Radical Idea


Emma Bonino, an Italian politician who serves as the European Union's commissioner for consumer affairs, is a member of the Radical Party, which is affiliated with the International Antiprohibitionist League. In 1993, when she was secretary of the party and a member of the Italian Parliament, she addressed the Congress for the Normalization of Laws Against Drug-Related Crime in Buenos Aires, urging support for "a global campaign to repeal the three international conventions…that outlaw the production and trade of so-called narcotics." She noted that "there are plenty of excellent reasons to doubt that prohibition is the best strategy to fight the damage of drug taking."

So Bonino's views on drug policy are not exactly a secret. Still, she created quite a stir when she reiterated them in October. In interviews with Le Parisien and the Daily Telegraph, she expressed admiration for the Dutch, who tolerate the marijuana trade and emphasize harm reduction measures such as distribution of clean needles. She said the sale of "soft" drugs such as marijuana should be legalized, while "hard" drugs such as heroin should be dispensed under medical supervision. "If the trade became official," she told Le Parisien, "that would deprive organized crime of an important source of revenues. And if the drugs became available for a reasonable price, that would diminish the violence used by drug addicts in order to fund their habit." She also observed, "Drug taking is a private matter, just like taking sleeping pills or alcohol."

The response was swift and harsh, even though Bonino has no authority over drug policy. Swedish Commissioner Anita Gradin, who oversees the E.U.'s anti-drug efforts, said "advocating decriminalization of drug abuse makes no sense at all." Said Tony Newton, leader of the British House of Commons, "I can only say that I believe that would be a charter for drug dealers across Europe." And Joseph Califano, the former secretary of health, education, and welfare who heads the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in New York, wrote a piece for the International Herald Tribune in which he warned that repealing prohibition would lead to a huge increase in "the criminal conduct–assault, murder, rape, child molestation, violence, vandalism–that drug use spawns."

The drug warriors may have been a bit touchy because the E.U.'s European Drugs Observatory had just released a report on the effectiveness of their approach. It found "little relationship" between tough enforcement and drug consumption.