, but the authorities of the EU and its member states scarcely listen to what they have to say. This is probably precisely because their members openly admit to using drugs, which automatically stigmatizes them and deprives them of credibility. Nongovernmental organizations too are excluded from the circles involved in formulating policy and drafting documents, even though many are active in drugs issues, in Brussels and elsewhere. This exclusion is another factor that helps ensure that drugs can continue, for the time being, to play the role that has been assigned to them.

This unique role that drugs have acquired in EU politics is probably also related to the big gap that exists between ordinary people and politicians. Many citizens are unaware of the significance of EU politics, as is clear from the low turnout at EU elections. Politicians therefore need themes that will close the gap. This sometimes leads them to make inflated claims for what they are doing. Some insiders have pointed out that the difference between rhetoric and reality becomes clear when you look at the budgets earmarked for drugs. “The EU has defined almost the whole world as a priority area, and yet the total amount made available for anti-drugs activities comes to about 20 million ECUS. What can you do with that? Nothing.” This difference between rhetoric and reality is further underscored by the fact that the modest drugs budgets have actually been lowered, not raised, in recent years. For the North-South cooperation on drugs, by which the politicians set such great store, an annual € 10 million was available several years ago, but in 1997 this budget was cut to € 8.9 million. If the problem were truly as serious as is claimed, more money would be set aside to tackle it.

The Dublin Group

Finally, there is a relatively little-known consultative body on international drugs control, the Dublin Group, named after the city where it was convened for the first time. The Group was set up in response to a letter from US President Bush to Prime Minister Haughey of Ireland in the spring of 1990 proposing the launch of a transatlantic dialogue on the international fight against drugs. After some bilateral exchanges, and having gained the UK’s support, Ireland, which held the EU Presidency at the time, submitted its proposal for a multilateral forum to CELAD, the European Committee to Combat Drugs, although CELAD had no formal status within the EU. Not long afterwards, in June 1990, the first meeting took place between CELAD and Australia, Canada, Japan, Norway, the United States and Sweden. Although CELAD has long ceased to exist, the Dublin Group continues to meet, with representatives of the member states’ foreign affairs ministries taking CELAD’s place as EU mouthpiece.

The Dublin Group has no firm status and no mandate. It is an informal group involving consultations between the donors of drugs programmes, the main theme being the progress made in the international war on drugs. The countries now taking part are the EU member states, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US. The UNDCP also takes an active part in the consultations. In 1999 the G8 decided that Russia should also participate.

The Dublin Group meets in Brussels for two days every six months; once every three years it convenes in Washington. The secretariat of the Council of the EU takes care of its administrative work. Meetings discuss the production and trafficking of drugs and ways of curbing them, focusing on different regions in turn. The Group divides the world into eleven regions, with one member of the Group chairing talks on each region. Thus the US is responsible for Latin America, France for the Caribbean, the Netherlands for Eastern Europe, Sweden for Africa and so on. Each regional chair in turn reports on “his” region until a picture emerges for the whole world. The minutes of these meetings are not released into the public domain; they are only sent to the UNDCP and the foreign ministries of the participating countries.

In addition to this central Dublin Group there are numerous “mini-Dublin Groups” throughout the world, consultative bodies involving the same countries but at local or regional level. They issue regional reports and exchange information on drugs prevention in their own area. Mini-Dublin Groups are based in towns and regions in production countries (Bogota, Lagos and Bangkok, for instance), but not in the countries of the Dublin Group itself. The consultations are conducted by embassy representatives.

Not all countries are persuaded of the usefulness of the Dublin Group, although the mini-Dublin Groups are valued more highly than the central one. Some countries are fairly indifferent, while others see no need for another international consultative platform, since the UNDCP already fulfils this role. Since the US is a firm advocate of this consultative framework, it is unlikely to be discontinued. Still, given the substance of recent discussions, and the adoption at UNGASS of the principle of a balanced approach to demand and supply, some may find it puzzling that Western countries are continuing to tolerate a consultative body that is so exclusively dedicated to the supply side of the drugs problem in non-Western countries.

Although the Dublin Group has only informal status and cannot make legally binding agreements, it has undergone immense expansion. There are by now about 70 regional mini-Dublin Groups around the world. Whether the central Group will retain its informal status remains to be seen. The history of international drugs control shows that decisions or measures are often prepared informally in meetings or consultative bodies without clearly defined powers, with agreements being formalised later on; this is a tradition stretching back to the Shanghai Opium Commission of 1909. The later history of international drugs control as related in The Gentlemen’s Club contains several other examples of informal or unofficial documents or agreements that have ended up playing a decisive role in policy.45 This same mechanism is visible within the EU: CELAD was formed outside the formal channels of the EU, and yet it played a key role in setting up more cooperation between member states in drug-related issues.

In Closing

On closer inspection, the reasons for the prioritisation of the fight against drugs within the EU turn out to be largely political. Since drugs can arouse feelings of insecurity among the general public, they are regarded as a politically attractive subject: the drugs problem is easy to sell, politically speaking. Examples abound in US politics, but in recent years this political exploitation of drugs has taken root in Europe too. Some observers suggest that this has to do with the gap between “Europe” and the electorate. Others say that drugs satisfy the need for a common enemy, particularly since the end of the Cold War. EU insiders claim that politicians often exaggerate the seriousness of the problem; the more politicised a subject becomes, the harder it is to discuss in rational terms. Inflating a problem and subsequently announcing measures to tackle it, perhaps accompanied by some resounding political rhetoric, can help invest one’s actions with greater legitimacy. It is also a good way to reassure worried members of the public, to curry favour with them and hence to strengthen one’s ties with the electorate.


1. The best known of these drinks, of course, is Coca-Cola, named after the two ingredients it initially contained with a stimulant effect, coca leaves and cola nuts.

2. For a detailed description, see David M. Musto (1987) op. cit. See also Christian Bachman & Anne Coppel (1989), La drogue dans le monde, pp. 267-274 and Marcel de Kort (1995) Tussen patiënt en delinquent, pp. 62-80.

3. In their book Crack in America the American sociologists Reinarman and Levine survey drug scares in the US, describing them as “phenomena in their own right, quite apart from drug use and drug problems”. They show how a particular drug is scapegoated and linked to a group that is seen as problematic, such as immigrants, ethnic minorities, or rebellious youth. The best known and oldest drug scare focused on alcohol. The 19th-century anti-alcohol movement blamed alcohol for a large proportion of the poverty, crime, violence and moral degeneration in the US. This culminated in Prohibition (1920-1933), which its advocates praised as a panacea for society’s ills. The most recent and fiercest drug scare centred on crack cocaine in the late 1980s.

4. California had a large Chinese population, most of whom had been hired as contract labourers on the railways and goldmines. With the depletion of the mines and the completion of the railway lines came an economic recession in the last quarter of the 19th century. In the increasingly tight labour market the Chinese, who tended to work for low pay, were increasingly perceived as a threat to Americans of European origin.

5. Ibid. p. 7

6. Musto (1973), p.7. See also Reinarman & Levine (1997), op. cit. p. 7.

7. Ibid.

8. Reinarman & Levine point out (op. cit., p.7) that marijuana was being described in completely different terms a few decades later. Instead of being labelled a drug that aroused violent tendencies, it was called a “drop-out” drug that would make users un-American, for instance by turning them against the Vietnam War.

9. When the US gained possession of the Philippine archipelago it was confronted with the use of opium among both the Filippino and Chinese population. In 1905 the US Congress eventually decided to ban the use of opium by Filippinos with immediate effect, while the ban for the Chinese population would take effect three years later.

10. Gerritsen (2000), The control of fuddle and flash: a sociological history of the regulation of alcohol and opiates.

11. US businesses made handsome profits in the opium trade with China in the 19th century. However, Britain’s position in this market was strengthened after the Second Anglo-Chinese Opium War, as it secured Hong Kong as a key transshipment centre for opium. Britain’s gain was partly America’s loss. So in the early 20th century the US could support the Chinese in their opium struggle without putting their own commercial interests in the balance. See Gerritsen (1993), op. cit. p. 71.

12. At the time Kettil Bruun was research director at the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, Lynn Pan was the coordinator of the International Research Group on Drug Legislation and Programmes in Geneva and Ingemar Rexed was the secretary of the Nordic Council on Criminology and a magistrate at Stockholm appeal court.

13. Ibid.

14. The Commission on Narcotics Drugs (CND) is the body in which member states are represented. It generally meets twice a year. This is where the general lines of UN drugs policy are outlined; they are later formalised by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. The UNDCP is the implementing and administrative organ.

15. The United Nations Office for Drugs control and Crime Prevention - UN/ODCCP (1999), European-United Nations partnerships against perils, p. 11. This page displays a table showing the sums of money that countries donate to the UNDCP.

16. The term “prison industrial complex” was coined by analogy with the military industrial complex, a similar though older system consisting of various actors that impact on and reinforce one another. Schlosser enumerates the active partners in the prison industrial complex as follows: “[...] politicians using fear of crime to garner votes, low-income rural areas clawing for new prisons as a cornerstone of economic development, private companies angling to share in the lucrative $ 35-billion-a-year prison industry, and government officials expanding their bureaucratic empires.” See Eric Schlosser (1988), “The prison industrial complex,” The Atlantic Monthly, pp. 51-77.

17. See e.g. a study conducted by the Washington Office on Latin America (1997), Reluctant recruits: the U.S. military and the war on drugs, or see Transnational Institute (TNI) et al. (1997), Democracy, human rights, and militarism in the war on drugs in Latin America.

18. According to a survey conducted by the American Management Association, 81% of companies tested their employees for drugs in 1996. Ten years earlier the percentage was 22%.

19. Besides Crack in America (see note 3), in which Reinarman and Levine look at several American drug scares, a classic Scandinavian study should also be mentioned in this connection. Originally published in Norwegian, this book describes drugs as the ideal social problem or “the ideal enemy”. For the German translation, see Christie & Bruun (1991), Der nützliche Feind. Die Drogenpolitik und ihre Nutznieber.

20. For a good survey of different drugs and the way in which they are used, see e.g.: Andrew Weil & Winifred Rosen (1993), From chocolate to morphine. Everything you need to know about mind-altering drugs.

21. For a recent survey of the situation in the US, see e.g. S.C. Wilsnack et al. (1997), Childhood sexual abuse and women’s substance abuse: national survey findings.

22. Here too, it is hard to generalise; the situation differs from one country to the next and even regionally. In Sweden, for instance, this link is very strong; a large proportion of intravenous amphetamine users are part of a criminal subculture.

23. Femke Halsema, “De carrousel van markt en misdaad”, p. 44, in Femke Halsema (1995) Ontspoord! Opstellen over criminaliteit en rechtshandhaving.

24. Frank Bovenkerk (1996) “De ontdekking van de georganiseerde misdaad in Nederland” in Hedendaags kwaad. Criminologische opstellen, p. 24.

25. European Communities (1998), The European Union in action against drugs. The questionnaire cited is Survey no. 44, published in Eurobarometer 45 (1996).

26. Eurobarometer (1996), Standard Eurobarometer. Survey no.45, held January-March 1996.

27. Eurobarometer (1997), Standard Eurobarometer. Survey no. 47, held January-March 1997.

28. Eurobarometer (1998), Standard Eurobarometer. Survey no.48, held November 1997.

29. Eurobarometer (September 1998), Standard Eurobarometer. Survey no.49, held April/May 1998.

30. Preface to The European Union in action against drugs by the then EU Commissioner Marcelino Oreja.

31. A harsher anti-drugs regime will probably be reflected in higher prices and larger profits.

32. A clear example of this is President François Mitterrand’s abolition of the death penalty when he came to office in 1981, while polls showed the French public wanted to retain it. Public opinion later changed, rejecting capital punishment.

33. Dirk J. Korf et al. (1998), “Urban drug problems, policymakers, and the general public”, in European Journal of Criminal Policy and Research.

34. In an interview with the US cannabis magazine High Times, Chomsky described the American war on drugs as an instrument to control the population; see John Veit (1998)

35. This definition derives from Max Weber.

36. Tim Boekhout van Solinge (1997), The Swedish drug control system. An in-depth review and analysis.

37. Christie, N. and K. Bruun (1991), Der nützliche Feind. Die Drogenpolitik und ihre Nutznieber. The late Professor Kettil Bruun was a leading authority on alcohol in Helsinki. Nils Christie is Professor of Criminology at the University of Oslo.

38. See the Communication from the Commission to the Council and Parliament on UNGASS (European Commission [1998], op. cit.) and the summary of a communication from the Council to the European Council on drugs drafted under the Austrian Presidency: European Union, the Council (1998b), Draft report on drugs and drug-related issues to the Vienna European Council.

39. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (1958), From Max Weber: Essays in sociology, p. 228.

40. For a concise survey, see Eric Schlosser (1998), “The Prison-Industrial Complex”.

41. This comment was attributed (in Dutch translation) to the historian Theodore Zeldin, fellow of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, in an article entitled “Europa bestaat” (“Europe exists”) by the journalist Marc Chavannes (1998) in the supplement “M” of the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, 19 December 1998, p. 57.

42. A clear example of this criticism was the open letter to Kofi Annan presented at UNGASS calling for an open debate on international drugs policy because the signatories believe that this policy does more harm than drugs themselves.

43. This was my impression on attending a meeting on the comparability of drugs legislation, an impression reinforced by the content of interviews and documents.

44. The European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), with its 45 members, is an important group. Founded in 1983, this informal think-tank sets out to influence the EU’s political agenda. The ERT was one of the driving forces behind the Common Market and European Monetary Union. Its efforts are currently directed towards expediting enlargement with the applicant countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The agriculture lobby, of course, is the mother of all lobbies.

45. Chapter 1 of The Gentlemen’s Club discusses the history of the ban on cannabis. One is struck by the amount of anecdotal, uncorroborated evidence, sometimes even including personal experiences on the part of those involved in the decision-making process, that ends up playing a decisive role in policy development.


This text was translated from Dutch to English by

Beverley Jackson.



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to the print version

Tim Boekhout van Solinge
studied human geography at the University of Amsterdam and Université de Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV). Since 1995 has been affiliated with CEDRO, and since 2001 he has been a lecturer and researcher at the Willem Pompe Institute for crimnal sciences at Utrecht University, Netherlands.