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European Union Commissioner
Calls for Drug Legalization


November 1996

On October 9, Emma Bonino, European Union (EU) Commissioner for Consumer Policy, called for certain drugs to be legalized after an EU report showed that up to a million Europeans take heroin (Agence France-Presse, "EU Aide Argues for Legalizing Drugs," International Herald Tribune, October 10, 1996, p. 5).

Bonino argues that drug prohibition has led to a violent and criminal illicit market and that drug legalization would lead to a reduction in drug-related crime. "If the trade became official. . .it would deprive organized crime of an important source of revenue," Bonino said in an interview in the Paris daily newspaper Le Parisien. She added, "If drugs became available for a reasonable price, it would decrease violence by drug addicts to fund their habit."

She was speaking after the European Drugs Observatory had issued its first report, which said 1% of the EU's adult population had used heroin and that 0.5% were addicts. The report also said that the proportion of Europe's population that had used illegal drugs, mainly marijuana, varied from 5% to 16% in member states.

Bonino argues that the Netherlands' liberal drug policy was a good example to follow. "There is less crime and less delinquency [in the Netherlands]. Drug addicts are registered, and there are far fewer people infected with AIDS than elsewhere in Europe," she said. French President Jacques Chirac has objected to the Dutch drug policy.

On October 18, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York, wrote an oped in the International Herald Tribune disputing Bonino's analysis. Califano, who was U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Carter, opposes drug legalization and claims that: (1) Marijuana use by Dutch children doubled from 1984 to 1992; (2) The U.S. Justice Department has found that more homicides, assaults and robberies are committed by people under the influence of drugs than by people committing crime in order to get drugs, and that drug-related crime in the Netherlands has increased under their liberal drug policy; (3) The Dutch policy failed to eliminate black markets and organized crime, saying the number of organized crime groups in the Netherlands jumped from 3 to 93 from 1988 to 1993; (4) Drug use and addiction under the Dutch policy has increased, and that marijuana by U.S. adolescents increased in the 1970s during this country's brief experiment with legalized marijuana, and (5) Legalization would reduce health problems, like the spread of AIDS. He cites Switzerland's brief experiment with designating a public park where heroin addicts could use drugs and officials provided them with clean needles, condoms, counseling and treatment. According to Califano, the number of addicts increased to 20,000 and the Swiss government closed the park (Joseph A. Califano, Jr., "No, Legalizing Drugs Would Harm Young People in Europe," International Herald Tribune, October 18, 1996).