Spain’s drug tzar says the country’s youth have an “abusive consumption” problem with alcohol. Francisco Babín, the Government Delegate for Drug Policy, also attacked the proliferation of “cannabis consumers clubs” in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
But, in his interview with euronews, he added government drugs policy was having a positive effect and said Spain was leading the fight against trafficking.
Rafael Cereceda, euronews:
Drug consumption seems to be decreasing in recent years. How satisfied are you with that?
Francisco Babín, Government Delegate for Drug policy:
Nobody with a level of responsibility in a sensitive field like the drug consumption can be fully satisfied. We have some cause to greet this, but many reasons to worry. Our main concerns are the increase in “abusive alcohol consumption” or the use of narcotics (legal) that have overrun the use of cannabis and the trivialisation that some sections of society are making of the drugs use, which has no scientific base.
Why has there been a decrease in overall drugs consumption (legal narcotics and alcohol aside)?
It is a trend that has been observed for a while. For example, in the cocaine use the “inflection point” was detected in 2007.
We think that government policies had a positive effect. It would be absurd to say that prevention policies are the only reason for this reduction but they played a role. We also think, but we can’t prove it, that for the consumption not linked to dependency, the “recreational” consumption , has decreased due to the economic crisis, so that people that have the choice, have the chance to be able to decide to, stop consuming.
Also Spain is leading the fight against drug trafficking. I think there are many factors, and many that we can’t control, I’m sure of that.
And what are the policies and investments that have worked?
Just by example, because there have been many actions taken by many different people: in 2006, as the cocaine consumption had doubled or even tripled since 1996, it was decided to do an extra financing effort in prevention and treatment policies specifically for cocaine consumption, and right after the consumption trends started to decrease.
Euronews: Have you noticed more demand for drug-quitting treatment after these policies were implemented?
No, actually it’s the opposite, and this proves that consumption is decreasing because over the years we have seen that the delay between the consumption time and the moment when people ask to be treated is quite long, so it’s logic that a decrease of drugs consumption goes together with a decrease in demands for treatment.
The number of people asking for treatment is quite stable, but the profiles change. For example now we are seeing an important increase in cases of teenagers with problems linked to cannabis consumption. I think it’s important to highlight, against the message that some are trying to spread, saying that cannabis consumption has no effect on health.
And which kind of problems do these teenagers have?
Despite their youth they have an important problem related to “abusive consumption” and dependence, and they have performance problems either at school or at work. I think it’s very important to highlight that 90% of requests for treatment related to cannabis come from under-age people. This should make people think.
And why do you think that cocaine has spread that much in Spain? Is it the fiesta culture? Or is it the close contact with Latin America?
Well, there’s a paradigmatic situation: almost 50% of the cocaine seized in the EU are seized by the Spanish police.
And that’s for geographical reasons?
No doubt. We are the western border of the continent and the closest country to the areas where the drugs are produced. That’s also changing, thanks to the police action, but there is no doubt Spain is an important crossroads and many of the attempts to bring cocaine into Europe come through our country, and of course an important part of that traffic stays in our territory. So, there are many factors for cocaine consumption but availability is an important one.
Cannabis social clubs – why are there so many in Catalonia and only a few in Madrid?
I don’t know if I have an answer for that (laughter). Probably there are groups with more interest in establishing these businesses in Catalonia or the Basque Country, while in other regions they adopt other business models.
But I want to make very clear, and I would be happy if you highlight this in your report, is the image of these “cannabis clubs” abroad is completely distorted, and this image is guided by those interested in promoting these kind of clubs.
It’s absolutely false that these clubs are allowed to do any transaction with cannabis. This is a crime and when we have proof of drug trafficking, the prosecutor acts.
These clubs shelter behind freedom of speech, saying they want to promote a debate on consumption and that’s not forbidden, but this doesn’t allow them to produce or distribute cannabis in any case.
But they argue it’s private consumption which is allowed by Spanish law.
It is so fallacious as an argument. Tell me, from your own perspective and with common sense, if you can consider as ‘private’, consumption by 3,000 people associated to the same organisation. It’s a clear semantic deformation. The private use, which is protected by our legislation, and the “shared drug use” which is also allowed, is perfectly detailed in case law. And it allows:
1. Consumption by drug-addicts, not anyone just for fun.
2. In a fully private space, with no possibility of public access
3. When all the participants are identified as drug addicts
4. Quantities that you can consume in that session (you can’t have a stockpile)
5. And whenever it’s an occasional consumption with no publicity.
What we cannot consent is that these clubs play with the legislation in that manner. What they do is a drug trafficking crime and it’s prosecuted when we have the proof to act.
But doesn’t the decentralisation of the Spanish administration play a role in the differences between regions?
No, I don’t think so
But we have spoken with some of these cannabis associations and they say that decentralisation has an influence and that authorities are more restrictive in Madrid than in Catalonia for example.
That’s another fake argument. It’s a lie. The law is the same in the whole country. They are free to register a new association, create a website, make advertising but it doesn’t allow them to sell the marijuana plant in any form.
And they never say they intend to share cannabis in their bylaws?
They have very good legal advice not to. These groups generate huge amounts of money. There are many faceless people interested in promoting the cannabis market and make money with that, and they have very good legal advisors.
Once these associations start, if we get enough proof of misconduct, we can prosecute them. But they are not allowed to produce, or deal cannabis.
I had to explain this everywhere, in Uruguay, in Mexico, in Peru. Because always, wherever we go, they have been there before. I wonder what are the funding sources of a club, that in theory has 50 members, but whose directors have travelled around the world defending that this is a wonderful model to deal with cannabis consumption in Spain.
There’s a contradiction between what they say and what they do. And we are not going to change legislation to be tolerant with this behaviour.
The Spanish drug policy is considered quite soft, and in fact it allows these kind of situations. Do you think the law should be changed?
In Spain consuming drugs is not a crime and we are proud of that, so I make clear that we don’t have the intention to change that.
We suffered with the HIV epidemic, the heroin epidemic and this led, more than 20 years ago, to a period of deep reflection: we had to differentiate between the person that has a problem with drugs, that is a sick person, that has to be protected from the trafficking, and profit-making with these substances.
So we thought that we couldn’t punish the sick person because that would make him stay away from the system and his reintegration into society, so that cannot be punished.
The consumption in public is a breach, punished, because it has an “incitation effect.”
But drug trafficking is very severely punished.
The distinction between private consumption, public consumption and trafficking, is essential in our legislation.
Which are the priorities for the government?
I can give you four:
- Abusive alcohol consumption of under-age people. We are developing a new law against this.
- Guarantee quality attention to people with drugs problems.
- Implementing a quick alert system for new substances, which is a problem throughout Europe.
- Making clear that our cannabis policy won’t change!