Rabat – The EU is planning to combine migration, counter-terrorism, and security in its new repressive anti-drug agenda that could have far-reaching consequences for Morocco.
The European Commission has been developing this new strategy far away from public scrutiny. The drastic new drug agenda was only revealed after 29 civil society organizations spoke up in protest of the EU’s shadowy dealings.
In order to gauge the impact of this draconian new agenda and its potential impacts in the Maghreb, Morocco World News spoke to Tom Blickman.
Blickman, currently based in Rio de Janeiro, is the senior project officer at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. He expressed major concerns with the EU’s drug agenda and sees dire potential consequences for Morocco.
The new EU drug agenda proposes to merge anti-drug policies with counter-terrorism and migration into a “repressive new agenda,” according to Blickman.
“We are increasingly relying on the failed ‘supply control’ strategy historically used in the US,” the global drugs expert told MWN, fearing the EU is moving in the wrong direction.
Made in the shadows
The new EU drug agenda came as “quite a surprise” for drug policy experts like Blickman.
“The process was opaque and suddenly you have a document in front of you that is indeed a paradigm shift, as they themselves call it,” he told MWN. He believes that civil society has been purposefully left out of the development of the new agenda.
“If you intend to cause a paradigm shift, the best way is to surprise everybody,” Blickman said, adding that it gives EU politicians “an advantage in setting the agenda, this has been done deliberately.”
The EU is determined to push the new drug agenda without feedback. It is now up to the EU member states to decide to go along or develop a new agenda.
“It’s worrying because drug policy is now captured in the security agenda, just as counter-terrorism and illegal migration, it’s all being put in the same package,” Blickman stressed. “They simply cannot maintain that this will not impact public health and people’s human rights and civil liberties.”
The surprisingly repressive new agenda is part of a larger shift to the right in European politics, towards “more right-wing policies, more intolerance against migration and more of a ‘law and order’ agenda.”
The hidden development of the EU drug agenda is likely due to intense lobbying by European law enforcement agencies eager for more funding for their budgets.
“Law enforcement is the most effective lobby in the world,” Blickman said. “They can always claim they are there for the public good and push their agenda.” As people have started to become more aware of the dangers of drug laws themselves, “law enforcement institutions always push back.
“In a way, we could have seen it coming”. “The signs were on the wall,” said Blickman. In several EU nations an emerging and possibly coordinated discourse has emerged. Law enforcement officials increasingly publicly stigmatize people who use drugs as “accomplices of drug traffickers and organized crime.”
“This new EU strategy is very worrying, because it is going backwards,” Blickman sighed. “We know this doesn’t work, it has been tried for more than fifty years.”
EU and UN reports on the global drug market invariably show the result has been more and different drugs becoming available at a higher purity and at lower prices. “Supply control policies have not worked in the past, do not work now, and will not work in the future.”
Two decades of experience in the field has taught Blickman that “if you want to stop organized crime, you have to think about regulating drug markets,” as proposed by the Global Commision on Drug Policy, a panel of former presidents, prime ministers and other high ranking officials.
The EU’s new proposed drug agenda is nothing but a “paradigm shift back to failed policies,” according to the expert. “When drugs are illegal, organized crime supplies the market. You have to take the market away from them.”
In several European countries, the heroin market has been dismantled due to regulation. In the Netherlands and Switzerland, problematic heroin users receive their drugs directly from the state. This takes the market away from the criminals, “a very effective strategy” that ensures that “heroin is only available for people who are problematic users, and that works.”
US politicians have refused to implement such policies, which has resulted in high drug-related crime and an opioid crisis that kills nearly 130 Americans every day. Repressive policies like the new EU drug agenda can have “devastating effects on public health and social safety in neighborhoods,” Blickman explained to MWN.
Using more law enforcement will impact the quality of drugs and endanger public health. More worryingly, this supply-side strategy “will always escalate,” according to Blickman, who says he has seen it happen before.
Drug policy experts like Tom Blickman have made significant progress over the last decades to approach drug problems as a public health issue based on respect for human rights. Changing course now “endangers human rights, in particular for people of people of color who will increasingly face ‘stop and search’ as drug users are being stigmatized as accomplices of organized crime.”
The rights-based and public health approach, including harm reduction, that were prioritized in past EU drug strategies are downgraded to the last priority in the new strategy. Almost as an afterthought, their reference “aims to mitigate the debris and the harms that the renewed focus on repression and supply control will inevitably create.”
What is happening with the new EU drug agenda proposal is similar to what happened to refugees who were framed as accomplices of human traffickers in order to stamp down on irregular migration. “The victims are criminalized and stigmatized.”
Redefining Morocco’s role
“More and more countries will get infected with this repressive disease,” he continued, describing the new EU drug agenda as a threat to countries on Europe’s periphery.
This has happened before, he recalled.
“When Europe closed off Atlantic shipping routes for drugs, those drugs started moving through western Africa and Morocco.” When Europe closes one trafficking route, another is opened as demand remains. The new EU drug agenda will mean “more and more countries will have to deal with drug traffickers moving through their country,” according to Blickman.
Blickman saw Guinea Bissau as a worrying example. The West African nation “was almost taken over by organized crime and drug traffickers.”
In the past, shipments of cocaine did not go through Morocco, but now they do so regularly.
“Ten years ago cocaine was shipped directly to Europe, new routes now see cocaine flow through Morocco instead,” Blickman explained. This shift has led to “more and more disadvantaged youth with a Moroccan background becoming involved in the cocaine trade in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.”
Blickman sees a significant risk that the EU could follow the heavy-handed drug strategies of the US. The US commonly uses airplanes to spray Colombian fields with poison to “fumigate” coca fields. “This is the same logic as the EU paying Morocco to have stronger policies to eradicate cannabis production,” Blickman stressed.
If the EU becomes entangled in “security thinking,” it will create its own logic and risk of escalation.
“Examples of the past are there,” Blickman told MWN. “If you want to go to a US-style drug war in Europe’s periphery that could damage relations with countries on Europe’s borders.” “With the construction of Fortress Europe, Europe is pushing its ‘crisis’ to the periphery just like it did with migration.” Blickman said.
“In Afghanistan for instance, they started bombing heroin labs, is that the kind of policy that we want?” he posited. “It doesn’t help, there’s more heroin flowing from Afghanistan than ever, and methamphetamine has been added as an export product.”
Morocco risks becoming to the EU what Mexico or Colombia are to the US. “They will focus on cocaine flows and could push for local eradication of cannabis.” In the US, this impacted the national sovereignty of Colombia, “which could also happen with Morocco.”
Blickman fears that this kind of logic creates a “tunnel-vision of repression” and is worried this “could quickly escalate in nasty policies like fumigating cannabis fields in Morocco.” He sees little difference between bombing Afghani heroin labs and spraying poison on Moroccan cannabis fields. “It’s not the current proposal but in five years this logic could result in that.”
Winners and victims
Instead, when shifting to a legally regulated cannabis market, as the Netherlands and Luxembourg are contemplating, “Moroccan cannabis farmers could and should be part of that market” according to Blickman.
“Legal cannabis cultivation for the emerging medical and recreational market in Europe would benefit Morocco’s economy and help to resolve poverty and environmental degradation in the Rif area,” the drug policy expert said.
The ultimate victims of this paradigm shift are the people who are already the victims. “Producers like Moroccan farmers already face much more repression than distributors or users,” he said. Users will become more stigmatized, producers will face more repression while organized crime in the middle will profit as prices rise.
In the end, it is likely that organized crime is the largest beneficiary of the new EU drug agenda’s strategy based on failed policies.
“You can think about regulating these markets or it becomes more and more repressive,” Blickman underlined. “This new drugs strategy is a warning sign that we could lose major achievements.”