It is becoming more and more accepted that the so-called war on drugs, a worldwide one-size-fits-all approach to drug-related problems, has been a failure. Despite the incredible amount of resources spent in the last decades to reduce availability and discourage demand of certain psychoactive substances, more drugs, cheaper and stronger than ever are more readily available than ever before. The once US-led insistence on universal prohibition is steadily changing towards a more liberal approach, tolerant with new experiments. The prohibitionist paradigm that has been the norm for decades is suffering many significant cracks in only a few years’ time.
Drug policy in Liberland should be true to the country motto: To Live and Let Live. In a libertarian country where the purpose of the law is to maximize the possibilities of voluntary cooperation among consenting adults, individuals should be able to produce, trade and consume whatever they want, absent harm to third parties. The challenge to this is that a complete absence of drug-control is likely to harm the vital diplomatic efforts for international recognition. A possible more pragmatic approach is to draft the minimum necessary regulations that would allow maximum individual autonomy without harming the image of Liberland in the international community. To do this, experiences from other countries that implemented drug policy reforms can be taken into consideration.
Liberland can observe and pick policies from different drug reforms around the world. Those aspects that guarantee more freedom should be adapted to Liberland’s situation, and then it can be argued toward the international community that drug control in Liberland is actually comparable with that of other countries. Examples of these policies include: complete legalization of marijuana, decriminalization of consumption and possession in reasonable quantities of all drugs, harm-reduction services, and friendly environment for drug research and development. To avoid conflicts with other countries, exporting or leaving the country in possession of drugs that are prohibited in the destination should be forbidden. All drug production, trade and consumption should be limited to the jurisdiction of Liberland, unless agreements could be done with other countries with similar laws.
Marijuana was one of the big winners in the last US elections. California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine all voted to legalize recreational marijuana and other states legalized it for medical purposes. Public support for legalization is at an all-time high. In December 2013, Uruguay completely legalized and regulated marijuana on a nation-wide level. Approximately one year before, Colorado and Washington did comparable reforms in the United States. Since then, several other US states followed and now the trend seems to be unstoppable. Other countries are also considering alternatives to prohibition. Canada is one of the most prominent examples because full legalization is expected to take place in Spring 2017, which will mean they will become the first G7 country to conduct such a reform. This is happening although cannabis is still included within the United Nations drug control regime and remains illegal in the US on a federal level.
It’s a no-brainer that Liberlanders should be allowed to cultivate their own marijuana. They should also be allowed to associate with other people to create cannabis clubs for production and consumption. Both home-growing and cannabis clubs should be restricted as little as possible, learning for instance from the experiences in Spain, Belgium, Uruguay and the US. In addition to home-growing and cannabis clubs, some kind of legal market could also be permitted, as other countries already did. Analyzing the marijuana markets in those states that legalized it is crucial to avoid their pitfalls, usually cause by overregulation. In all cases, production has been limited in one way or another to keep control of the whole system. In the case of Liberland, with a total area of just 7km², it’s unlikely that the production and selling of marijuana would spiral out of control so the state regulations should be much more limited than in other places with legal marijuana markets.
Decriminalizing all drugs might still sound frightening for some people, but Portugal and Czech Republic did it many years ago and the sky didn’t fall apart. To have all drugs decriminalized in Liberland would mean that it will be legal to consume and possess any drug, as long as it’s done in the private property of the user or with the consent of the owner of the property where he or she is located. The problem with decriminalization is the contradiction of allowing someone to possess and consume something that cannot be legally produced or bought. Allowing unlimited production and sale of all drugs would likely harm Liberland’s diplomatic efforts. To solve this dilemma, limited production mechanisms, like those that other countries did or are going to do for cannabis, could be allowed for all drugs. Uruguay and several US states with legal marijuana markets are contravening the international drug conventions but so far it has been largely tolerated. Similar systems could be implemented for other drugs that are currently on the same category as marijuana. Some could argue that marijuana is a “soft drug” that should receive special treatment, but the popular classification of drugs into “soft” and “hard” isn’t based on science and is misleading. What we call drugs is more of a social construct than a pharmacological definition, and the same could be said for the hard/soft categories. It’s true that some drugs might be more dangerous to certain people in specific circumstances, but the potential harm of a drug has little to do with its chemical structure and much more to do with other factors such as set and setting of consumption and other social and psychological factors.
Regarding harm-reduction, Liberland shouldn’t block any private initiative directed to reduce the potential harms of drug consumption. In this area, examples from other countries can also be taken into consideration, adapted locally, and used to argue that Liberland isn’t doing anything different to what other countries have been doing for a long time. Supervised drug consumption facilities have been working for decades in many European countries, providing users a safer way to consume drugs and improving public health indicators. Opioid replacement therapy is a standard procedure in many countries, with the goal of helping the user to reduce the consumption of heroin with that of another opioid with a longer acting effect. Heroin assisted programmes, such as in Switzerland’s example of legal prescribed heroin for addicts can also be considered. Naloxone and any other substance that can be used to prevent overdoses shouldn’t be restricted in any way. Testing drugs for quality and providing related services, especially at festivals, shouldn’t be restricted in any way.
Liberland could also become the cradle of drug research. Drugs that have been demonized for decades, such as LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, DMT, can actually have a tremendous medical value. Right now, promising research is being conducted that will likely mean that drugs that have been until now completely illegal are going to be permitted in the future for psychotherapy to treat at least PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The problem is that it might take many years before this happens because of the paperwork the regulatory authorities both in the US and Europe impose on this kind of research. Liberland could become the beacon of hope for millions of people who suffer from PTSD and other diseases for which until now there is no solution. To do that, researchers could be attracted by providing them with a legal environment to conduct their experiments with minimum state interference.
Having these policies will undoubtedly raise the attention and opposition of international drug control organisms. The current legal framework for international drug control is based on three international conventions: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Countries signatory to these conventions pursue the goal of eradicating the production, distribution and consumption of certain drugs. The degree of universalism of the conventions is remarkable: 185 states are parties to the first convention, 183 to the second and 189 to the third convention. The drug control conventions are one of the very few things on which almost all countries of the world agree, at least until a few years ago. In the past few years some countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay have been deifying the conventions. Not all countries interpret the conventions the same way. A few member states have removed criminal penalties for certain drug offenses while other countries still apply the death penalties, so variation is the norm when it comes to enforcement. The UN doesn’t have the power to directly enforce the conventions, so diplomatic backlash is one of the few tools international drug-control warriors can use to pursue worldwide prohibition.
Liberland should find a way to draft its drug policies with the goal of maximizing individual freedom without harming the reputation of the country in the international community. To do this, best practices from reforms done in countries signatory to the international drug control conventions can be considered. Doing this could allow Liberland to have a legal market for recreational marijuana, decriminalize consumption and possession of all drugs and even consider limited legal production and selling, encourage all types of private harm-reduction initiatives, and become a safe haven for drug research and development.
This article was written by Alfredo Pascual and has been published by Liberland Press with permission from the author. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the Liberland government.