Proceedings of the Special Committee on
Issue 3 - Evidence for May 28 - Morning Session
OTTAWA, Monday, May 28, 2001
The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs met this day at 9:10 a.m. to reassess Canada's anti-drug legislation and
Senator Colin Kenny (Deputy Chairman) in the Chair.
The Deputy Chairman: Honourable senators, seeing a
quorum, I call the meeting to order. The Chairman is unable to be
here today as he is presiding over a meeting of the committee on
science and technology at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, in
Vilnius. He sends his regrets to the witnesses and members of the
Today we are continuing the work of this committee which was
authorized by the Senate, and that is to study and report on
Canadian policies concerning cannabis and its derivatives, the
effectiveness of those policies, and alternative approaches.
Further, the committee will be examining the international context
of policies regarding cannabis, the health and social effects of
cannabis, and the potential effects of those policies on other
policies. The committee is aiming to table its report by August of
In the course of its deliberations in preparing to draft its report,
the committee will consult with eminent experts in a variety of
fields of study and professions, as well as the Canadian public.
Our first witness today is Dr. Peter Cohen. Dr. Cohen first
entered the field of drug research in 1980 by way of a course in
sociology on the history of social problems. In his view, human
construction of cultures and societies can be partly understood by
studying what a society defines as a problem and why. Since then,
he has studied the so-called drug problem as one of the many
social constructions of western culture, based on complex
prejudice and ideology. His main interest is to conduct empirical
research on typical drug myths such as those relating to addiction
to cocaine or to cannabis as a stepping stone to more dangerous
drugs. Large-scale epidemiological drug use research in the city
of Amsterdam and later in the Netherlands as a whole has been
conducted. Dr. Cohen is currently Director of the Centre for Drug
Research at the School of Social Science, University of
Amsterdam, doing research funded mostly by the Dutch Ministry
Among his numerous publications on drugs, which may be
found at the CEDRO Web site - www.frw.uva.nl/cedro - are:
Drugs as a social construct, (1990); Re-thinking drug control
policy. Historical perspectives and conceptual tools (1994); The
case of the two Dutch drug policy commissions. An exercise in
harm reduction 1968-1976 (1994); Cannabis use, a stepping stone
to other drugs? The case of Amsterdam (1996); Shifting the main
purposes of drug control: From suppression to regulation of use.
Reduction of risks as the new focus for drug policy (1998); and, Is
the addiction doctor the voodoo priest of Western man? (2000).
Welcome to the Senate, Dr. Cohen. Please proceed with your
presentation and we will follow with questions.
Professor Peter Cohen, Director, Centre for Drug Research,
School of Social Science, University of Amsterdam: Honourable senators, I am pleased to be here. I hope to be able to
answer your questions about the situation in the Netherlands.
The research into the use of drugs is complex because not only
is the definition of drugs rather unclear, but also there is no
standard for the way in which we describe the use of drugs.
Therefore, the use of drugs is often described in qualitative terms
and it is difficult to quantify the description of drug use.
Another complexity in drug use research is deciding which
groups will form the basis of the research. It is easy to look at the
alcohol use of people who live in the streets. You will find that
the function and usage of alcohol in that group is different from
the use of alcohol by people who have regular jobs and who drink
wine with their meals. Different groups can use the same drug in
so many different ways, and it can be functional within so many
different lifestyles. It is easy to understand that among those who
research drug use there is much misunderstanding about what
actually happens and the effects of drugs.
Drugs are used for particular functions within particular
contexts that are sometimes culturally defined and sometimes
economically defined. For instance, cocaine use in poverty-
stricken areas of American cities is completely different from
cocaine use among rich stockbrokers. The functions and rules for
the use of that substance are completely different. It is easy to
understand that so much misunderstanding exists in the world
about drugs; their effects both positive and negative.
In Amsterdam, from the beginning of our research, we have
tried to construct representative samples of drug users. We did not
go to the prisons to single out particular types of drug users who
were prisoners; and we did not go to clinics to look at particular
subgroups of people with drug problems. We did go into the
population to try to construct large representative samples of drug
users in order to be able to view how most users of drugs,
whether cocaine, cannabis, alcohol or amphetamines, use those
drugs, how they construct their rules of control around that, how
they describe their own careers, and what they say about the
advantages and disadvantages of the different substances. At the
heart of good drug research is where you look, how you account
for your sample, and how good your sample is.
It is possible to make a million different observations on the
use of drugs depending on where you look. Always bear in mind
that whenever people say something about the effects of the drug,
they may be right, but the ability to generalize those observations
may be very limited.
Today I would like to discuss with you the effects of the
decriminalization of drug use on the general population. That is
where my expertise lies and I believe it is extremely important to
consider that area.
Senator Poulin: As you know, Mr. Cohen, the issue being
studied by the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs is the
focus of attention throughout the world at the moment, and there
are a number of reasons for that.
First of all, I would like you to take the time to summarize the
policy currently in effect in your country so that we can properly
understand your reference scheme.
Mr. Cohen: You asked me to give a short resumé of the
present-day Dutch policies in the area of drugs. I will try to do
that although it is a rather long and complicated history.
In the early 1960s, something quite new happened in
Amsterdam. Young people started to smoke marijuana. Before the
1960s, that kind of habit was not observed except, perhaps, in the
case of some musicians. It was not a fashionable fad until the
early 1960s. The first reaction of the Dutch government was
negative. In fact, they were quite alarmed.
The Amsterdam health system included doctors who were
working for the Municipal Health Service, a kind of institution
created in the 1920s in the Netherlands to cater for the health care
of people who would not easily enter the primary health care
system. These doctors were the first to observe this drug use
among young people. They went to the parks where they had their
little parties and played music. From the beginning we had
experts who were looking with different eyes at the drug use of
the young people; they took a less conservative view from the
start. The doctors mixed with the young people and watched what
In the late 1960s, when the Dutch government decided to
establish a commission to examine the drug use problem, medical
people and sociologists were part of that commission. They were
already knowledgeable about the drug use in certain groups. They
had a far less fearful attitude toward drug use. They saw that
many of the young users simply drifted out of marijuana use
when they got older. We found that again later when we did
systematic studies into cannabis-use careers.
At the first committee hearing, which was presided over by a
criminologist, the general feeling was that most of these drug
users would be extra-drug users quite soon. In the time that they
would be using these drugs, it would be more harmful for them to
be sucked into the legal system and penalized by fines or even
prison sentences. They tried to come up with solutions that would
keep these people out of the judicial system.
This was a rather revolutionary conclusion, but it was taken
over and shared by the government commission which reported in
1972, just one year before the famous Le Dain commission
reported in Canada. The Le Dain commission and the Baan
committee in the Netherlands were similar in their conclusions:
Try to decriminalize drug use during the short period that it
happens so that these people will not be burdened with the heavy
social consequences of a prison sentence or even worse.
In 1972, the Baan committee reported and there was already
some public discussion going on about decriminalization. The
Baan committee recommended that we decriminalize all personal
drug use, not only cannabis, so that the usual period of drug use,
being only a few years, would not be disadvantageous to the
Basically, that is the story of what happened in the Netherlands.
Individual drug use and small-time dealing is never prosecuted.
The decriminalization of cannabis has gone further than the
decriminalization of other drug use because, under Dutch law, the
distribution of cannabis-type drugs became more open, but also
After the 1970s and the early 1980s, people started their small
hashish and marijuana shops, which were called coffee shops for
some reason. Now we have about 850 shops where the public can
come in and buy a quantity of up to five grams of marijuana or
hashish, which is an amount that most people will not use in a
week or even a month. The amount used to be 30 grams, but that
was diminished because of pressure from our powerful neigh bours. The shopkeeper is allowed to have a stock of 500 grams of
these substances in the shop.
This has resulted in a kind of cannabis market which is very
developed in the Netherlands. Many varieties are offered, from
very mild to very high potency. It is somewhat like alcohol which
varies from low-alcohol beers to whiskeys of 40 per cent alcohol
or more. The whole gamut of marijuana-type drugs is sold in
The people who like this type of substance - which is only
about 15 to 18 per cent of the Dutch population - go to these
shops to buy their cannabis. The age at which people can enter
these shops was raised in 1995 from 16 to 18. That was also as a
result of pressure, mainly from France.
There is discussion about lowering the age again because
people between 16 and 18 who use this substance - of which
there are not so many - must now go to the streets and buy from
non-regulated sources. That is not considered to be an advantage.
Mayors in the Netherlands are asking the government to lower the
age back to 16 which is what it was between the 1970s and 1995.
Would you like me to go into the treatment policies in the
Senator Poulin: I will leave that area for my colleagues.
You have already touched, Professor Cohen, on my second
question. Here in North America we are hearing much good news
about the strength of the new European Union. You spoke about
the influence of certain of your neighbours. Could you speak to us
about the relationship between the Dutch policy and practices and
the policies and practices of other countries which are part of the
European Union? Is there a gap? Is there a link? Are there
common tables where the policies and practices are discussed?
Mr. Cohen: There is a big gap. The gap is becoming smaller,
but it is still in existence. The acts of the Dutch government, and
later all the municipalities, to put into place a system of rules
within which people could buy and have completely open access
to cannabis-type drugs have created a unique set of rules in the
European Union. It does not exist in any other country.
Since the 1970s, the Dutch have often been accused, with
periodical phases of intensity, of poisoning the youth of other
countries. Some young people would come to the Netherlands to
go to these shops to buy cannabis-type drugs. This was considered
a very bad influence on the youth of other countries. Slowly now,
however, the governments in other countries, mainly Spain, Italy,
Greece, Germany and France are recognizing that their people
between 15 and 50 will use cannabis-type drugs and that it is not
so much dependent on the availability of them in the Netherlands.
They recognize that it is an international phenomenon not caused
by the existence of this system in the Netherlands.
The Belgians have now gone further than all of these others
countries and are approaching the Dutch system.
In Germany, there is a split between the north and south. The
northern states in federal Germany would like to go further in the
direction that the Netherlands has taken, but they cannot find
majority acceptance in the government because the southern states
do not want to go in that direction. In the north of Germany,
almost no cannabis-related arrests are made, but in the south there
are many. Germany is not really an entity in this area of policy.
The French have moved quite considerably during the last five
years from being the most active and negative criticizers of the
Netherlands to being curious about it. Two official groups of
observers have come to the Netherlands to look at the Dutch drug
policy. There is now much contact between Dutch and French
drug researchers, and that is which is all organized by the French
government. The present French Minister of Health has asked for
studies to be done in France to see how far Dutch-type policies
could be realized within France. The sharp enmity between
France and the Netherlands that caused some of the changes in
the Dutch drug policy has changed completely, and with
No European countries are repeating the very sharp criticisms
we have experienced over the last 15 years. Clearly, Europe is
slowly, but in my mind certainly, going into a phase of
decriminalization of cannabis-type drugs. The speed at which they
do this, and also the type of development that they will choose for
this, will be different because the cultures are so different.
The Swiss government has come forward with a highly detailed
proposal of law which I have just finished studying. The Swiss
government's proposal goes much further than Dutch drug policy
ever went. It not only decriminalizes consumption and access to
the drug, but it also tries to create rules for the production of
cannabis-type substances, their distribution, their stocking, et
cetera. This type of legalization, which goes much further than
decriminalization, is already starting in Europe. Actually, there
has been very little negative comment about this proposal of law
from the Swiss government, and I think it can act as an important
model for other governments to consider.
Once again, over the last 20 years, the Dutch type of drug
policy, which was mainly defined by no police intervention in
individual drug use, has been criticized tremendously, and this has
perhaps caused a kind of disinterest in the present Dutch
government in going further, although I am sure that the
population in the Netherlands is ready is go further into a
direction of partial or even complete legalization, as well as the
production and distribution aspects of cannabis-type drugs.
Senator Poulin: My last question, Professor Cohen, deals with
the same issue as it relates to a North American perspective.
When you spoke about the 1960s in the Netherlands, it reminded
me of how Canada had its eyes on California at that time. They
went through the same phenomenon of a subculture making use
of marijuana, with the powers that be often closing their eyes to
that practice. Moreover, the United States went through a period
of prohibition to which Canada did not subscribe although, historically, Canada has been a very strong part of North America
and has always looked south in terms of trade, culture and
From a European perspective, how would you assess the
influence of the United States on Canadian policy, and how do
you see the closeness or the gap within the European Union
countries having an impact on North America?
Mr. Cohen: We all have the problem with North America. In
my private encounters with people, I always say that the
Americans are the "Taliban" of drug policy. We must deal with
them. They are a powerful ally. They try to exert quite a lot of
influence on drug policy in the Netherlands. I have never seen
much of a result from that, but they have always tried to do that.
The American foreign ministry has invited me to visit a few
times, and I have always experienced these visits as very
well-organized propaganda tours. They do this with many other
people. They invite hundreds of police people, judges, prosecutors, treatment people and doctors into the country and they try to
convince them that their policies are the best on earth. Up until
now, they have had very poor results in the Netherlands.
Canada did not take the same direction as the United States of
America, for instance, in relation to alcohol. When the ideas about prohibition of alcohol and drugs were designed
in the 19th century, they erupted into a full prohibition of alcohol
and other drugs in the United States of America. For its own good
reasons, Canada never followed that example of alcohol prohibition. Using the same logic one could say, "Let us stop
following the example of the Americans in relation to the
prohibition of other substances, because basically the same
questions and the same solutions apply. "
The prohibition of the use of alcohol and drugs provedto be totally destructive during the prohibition between 1920 and
1933. When the Americans tried it, it resulted in the most
atrocious social consequences for the country as a whole, and the
United States has been forced to retreat from that strategy. More
and more countries are recognizing that the prohibition of other
drugs has the same disastrous consequences for their social
system as the prohibition of alcohol during those times, and they
are asking themselves the question, "What shall we do?"
I can see that your proximity to the United States of America
introduces a particular problem that we do not have. However, we
have other powerful neighbours that are five to ten times as big as
the Netherlands and which have been quite aggressive in relation
to Dutch drug policy. Defending the basic reasons for our drug
policy against all these attacks has ultimately resulted in our
neighbours changing more than we have. More and more, people
are seeing that this strategy of prohibition is more negative in its
In the international globalization of affairs, people buy not only
American cars but also Japanese cars and Italian cars, and we
have fruits from all over the world. By the same token, drugs
from all over the world will enter lifestyles in our highly
developed and very rich democracies, and it slowly becomes
impossible to stop this process of renovation of how people want
For many people in the Netherlands, the reasons to prohibit
these drugs were created in the 19th century, in the same time that
masturbation was seen as extremely negative and destructive. This
is very old language and age-old thinking. These reasons have
become obsolete for most people. Most people no longer know
why these drugs were prohibited in first place. Experienced
cocaine users in the city of Amsterdam use this drug with an ease
and control that has nothing to do with the original stories that
made people sensitive to its prohibition. Things have changed
Although exotic drugs will not become popular in the next 50 years, their use will increase. When you speak about
millions of people transgressing a law that cannot be maintained,
something must break or change.
Senator Rossiter: Thank you for coming, Professor Cohen. We
appreciate your testimony. I would like to follow up on Senator
Poulin's question about treatment policies in the Netherlands.
Mr. Cohen: Would you like me to explain some of these
Senator Rossiter: Please do.
Mr. Cohen: The number of people who go into drug treatment
in the Netherlands is rather low. It is estimated that somewhere
between 25,000 and 35,000 need some type of drug treatment, of
which some 15,000 have some treatment. The precise figures can
be found on several Web sites in the Netherlands which I will be
glad to give you.
The main treatment that was initiated in the 1970s was around
the repetitive and frequent use of heroin. Heroin was introduced
in 1972 by soldiers from Vietnam. They came to the Netherlands
for their four weeks or six weeks of free time, and they brought
heroin with them. At that time it was unknown in the Netherlands.
Opium users in the Netherlands shifted to heroin in 1972, and
most of this use was intravenously. This came as a new fad to the
Netherlands. People did not know how to do this well, and it
created all types of problems.
Treatment settings were designed to wean these people away
from heroin. There was a drug-free treatment atmosphere in the
design of treatment forms that had to be created from scratch
because there was nothing available.
Senator Rossiter: Did people go into these programs of their
own free will?
Mr. Cohen: Mostly they did, yes.
These treatment forms became unpopular because the kind of
treatment ideology was so harsh on these people that they
escaped. The first methadone treatment was experimented with in
1968 by a young doctor in Amsterdam. Over the 1970s, the
availability of methadone increased somewhat until, in the early
1980s, it became the staple of drug treatment, trying not to get
people off their opiates but to make it possible for them to live a
life with opiates; taking them out of the criminal market, the
heroin market, and giving them methadone. In the beginning,
there was only low dosage methadone in the Dutch treatment
system. Over time, it increased to include high dosage methadone.
It is still the main treatment that is given to heavy drug users in
the Netherlands, together with some economic and other support.
For instance, mothers who have problems with the education of
their kids will get assistance. Housing assistance is also available.
All kind of social assistance is available to these people, although
there are not many of them.
For the past two years, a new form of treatment called heroin
maintenance has been made available. If people do not want to
stop their heroin use, and methadone does provide give sufficient
help, they can legally obtain heroin. Most heroin users in the
Netherlands are now heroin smokers. The heroin available on the
black market is the base form of heroin which can only be
smoked. Little intravenous use is left. People in the heroin
maintenance system can get both IV heroin and smokable heroin.
Both varieties are prepared for these users. Currently 750 people
use the heroin maintenance system. If it goes well, and it has been
going well so far, then this system will be slowly expanded.
However, real life has changed. First, opiates have becomeless popular, even among this particular group. Second, the price
of heroin in the Netherlands is now so low - between 30 and50 guilders per gram, or between Can. $20 and $30 per gram -
that it is hard for treatment heroin to compete with street heroin.
There is almost no threat to the dominance of particular circles in
the Netherlands who own the heroin black market, so that market
is stable in price and in quality. That means we do not see the
kinds of accidents that result from highly variable levels ofheroin purity. The heroin is almost always the same purity at 30 to
40 per cent.
The average age of people in the Dutch treatment system is
increasing by almost one year each year. That means that the
marginalized lifestyle of drug users, living on the streets or with
friends, is going down a lot. It was never a very popular lifestyle,
but we do not see many new people going into it to replace the
older ones. The oldest people now in the Dutch treatment system
are approaching 60. The Minister of Health, together with some
municipalities, is now preparing a policy paper, exploring whether
special old-age homes should be provided for this particular group
because they mix very poorly in the normal old-age homes in the
Netherlands. Their lifestyles have been so different during their
whole lives that it may be a good idea to give them their own old
ages homes where they can be together. It is important to note that
many of them have survived.
That is my brief summary of Dutch treatment.
Senator Rossiter: It is amazing to consider that the black
market, as you say, is almost policing itself with the quality of its
product. Does that happen anywhere else?
Mr. Cohen: I do not really know. I think the German drug
market is dominated by the same groups as the Dutch drug
market. It may happen there, but that is not one of my specialities.
Perhaps the next witness will know more about that.
Senator Rossiter:You state in your treatise here:
A serious pre-condition for improving upon present drug
controls has to be the loosening of the suffocating grip of
international drug treaties. These treaties have to be reformed
and probably ultimately abandoned to make room for local
differentiation of drug policy.
How would that come about? What force would make the
principal parties abandon their positions?
Mr. Cohen: I do not know. At the moment, in the Netherlands,
people are speaking again of trying to change the Dutch
participation in the global drug treaties so that it will be more
possible that Dutch developments in drug policy will happen. You should not forget that there is almost no global treaty system
that is so well guarded and so severe in its expulsion of any
deviation as these drug treaties. As I said, they are a product ofthe 19th century. They were thought up and designed inthe 19th century and put into practice in the early 20th century.
The bureaucracies that guard these treaties have grown and
grown. The treaties are made more precise and more severe
almost every year.
I consider these treaties part of a policy of suffocation for any
deviation. There is almost no state or human behaviour which is
governed by such severe global treaties as drug use and drug
trafficking. Under these treaties, even local traditions such as the
chewing of coca leaf is impossible, although people have been
doing that for thousands of years.
We must abandon the idea that drug policy can come from one
set of general rules. Nations should at least regain their autonomy
in this area by saying, "Though this is a good set of rules to
consider, some of the rules are impractical and costly for our
population, so we must deviate from them." The Swiss, who
never undersigned New York, 1961, have maximum freedom in
doing so. They exercise this freedom now. Individual countries
could consider saying, on all the rules about cannabis, "We will
put a question mark next to them, and we will simply decide to
deviate from this path for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years and see
If more countries go in that direction, then at a certain moment
the UN must decide to relax its iron grip on global drug treaties to
enable nations to escape their destructive force. I see these treaties
as a real destructive force against local autonomy and against
inventiveness and creativity in solving all these problems.
Senator Banks: Professor Cohen, thank you for coming.
You told us that our institutional attitudes in dealing with drugs
in Canada, and with cannabis in particular, are based on
mythology. Do you have an opinion on why that is so? You
mentioned the 19th-century attitudes which helped to develop our
drug policies. On what are those attitudes based? They must be
based on something because many people have subscribed to
them. In this country, most of us are still brought up with the
mindset that drugs are bad, period, end of statement, no
parentheses, no modification: Drugs are bad. Yet, examination
reveals, as you said, that many cultures in the world have used
drugs of one kind or another over centuries. That does not make
drug use good, either. Many cultures used to settle differences by
killing each other. That does not make it okay.
On what mythological or other foundation, is our tendency to
prohibit drugs based?
Mr. Cohen: This is one of my hobbies and it is very dangerous
to ask questions about this because, once I start talking about it, it
is difficult to stop me. I will try to restrain myself.
I have just published an article that deals with this problem.
The title of the publication is, Is the addiction doctor the voodoo
priest of Western man? I try to answer this question. Why,
suddenly, in the 17th and 18th centuries, did all these ideologies
abound in the individual who must be free-governing, self-propel
ling and self-navigating? Where do all these ideas come from?
My thought up to now, although I changed when I researched the
question further, was that the root of all these ideas about the
individual are based in the Reformation.
Following the Renaissance in Europe we had the Reformation,
wherein the new ideology was that people had an individual
relationship to God. They were now able to seek salvation for
themselves, rather than through the church as an instrument for
salvation. An individual relationship between man and God would
be possible. This gave birth to theories of the individual as a
self-controlled, autonomous and self-responsible person that we
have until now. As well, there were diagnosed forces that would
take people away from their individual relationship with God, or
with the world around them, in the sense that they were
During the Victorian period, the basic force that would deviate
people from their course would be sexuality. We have emerged
from of a period of sexual phobia that lingered for a long time, in
which sexuality was seen as a force that would take people in its
grip and make them bad people. Therefore, we had to protect
youngsters, certainly, and older people from the seductions of
sexuality. Pornography became prohibited, intercourse outside
marriage became something looked down upon - a taboo.
Sexuality was seen as a significant enemy of the Western
individual. At the same time, ideas started to be born about alcohol as an enormous force that would take people's
individuality away, as well as their own willpower, their own
possibility to be himself or herself.
Senator Banks: It does that.
Mr. Cohen: It does it to a certain degree in some people, but
for most people it does not. Most people drink alcohol in a way
that is recreational, which emphasizes pleasures they already
enjoy. Only under certain circumstances can they take in so much
alcohol that they liberate themselves - and I see it as a kind of
liberation - of individual constraint.
Drugs and alcohol were viewed, like sexuality, as forces that
would threaten the autonomy of the individual, and had to be
banned. This attribution of the enormous power of alcohol and drugs is a product of the 18th century and certainly
the 19th century.
When you look at this phenomenon with an empirical eye,
when you look at drug users and alcohol users as they exist, you
can see that for most people the use of alcohol and drugs is not at
all this terrible force that takes away their individuality. On the
contrary, it is one of their adaptations that makes it more possible
for them to live the type of lifestyle that they choose for
You can look at drugs from two different perspectives. You can
look at the worst case of the alcoholic in the street who does not
seem to have a useful life, and you can say, "Look at what alcohol
does." However, you can also look at the fact that there are far
more alcohol users who do not show this pattern of use, and this
functionality of use, and use alcohol in a completely integrated
lifestyle. The same is true of drugs.
An empirical examination of the theory that the force of drugs
and alcohol takes away the individual power of autonomy and
self-determination reveals that most people simply do not behave
that way when they use these drugs.
Senator Banks: We have heard from detractors and critics of
the system in the Netherlands that among its effects is a
considerably increased use by a larger proportion of the
population of cannabis in particular and what we call illegal drugs
in general. In your experience, is that true?
Mr. Cohen: In my experience, it is not true. The data from
Germany and France indicates the national levels are somewhat
similar, which is around 16 per cent of lifetime experience with
cannabis. That applies to Germany, France and the Netherlands.
One problem is that you need costly national surveys to
measure drug use in a meaningful way. The other problem is that
within a country there can exist considerable differences. In a city
like Amsterdam, where many artists, actors, financial people and
people who work in publicity live, the proportion of people who
have been using cannabis is approximately 40 per cent. That is
about three times the national average. In the rural areas of the
Netherlands about 10 to 12 per cent of people have used cannabis.
We have designed a way of looking at cannabis use and drug
use in the Netherlands by defining seven different samples of the
population. We not only look in big cities, but we also construct
samples of municipalities of lower address density. Therefore, we
are able examine cannabis use in the stratum of lowest density
municipalities in the Netherlands, and we then continue up the
scale until we reach the highest density areas in the country -
areas with more than 2500 addresses per square kilometre. We
find that the denser the area, the higher the probability that people
will have used drugs.
In terms of our national averages, we are in the same league as
Germany and France. We are considerably lower than the U.K. or
Denmark, and much lower than the U.S.A. The U.S.A. has levels
of drug use that are double to triple the levels in the Netherlands. I
do not say that this is because of drug policy, because it is my
firm opinion that drug policy in itself has very little influence on
the number of people who use drugs or who do not use drugs.
The incredibly easy availability of cannabis type drugs in the
Netherlands has not at all changed the number of people who
want to use it, because the decision to use it is based on the
cultural composition of the population, who your friends are, the
image of drugs and the economic situation of individuals. It does
not matter what the government thinks about these drugs.
I do not see any epidemiological evidence at all for the general
observation that drug policy in the Netherlands has increased the
number of people using drugs.
Senator Banks: As a corollary to that, we have also been told
by many witnesses that cannabis is a gateway drug, that use of
cannabis may be because it simply leads to the next drug up the
scale, or maybe, because of associations with people who provide
it who are mostly in the criminal element, the use of cannabis
leads to the use of harder drugs.
Do you personally believe that cannabis is addictive? Do you
find in the Dutch experience that the ease of access to cannabis
has led to those people who have that access using progressively
Mr. Cohen: Your question about whether cannabis use is
addictive is difficult for me to answer because the definition of
"addiction" is so vague.
Senator Banks: Physiologically addictive.
Mr. Cohen: Physiologically, it is not addictive.
On the second question, we have done precise computations to
see if this gateway theory applies to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is
the city in the Netherlands where drugs are most easily available,
their prices are lowest, and it has the culture in which drugs are
most accepted. As we say, drugs are most "inculturated" in the
city of Amsterdam. We have examined our large samples of
population to determine whether those who have ever used
cannabis also use the other drugs.
We have several different definitions of what a gateway is
because, if you want to research it, you must quantify what you mean by "gateway." We have said we would simply make the
hypothesis that if cannabis really is a gateway drug, at least50 per cent or 75 per cent of the people who use it or have used it
must also have at least a minimum experience with other drugs.
We found that of all lifetime cannabis users in the city of
Amsterdam, just a little over 20 per cent also have lifetime
experience with cocaine, which is the next most popular drug on
the scale of popularity. Almost 80 per cent of all lifetime users of
cannabis have no experience with cocaine at all, although cocaine
is easily available in the city and not very expensive. Most users
of cannabis do not, for some reason or another, decide to also be
curious about cocaine.
Heroin use in the city of Amsterdam has always been very low.
It is almost immeasurably low among cannabis users, but we can
measure a few per cent.
The nice thing about the gateway theory is that at least it is a
theory that is testable. You can say, "If there is a gateway
phenomenon, we should be able to observe this in users of
cannabis." In the city of Amsterdam, where access to cannabis is
as easy as access to bread in Ottawa, we do not find this gateway
phenomenon to a high level, but we find some level of it.
As I said, of all cannabis users, 22 per cent have ever used
cocaine. However, when you start to analyze their cocaine
experience, most of this experience is floating. People want to
have tried it. They have heard about it, and they want to try it, but
nine out of ten cocaine users never use more than an experimental
amount of it.
I do not know if a gateway phenomenon would exist in
Canada, but it is perfectly possible to check on this because, in
Canada, epidemiological data is collected about drug use in the
population. It should be easy for your committee to ask, for
instance, the Addiction Research Foundation in Toronto to look
into this phenomenon and to find out to what degree and how it
Senator Kinsella: Is there literature on the relationship of
public taxation to the use of leisure drugs? Are those legal drugs
that are available in the coffee shops subject to tax in the
Mr. Cohen: The Dutch government wanted to put value-added
tax on all sales of cannabis-type drugs in the coffee shops, but
some sellers said that they found that to be unjust. They said that
they wanted to pay value-added tax, but they also wanted to have
a fully legal status. They said that, as long as they do not have a
fully legal status, which has all kind of disadvantages for them as
sellers, they would not be willing to pay VAT. One seller took his
complaint against the Dutch state to a EU judge in Strasbourg, to
the court where you can make a complaint against states. The
Dutch authorities lost that action. From that moment on, the
coffee shop owners have paid only personal income tax on the
gains from their shops. There is no value-added tax, or a special
tax, as we know it, for instance, in the Netherlands on alcohol.
You pay special taxes on that substance.
Senator Kinsella: Is there anything in the literature that
examines this question from a public policy standpoint? We know
the cost of dealing with the leisure use of drugs from the
standpoint of public education. You mentioned counselling. Of
course, there is a cost attached to counselling, et cetera. Has
anyone considered imposing an excise tax or a special tax on the
sale of these substances, together with the GST or a VAT?
Our chairman introduced in Parliament - and it was passed by
the Senate - the innovative idea of raising revenue on tobacco
sales for the development of educational programs. A special
foundation will be established. As a sociologist, I take it your
hypothesis is that drugs are here to stay, and that we have not
been very successful in trying to understand the nature or the
essence of drugs and the psychology and sociology of the human
behaviours that relate to drugs. What if we change the paradigm?
If there are social costs associated with usage, then the product
itself ought to generate the revenue to deal with that, and that
means t some form of taxation. Has there been reflection on this?
Mr. Cohen: The Australians are now working on a proposal
for taxation on cannabis-type drugs. Once you take the course of
normalizing the consumption of cannabis-type drugs - the view
that there are types of behaviours that we want to put legal
constraints around but no longer prohibit - I think that there is
no reason to treat them differently from the way you treat tobacco
The taxation systems that various countries have on tobacco
and alcohol are different. When Canada decides that cannabis is
no longer prohibited, it may use as a model for the taxation of
cannabis the taxation regime it uses on tobacco pharmaceutical
drugs. However, there are many options.
If you want to use tax as an instrument to limit use, that is a
whole different story. Up to a certain level, that may be
successful, but over a certain level you invite all types of
secondary distribution systems to develop, with all their costs.
Taxation to a certain level would be considered normal and
natural; over a certain level, the population would certainly try to
dive underneath and find other supplies.
Senator Banks: Professor Cohen, you said earlier that the
United States policy, which has sort of crystallized in everyone's
mind as "the war on drugs," is known as the "Taliban" of drug
policies. I gather that the present American system does not
contain the realism which you believe ought to attend national
drug policies, and that it does not abjure the use of myths as a
basis for those polices. Would you expand on that for a moment?
Do you think that United States drug policy, which is to a degree
a hemispheric drug policy, is based on myth?
Mr. Cohen: To a large degree, it is. It is also, to a large degree,
based on a particular notion of the function of the state. The
application of general principles or ideas about the prohibition of
drugs is varies from country to country.
The global treaties are of one text. They make it impossible for
individual states to deviate in their legislation from that general
set of rules. What actually happens in those countries that are
signatories to those treaties is very different. Although many
people in the U.K. use cannabis-type drugs, the police there insist
on making a certain number of arrests for the possession of
cannabis. Every year, approximately 70,000 to 80,000 arrests are
made on the basis of that prohibition. In the north of Germany,
such arrests are not seen at all, although they have the same
legislation which is based on New York, 1961.
In the United States of America, an even more fundamentalist
application of this legislation is seen. The American police will send in undercover police to provoke small dealings in
cannabis-type drugs. They will send in police dressed as people of
a certain culture to act as drug sellers. If a person agrees to buy,
that person is then arrested. That kind of application of legislation
goes further in the U.S. than in any other country I know of.
The application of the law is one thing. Big differences can
exist between countries. The myth at the basis of this action is
that cannabis leads to other drug use which is much more
dangerous, that it leads to particular cultural behaviours that are
considered undesirable, or that it leads to a particular type of
personality that is not wanted. There is a whole series of so-called
justifications for treating cannabis as if it were something
extremely dangerous or destructive for human kind. Those
justifications escape me completely, but the American powers
seem to think that is the right way to go.
Senator Banks: From time to time you must have pondered
why that is so. If the empirical information and even statistical
information is available to disprove the myths to which you just
referred, what is the constituency that resists that irrefutable logic?
Mr. Cohen: I think it is a type of moral indignation. Let us
take another example, that of divorce. The Italians struggled
against divorce, guided by the Papal State, well into the 1960s
when in other countries divorce had been available for a long
time. The Roman Catholic ideology that opposes divorce was so
much part of the local Italian political system that it was very hard
to escape it. All kinds of quasi-scientific objections can be made
to divorce but, in the end, it is the moral conviction that makes it
right or wrong. Even if you could see in Italy that many people
were separated and that there were enormous costs related to the
legal impossibility of a normal divorce, the power of the moral
conviction that divorce is something bad was so strong that all the
other were aspects dwarfed in relation to that moral conviction.
In the western world, many quasi-scientific problems exist
around the legalization or even the decriminalization of drugs. It
is the guise taken for what is actually a moral conviction that any
drug use is wrong. In order to amplify that conviction, you can
take a few observations and hold them as the general truth about
drug use. They are illustrations of a basic moral conviction. One
cannot discuss moral convictions on the basis of statistics. A
moral conviction is a moral conviction.
The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Cohen, at the beginning you
commented that the marijuana-selling coffee shops in Amsterdam
are entitled to hold, at any given time, 500 grams of stock. How
do they obtain their stock? What distribution system is used to
stock these coffee shops?
Mr. Cohen: This is evolving. It is now different from what it
was five or ten years ago. When the coffee shops started, most
cannabis sold in coffee shops was imported hashish from
Morocco, Lebanon, Pakistan or Afghanistan, but the quality of the
hashish was so variable that some Dutch entrepreneurs started to
grow marijuana. Slowly, Dutch marijuana has become the main
article inside the Dutch coffee shops. There is still some imported
hashish from Morocco, from Columbia or other Latin American
countries, but most of the present-day stock in Dutch coffee shops
is Dutch-grown marijuana with an incredible variety, as I already
said, from the very mild varieties to the very high-potency
In our own research on cannabis-use careers, we find that more
than half of all experienced users prefer the milder qualities of
To answer your question, most present-day stock comes from
Dutch soil. It is either grown outside or it is grown inside in very
high-tech growing outfits inside houses.
The Deputy Chairman: Are growers licensed? How are they
protected from prosecution? How is the transportation of the
product from the growers to the coffee shops handled?
Mr. Cohen: About a year ago, 60 mayors of municipalities
asked the Minister of Justice to design a system that would license
growers, so that the entire growing and transportation system
could also be regulated. The Minister of Justice refused to do so
in spite of quite formidable support for such regulation within the
country, because he refers to international treaties and also the
possibility of foreign pressure on the Netherlands in this area. It is
Once in a while growers are arrested. Transport is almost not
interfered with. We know that the owners of coffee shops have
stocks that are much larger than 500 grams because they must
have stock of all the varieties, and they must store those in stashes
that are secret. There is a kind of schizophrenia in the Dutch
system that I deplore, which makes cannabis-type drugs fully and
openly available in little shops. However, the provisioning of
these shops is not yet regulated or caught in a system of rules that
specifies which growers are licensed, under what kind of
conditions, and how much they can produce. This is what the
Swiss are now doing. That is why I like the Swiss proposal of law
so much. It tries to find a solution for the entire area, not only
distribution but also production.
The Deputy Chairman: Dr. Cohen, you said that the limit an
individual could purchase is now five grams, whereas it used to
be 30 grams. You indicated that the change was as a result of
international pressure. Could you elaborate on that?
Mr. Cohen: In 1995-96, the mayor of Lille, a large city in the
north of France, came with a complaint that youth of this city
would travel to the Netherlands, buy a lot of marijuana and
hashish, and then sell it in Lille. This was undeniably true. Some
people would come to the Netherlands, stock up and sell it in
France. In order to respond to that problem, the Dutch
government said they would make it impossible for all people to
do that. This applied not only to foreigners, but also to the Dutch
because you cannot have different rules for foreigners. The Dutch
government decided to lower the amount of cannabis-type drugs
that a person can buy in a coffee shop in order to deal with the
problem of people coming to coffee shops and buying so much
that they would have enough to sell in their home country.
We know from our research that for most users of cannabis
who are not reselling - and why would they because there is
enough cannabis in the Netherlands to go to the shop every week
or every month, whenever you want - five grams is a stock that
lasts them for at least three to four weeks. The Dutch consumer
was not really bothered by this change in regulation because he or
she could still buy enough. The regulation focused on foreign
buyers who would come to the coffee shops.
The Deputy Chairman: I understood that. My question was
really how was the pressure applied?
Mr. Cohen: The pressure was applied through the prime
ministers, the ministers of health and the ministers of finance. It
was discussed in EU agreements. How do governments relate to
each other? In all the institutes of communication, the French
made it an issue and pressured the Dutch to change the
The Deputy Chairman: Could you tell the committee how the
police in the Netherlands react to this schizophrenia that you
talked about in terms of drug policy? A drug appears to be legal
in certain locations. However, it is not legal to grow, transport or
possess when you have more than five grams. How do your
police react to that and how do they enforce the law? What is
their understanding of the law?
Mr. Cohen: This may be different in different areas. In
Amsterdam a special group of police people is specially focused
on guarding the rules around production and distribution. They
frequently arrest people producing marijuana, or they check the
coffee shops and, if the stock is higher than 500 grams, they will
give the owner a warning. After three warnings, the coffee shop
will be shut.
In other municipalities, the police are much more lax and easy
going. When people grow cannabis in houses and they do not
purify the air in those areas where it is grown, there is such an
incredible stench of marijuana growing that people in the
neighbourhood start to complain. Under those circumstances, the
police will come and shut the outfit.
The Deputy Chairman: Would that be under a clean air act?
Mr. Cohen: No, they act on the basis of what is in the books. If
there are no complaints, and if people do not make themselves
conspicuous, the police in the Netherlands will not do anything.
However, they are expected to suppress everything: growing,
possession and transporting. This is highly impractical because
access to the population is decriminalized. They see that this is
schizophrenia to its max. The police, therefore, have trouble
because the situation for them is unclear. I would never say that
this should be repeated in other countries because it is one of the
bad and illogical aspects of Dutch drug policy.
The Deputy Chairman: Is that because it is incomplete?
Mr. Cohen: Yes, itis incomplete. It is mainly incomplete
because of the lack of courage and because of pressure from other
countries. If the Dutch were to transgress international rules on
the level of growing and transporting, the fear is that this would
have repercussions beyond what the system can deal with. The
official policy in the Netherlands at the moment is that we have
done our share of demonstrating how you can decriminalize
distribution. Let other people reach our level and then we may go
somewhere together. Many politicians are sick and tired of the
guiding role of the Netherlands in this area,.
The Deputy Chairman: Some might describe the Canadian
policy as reducing demand and supply through prevention,
education, enforcement and rehabilitation. Would you care to
comment on that as an approach towards marijuana?
Mr. Cohen: That is a theoretical approach. It contains all the
buzzwords that you must use, but there is no evidence at all that
prevention has any impact on levels of drug use. There is also
lack of clarity about what prevention actually means. What is
prevention? Is it secondary prevention, primary or tertiary? What
do you mean? How do you keep people from drugs by official
guidelines when drug use is something that is decided amidst
cultural developments that have nothing to do with what the
government thinks. There is a great lack of clarity here about
what it really means to prevent drug use.
However, if you take the route of harm reduction, you could try
to define a certain number of harms. Such harms have to do with
use, purchase, production, or other types of drug use where you
deal with injection. If people continue to inject, at least try to
make them inject in a sterile way. Harm reduction is easier to
define than fighting drug use or preventing drug use. Those terms
are, for a policy-maker, quite vague and difficult to fill in with
These words, more or less, are symbolic for a certain type of
lip service to the global treaties. The content of these things is
usually very low, vague and variable between the different regions
of a country.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you, Professor Cohen. Your
interesting testimony has held the attention of the committee. You
have given us valuable information and a perspective that the
committee will find most useful. We appreciate you taking the
time to come here and share your experience with us.
Our next witness is Mr. Alain Labrousse. He completed a
dissertation on the sociology of development at the Institut
d'Étude du Développement Économique et Social, IEDES, in
Paris in 1996, and a doctoral dissertation in French studies at the
Université de Bordeaux in 1974.In 1990, he founded the
Observatoire géopolitique des drogues in Paris. For the last 10 years, this organization has produced studies and reports
on the international situation with respect to drug production and
trafficking. He is currently a chargé de mission at the Observatoire français des drogues et des
toxicomanies, a French
monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction in Paris, where he
is organizing an assessment mission on the cannabis crop situation
in Morocco this June, and an assessment on the anti-drug
cooperation in Bolivia and Peru this July, amongst other things.
He has led similar missions in countries around the world,
including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Senegal, Central and Western
His principal publications include: 2000, Les drogues, un
marché de dupes, Paris, Éditions Alternatives; 1996, Géopolitique
et Géostratégies des drogues, Paris: Économisa, in collaboration
with Michel Koutoutsiz; 1991, La drogue, l'argent, et les armes,
Paris: Fayard; and 1985, Coca Coke, Paris: La Découverte, in
collaboration with Alain Delpirou.
Welcome to our committee, Mr. Labrousse. The floor is yours.
Mr. Alain Labrousse, chargé de mission, Observatoire
français des drogues et des toxicomanies: Mr. Chairman, most
of the presentations made to your committee have focussed
chiefly on the problems involved in drug use and the policies that
should be implemented to deal with them. These essential issues
cannot cause us to overlook another aspect of the problem, the
one linked to drug supply, that is the production and trafficking of
drugs, the criminal organizations involved, and to the corruption
and conflicts they generate.
Thus the purpose of my presentation is to assess the effects and
results of the tremendous effort made by the international
community in the last 15 or 20 years, particularly by the rich
countries, to combat illegal activities linked to the supply of
The first area of observation is drug production. There are three
major families of drugs that are grown. These are therefore drugs
that are of natural origin - and the fourth group is synthetic
drugs. We have some relatively reliable observations and the
figures that I will be using were provided by the United Nations
International Drug Control Program, the United States and the
There are two ways of combatting the cultivation of illegal drugs: one is economic and involves funding alternative
development programs. The other is the repressive approach
which involves manually pulling out the plants. In most cases this
is done by spreading chemicals, which are used massively in
Columbia in particular, but not elsewhere.
What are the results of these policies that have been in place
for 15 or 20 years? In the case of coca leaves, in Peru and Bolivia,
the area under cultivation in 1995 was 150,000 hectares. Today
that figure is 50,000 hectares. So this would seem to be a success.
However, at the same time, the figure in Columbia went from
30,000 to 180,000 hectares. So, as you can see, the gains made in
two countries were largely offset by the increase in production in
a third country. Columbia's productivity is much higher: between
800 and 1,000 tons a year, or twice what it was determined to be
10 years ago.
In the case of opiates, the situation is quite ironic. I will take
the example of Afghanistan, which is far from being the largest
world producer. Production has practically doubled between 1998
and 2000. Under the almost total government of the Talibans,
production went from 2,500 tons to 4,000 tons, which is enough
to make 400 tons of pure heroin. This year, 2001, there will be no
crop at all. The production under the pressure of the Talibans has
disappeared. This fact has been confirmed by all the sources.
Hence, this is apparently a great victory, even though it was
self-generated. All the information shows as well that the Central
Asia and Pakistani mafia paid the Talibans to stop producing for
two or three years, because record crops in the preceding years
meant that they had accumulated such large stockpiles that they
could not sell them on the market without causing the prices to
collapse. It is quite interesting to know that what the international
community was not able to obtain in Latin America with respect
to cocaine, the mafia was able to obtain for reasons linked to their
economic interests. That phenomenon deserves some reflection.
The third type of natural drugs are cannabis derivatives, which
I know are of particular interest to this committee. It is difficult to
get as accurate an idea about cannabis as about the other plants,
because cannabis grows everywhere, sometimes completely
spontaneously. It is therefore difficult to get figures that are as
accurate. However, it can be said that in Latin America and the
Caribbean, production has been relatively stable for several years.
The major producers are Mexico, Columbia, and Trinidad and
Tobago, the latter country having replaced Jamaica. There are
some changes in the producers, but generally speaking, the
production has remained relatively stable. However, it is
exploding more or less everywhere else throughout the world.
Production is increasing tremendously in Southeast Asia, particularly in Cambodia. The production of hashish, which is still
very substantial, even though it has not been measured in Pakistan
and Afghanistan, has increased a great deal in Nepal, which has
become a major exporting country. Production is exploding in
Morocco in particular. I am just back from a seminar in Valencia,
Spain, where Moroccan technicians told us that production had
practically doubled in five years. They said that they were unable
to say or write such things publicly, because their government had
imposed a sort of taboo. There are 120,000 hectares in production
in Morocco at the moment, with a less repressive regime than that
of Hassan II. Very poor peasants, generally speaking, felt free to
grow these crops, and this is causing some huge ecological
problems and food self-sufficiency difficulties, because at the
moment, they are no longer growing these crops in the Rif
mountains, but rather on the country's agricultural plains.
I know that Moroccan hashish has been seized in Canada in the
past, and in the years ahead, it is likely that this source of supply
will increase significantly.
Synthetic drugs, which by definition do not use primary
vegetable material, cause fewer geopolitical problems, because
they are manufactured in laboratories very close to the places
where they are used, generally speaking. There are laboratories in
Canada and the Americans have some in Mexico. Holland is one
of the main sources of supply for Europe. This involves classic
The statistics show that production increased during the 1990s,
speeded up in 1997-98, and now seems to have reached a plateau.
Apparently, these results were not achieved because of an attempt
to repress production activities, but rather because there was a
change in fashion or because the market was saturated. It is more
a case of self-regulation on the part of traffickers in light of the
market demand than an effort on the part of the international
After reviewing the issue of drug production, we must try to
assess the success of efforts to combat criminal organizations. In
1994 and 1995, the Columbian cartels were dismantled. Their
main leaders surrendered or were killed. The mafia and the Italian
criminal organizations were weakened because of the courage and
sacrifices made by many judges, police officers and politicians.
At first glance, we might say that the success is undeniable.
However, if we look at the Columbian situation - and everyone
acknowledges this - in 1994, there were four or five big cartels,
and today it is estimated that there are 40 to 80 medium-sized
In Italy, with respect to the Neapolitan Camorra, there were six
major families, whereas today, there are 100 small organizations.
This pattern is repeated pretty well throughout the world and, as a
result of the impact and success of the repression, these
organizations have become decentralized.
In practice, this means that police repression is much more
difficult, because when an organization is destroyed in Columbia,
only one organization out of 40 or 80 is destroyed. Of course, the
local police in the United States publicized the dismantling of one
of the largest Columbian cartels, and, six months later, another of
these cartels was dismantled.
At best, each time it is one of the 40 or 80 organizations that
supply drugs to the American and European markets and that are
able to distribute them very widely.
The second consequence of this change in criminal organization is that they are now decentralized. Of course, the Italian
mafia has always counted on families in Canada, the United
States and Australia, but today, the organization has an export
Specifically, the Italian mafia is located in Eastern Europe and
in South Africa, where Vito Pallazolo, one of the big leaders, has
almost hung up his shingle openly and has worked with the two
successive governments, the Apartheid government and the
Mandela government, and its successor, because Mr. Pallazolo is
very wealthy and has provided many services, and there is no
question of extraditing him.
It can be said that despite the very costly effort, and the success
that has been achieved and the battles won, the war is not over,
quite the contrary. The criminal organizations are doing very well.
In addition, of course, some have never been the target of this
offensive I was referring to, in particular the Mexican cartels. For
political reasons and because of their ties to the Mexican
government and the party in power, they were never targeted in
the same way as the Colombian cartels.
A third factor that makes it quite difficult, if not impossible, to
win these wars on drug production and marketing is the existence
of local conflicts. At the time of the Cold War, the nuclear peril
deterred the two major powers from direct conflict. They came
into conflict through their allies in the third world, in Afghanistan
with Russian intervention and in Angola, with Cuban intervention.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we thought we were returning
to an era of peace. Unfortunately, we have found that underlying
these local conflicts were factors other than ideological factors:
they involved identity, religion and nationalism. Yugoslavia is the
classic example. Hence, conflicts broke out throughout the world,
and this time, they were no longer supported by the major powers.
So the war infractions had to find independent ways of financing
What happened in Kosovo is a good example in this regard.
The creation of the KLA was financed by intense heroin
trafficking from Istanbul. The heroin was sold in Switzerland to
buy Kalashnikovs and handguns. They were more or less freely
available and were stored in the Albanian part of Macedonia.
This was not the only means used, because there was income
tax on the Kosovar diaspora, racketeering, and so on. However,
drugs did play an important role - we demonstrated that at the
Observatoire géopolitique des drogues - in preparing the
uprising. Now that the war is over and the major powers are
trying to disarm the war factions that did not the join the
paramilitary forces, the KLA, in order to continue to grow, is
involved in a great deal of drugs and labour trafficking in Italy.
The Italian police and courts have often pointed out that the
leaders of the Albanian KLA were involved very closely with
Italian criminal organizations.
Of course, this phenomenon occurs in Colombia, where the
conflict and drug use had been in existence much longer.
However, since the Colombia guerillas have lost their ideological
tie with the "Big Russian Brother," they have been left to their
own devices and have increased their trafficking activities, which
are just as significant, if not more significant, than that of the
paramilitary groups opposing them, which are supported by the
army, and some times by the CIA. There is a drug war in
Colombia, that is not the only reason for the conflict, but which is
a very important part of the funding for it.
Another reason why it is difficult to combat drug trafficking is
that while for most governments throughout the world and the
major powers, the war on drugs is something important, it is never
given priority over major strategic and economic interests.
Look at the situation in Morocco I was describing. Why have
France, Spain and Europe not done something about this situation
before now? The reason is that they did not want to embarrass
King Hassan II, an ally of the West, against the rise of Islamism.
Asking him to do something about the drug problem, in which his
entourage was very widely involved, would have created a real
problem and would have weakened his power.
Europe - France in particular - has long closed its eyes to
cannabis trafficking activities, activities which are very protected
in Morocco. Today, we have inherited this situation with a young
king, who is rather in favour of combatting corruption, but the
problem has become so large that once again countries prefer to
close their eyes and wait for things to develop on their own. If
countries were to ask the king to undertake a war on drugs, that
would definitely cause him additional problems. Other countries
prefer not to talk about it, and in all the bilateral meetings
between France and Morocco, cannabis is not on the agenda.
Although our president believes in the "slippery slope" theory and
is adamantly opposed to any liberalization of cannabis, he is at the
same time a very close ally of Moroccan authorities and would
not want to embarrass them with this problem.
Another key point and one that is discussed a great deal, is the
war on money laundering. Here again, there is an international
financial action group, supported particularly by the OECD
countries, and a great deal of legislation has been put forward.
Most countries have signed framework legislation to combat
money laundering. Everyone recognizes that this effort is largely
ineffective. I will quote Mr. Calaman, the head of the Interpol
organization specialized in combatting money laundering, which
is called FOPAC. At a conference in 1997, he said that it was
estimated that drug interdiction activities resulted in the seizure of
10 per cent of the products at best, it is clear that in the case of
money laundering interdiction activities, less than 1 per cent of
the dirty money is seized.
Here again, priority is given to the interest of governments. An
incident occurred and was reported by the media when the
international financial action group drew up a list of countries
suspected of being involved in money laundering and it did not
mention either the Anglo-Norman Island of Jersey nor the
Principality of Monaco. This surprised everyone. It was learned
later that there had been negotiations between France and England
so that they could each avoid putting their country on this
relatively infamous list.
In this regard, I think the Bush administration can at least be
said to be sincere. About two weeks ago, it removed its support
from the efforts to control tax havens. In the name of the free
circulation of capital, it said that these countries should not be
subjected to too much monitoring, because this could interfere
with their role in the world economy. It was phrased in more or
less these terms. The administration did not say that we should
not be working against money laundering, but simply that we
should not be doing anything to impede the flow of capital in
these countries. The fact is that the 32 countries on the list of tax
havens, that is, which provide tax advantages and everything
related thereto are much the same ones as provide money
laundering for dirty money and drug money. If we do not show an
interest in their non-criminal activities, we are obviously leaving
the door open to criminal activities. There is a major disagreement
between the United States and the OECD countries on this,
because there has been a major effort to combat money
Given this situation, in which most of the resources available to
fight international trafficking are not working, are there some
different policies that could be introduced? I would like to say a
word about the famous Colombia Plan developed by the
Colombian government with the United States. This plan has
a $7 billion budget, $4 billion of which was provided by the
Colombian government - we might wonder were it got that
money - $1.3 billion by the United States and the rest from the
European Union or countries such as Japan. It should be noted
that the United States will be providing $1.3 million for this plan,
$1 billion of which will be used to purchase sophisticated
military equipment, including 17 Black Hawk helicopters to be
used by the Colombian army in its drug interdiction activities.
At the moment, the government of Colombia is involved in
extremely difficult negotiations with the guerillas, in what is
called the peace process. There is no doubt that this huge amount
of financing for the weapons of the forces of repression during a
period of negotiation with the rebels linked to drug trafficking and
the allies of the United States is sabotaging the peace negotiations. In fact, all the Latin-American countries have taken a
stand against the Colombia Plan, because they are afraid the war
in Colombia will be exported outside its borders to their countries.
Consequently, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and the
European Union are opposed to the Colombia Plan. That is why I
say there are several distinctions in the policies of the major
countries. The European Union will give Colombia money to
strengthen the rule of law, to promote alternative crops rather than
illegal crops, and for social development plans. However, the
European Union has very clearly specified that between $500 million and $800 million will be provided in several
stages. Not only will they not be providing money for activities
related to the military component, but this will have to be done
outside the Colombia Plan. The reason is that providing funding
for the civil component of the Colombia Plan implies acceptance
of the military component. And the fact is that Europe - and
France played a fairly significant role in this - does not want to
give its approval to the military component. Thus, in the context
of drug interdiction activities and international co-operation, it is
possible for countries to have nuanced, different positions. And I
think the Colombia Plan is an example where the approach of
Europe and the United States are very distinctly different.
So, before we go to your questions, what should be done? As
long as the current interdiction policy is in place, and the debate
about legalization is a whole debate into which I will not enter
and which is not part of my expertise - here too we have to
reduce risks through international co-operation. I believe that is
what Europe is doing with respect to Colombia. It is risk
reduction. It is not certain that this will have a very significant
impact on the peace process. But at least, we are not throwing oil
on the fire.
Moreover, in this context, if we cannot do a great deal through
repression, we must nevertheless prosecute criminals and criminal
organizations. However, in the area of drugs, we must focus on
the other aspect, that is prevention, reception and care. There are
some American studies including one by Peter Reuter, although
I'm not absolutely certain of this, which says that one dollar spent
to control demand is seven times more effective than one dollar
spent on repression. There is a whole scientific model whose
worth may be questioned, but the general impression is that drug
supply is not the most important factor, even if it plays a role.
I was telling some of you informally that at the moment in
France, the current trend among high school students is
strangulation or hanging which is stopped at the last minute to
produce a high. There is a physical high in cutting the rope or
stopping the strangulation at the last minute. There have been a
number of fatal accidents, and that is why this has been brought to
public attention in France. A few days ago, I was talking to the
children of some friends who were telling me that everyone does
this, that it is common. This thrill-seeking tends to be similar to
that involved with drugs, but it is not the supply that creates the
addiction, because the issue here is in addictive attitude. What we
need to look at are the problems facing young people and society,
and there are many experts who will provide you with
information on that.
Senator Banks: Overall, you seem to say that the international
war on drugs has never been very effective in stemming drug
supply. In fact, early on you said that the only effective reduction
in supply was when the Mafia paid the Afghan growers not to
grow. It reminds me of the United States' agricultural policy
which sometimes pays farmers not to grow in order to maintain
the price. It is rather like OPEC turning off the taps in order to
maintain the price of oil.
Based on your obviously extensive knowledge of the worldwide situation, do you think that the conventional war on
drugs - that is to say state and interstate impositions on growers,
suppliers, traffickers, the Mafia and the states that are involved - has any chance of success in the long run?
Mr. Labrousse: I think my presentation answered this question
to some extent. In the middle of the 1980s, there was a 15-year
war on drugs which mobilized budgets and important forces. The
results were relatively unimpressive. For example, I spoke about
the reduction in Peru and Bolivia that was offset by an increase in Colombia. How did that happen? Peru and Bolivia are
traditionally producers of raw materials, that is coca leaves, and of
the first intermediary processing phase, the cocaine paste that
Colombian traffickers came to pick up in small planes that landed
on airstrips in the jungle in Peru or Bolivia. The United States
thought that if it cut the Colombians off from their source of
supply, there would be a significant reduction. They built a chain
of radars all along the border with Peru, and a few in Ecuador and
Brazil. So when a plane appeared, a Peruvian military plane took
off and demanded that the plane identify itself and land. This is how an unfortunate incident occurred recently,
in which 12 American ministers of the cloth were killed because
they had been identified incorrectly. This strategy worked. The
Colombians stopped or almost stopped coming to obtain supplies
in Bolivia and Peru. The prices collapsed, and the government
was able to conduct some eradication campaigns. However, at the
same time, the Colombian traffickers had the capacity to develop
their production considerably. Even if all the coca plantations in
Latin American were eradicated, the traffickers will find or have
already found other areas where they can grow the crop.
As you know, crops have officially been discovered in Georgia,
in the Independent Republic of Abkhazia, and these were run by
traffickers. Drugs were found growing in the Solomon Islands last
year, and there are some very similar reports to the effect that in
Kinshasa, Congo, crops are already been produced and there are
processing laboratories as well. So, it is very likely that the
traffickers are already preparing an alternate plan in case the
attempts to eradicate drugs in Latin America should succeed.
I would like to add that in this war on illegal production, there
is a very powerful, very underused weapon, which is the
economic weapon. We will not change what people grow through
little alternative development projects worth $20 million here and
there: you spoke about the failure in the United States in this
regard. However, better policies involving the producing countries
may have an impact.
General Banzer was elected President of Bolivia in 1997 and
had put in place the cocaine system in his country under the dictatorship during the 1970s. He almost eradicated35,000 hectares of coca that remained in his country. All the
economists said that the country would lose close to $500,000 annually. This is a country that exports a little over
$1 million. So this would be 50 per cent of the value of the
country's exports, which is huge for Bolivia. They asked the
United States to offset this loss by removing a tax on the import
of Bolivian textiles into the United States. This would have
produced $250,000 for Bolivia. The United States refused, so as
not to establish a precedent that Colombia could use.
However, Europe - and I would not want to act like a
European nationalist here, I am critical about many things
regarding Europe - since the beginning of the 1990s, has
tax-exempted 600 products from the countries in the Andes and
from Colombia. The results are not better in the war on drugs, but
at least, there was a fairer attempt to adopt an economic support
policy, rather than a purely repressive policy.
Senator Banks: Let me ask a question based on an
assumption. The assumption is that, looking way down the road,
many countries which now have a large illicit-drug market will
decriminalize or legalize those drugs. One would assume that,
with that control and perhaps with some kind of domestic
production, the price would go down significantly. What would be
the result in countries which now have as an important part of
their GDP the export of what we consider illegal drugs?
Mr. Labrousse: It depends on the country and the situation.
That is similar to what Peter Cohen was saying with respect to
drug use and international trafficking. We must also look at the
very unique situation of each country. In the case of Morocco, if
cannabis were legalized in Europe, there would be a collapse of
this production in Morocco and a terrible economic crisis. It is
starting to be legalized in Switzerland, and as you have been told,
the growing of cannabis by farmers will be tolerated. It is
estimated that one million and a half people in Morocco live
chiefly off cannabis. This would probably result in a new, very
significant migration toward Europe. In addition, it is estimated
that each year, $1 billion is sent back to Morocco by traffickers or
small dealers. For Morocco, cannabis is really a source of
employment and a source of financing this activity. If this market
were to close down, the situation would be very serious. Someone
in favour of legalization was telling our Moroccan friends to
create a quality label in order to be competitive on the market. If
the market is legalized, there must be a high-quality product
developed, but it is likely that that will have certain consequences.
However, in Colombia, most economists argue that although
the drug economy has short-term beneficial effects - an influx of
dollars with which to pay down the foreign debt, among other
things - in strict economic terms, it has very negative effects,
such as inflation and higher prices for imported goods.
Colombia is a country with a relatively diversified economy,
with mineral resources like gold and coal, emeralds and
agricultural resources like coffee and sugar cane. So the
Colombian economy should do better without drugs, according to
the experts. What's more, this whole conflict would be easier to
resolve if the warring parties were not heavily funded by drugs.
As a general rule, legalization would definitely deal a blow to
rural employment in some countries and would not be very good
news for them.
Senator Banks: We can assume, looking at the situation
broadly, that criminal elements would be opposed to drug
legalization because it would be bad for them. However, we can
also assume that there are states in the world, national
governments, which some criminal organizations have infiltrated
which would be opposed to any legalization of drugs, not for
moral reasons but economic reasons. Is that the case?
Mr. Labrousse: The problem is that complicity with drug
trafficking is something that stigmatizes countries much more
than human rights violations. It is quite strange, but you can be
forgiven for slaughtering entire populations. And yet a drug
trafficking allegation against a head of State or minister is
unshakable. So those governments will not make any official
attempt to oppose legalization. They will try to get economic
compensation for stepping up their efforts. They will demand
something in exchange for going along with this process.
Morocco will demand money from Europe. The situation is quite
ironic; they are supposed to stamp out drugs, but when they do,
they are going to say they can no longer survive and they need
more financial assistance.
Moroccans, for whom the subject was completely taboo, are
starting to try to figure out what is going to happen. When the
Swiss experiment was announced, it was like a wake-up call to
Moroccans. They are going to organize a seminar in northern
Morocco with consumer countries and themselves, as a producing
country, to discuss these issues. Because they are quite alarmed,
in fact, by the idea that the Swiss are going to grow their own.
There is no way they will object, but they are going to try to make
the most of the situation before legalization becomes more widespread. It will still be a number of years before the Swiss
process spreads to the rest of Europe. So during this transition
period, the producing countries are going to try to make deals in
exchange for supporting this policy. They may be more inclined
to wipe out production in their countries. But once again, it will
depend on the situation. Cannabis and poppies, and therefore
heroin, can be grown in Europe, but not coca leaves. The coca
plant has a fairly limited ecological range and could be produced
elsewhere in the world, but not in the major consumer countries.
Perhaps if legalization were to occur, there would be a policy of
quotas for traditional producers, but that would not be too
consistent with the current globalization policy of free competition.
Thus the tea growing countries of Asia could quite easily
become coca growing countries. The Bolivians and Peruvians are
probably going to ask for a market supply quota, which they may
Senator Rossiter: In view of the fact that these growing
operations are secret, hidden and illegal, how can there be any
estimate of how much there is?
Mr. Labrousse: There are quite reliable satellite observation
methods, and there are also field investigations. In Afghanistan,
the United Nations International Drug Control Program and the European Union have developed a field investigation
methodology with 20 teams of two Afghans, who visit every
suspect province and town. They are of course of the same ethnic
group as the town they visit, and they go to record crops. They
have created quite an accurate model. Obviously, they do not tell
people they are there to record illegal poppy crops, but to record
all agricultural production. Farmers are therefore more willing to
talk, and thus we have managed to obtain extremely accurate data,
with which, using a model that was developed in 1994, we can
keep track of the changing situation.
However, in the case of synthetic drugs, seizures are the only
indicator. That is why we have no statistics on production
volumes. We know that in the Netherlands, about two tons are
seized every year. Roughly the same amount is seized in England,
but the British say it mostly comes from the Netherlands, it is not
produced domestically. No one can say for sure. So for synthetic
drugs, it is a big question mark, because only seizures provide any
Senator Rossiter: Would there not be as much ambiguity in
the estimates all over the world with the natural products as there
would be with the manufactured?
Mr. Labrousse: We can visually observe and monitor areas of
land. For example, tropical forests must be cleared to plant coca.
The clearings are plain to see. Obviously, the farmers try to hide
their crops under forest cover, but it is basically impossible to fool the agricultural satellites. Satellite records of agricultural
production provide estimates that have to be confirmed by field
investigations. The problem you rightly raised is that the major
producing countries are often countries at war: Burma,
Afghanistan, Colombia, and Peru, not so long ago, with the
Shining Path. For field observers, it is sometimes difficult to reach
the sites and consequently to confirm satellite data with field data.
There is also the volume of seizures. For example, opiates from
Afghanistan are moved either through Iran - and the Iranians are
cracking down on drug-running through Iran - or through North
Central Asian countries, where the resolve is much less firm.
However, there are also corresponding levels of seizures. Take,
for example, the rumoured stockpiles of the Central Asian and
Pakistani mafias; the level of seizures in Iran and Tadjikistan is
going to be very significant, starting in August, whether or not
this theory is correct. If seizures remain at roughly the same level,
then there were in fact stockpiles. If there is a significant drop in
seizures, then the theory and information were incorrect. There is
actually a whole range of indicators that make it possible to
quantify these phenomena, but not with the same degree of
certainty you would have in a survey of the number of drug
addicts in the general populace. There is a greater degree of
uncertainty in this area. We do, however, manage to ascertain
production levels using a number of indicators.
Senator Rossiter: In areas where there is complicity between
governments or law enforcers or police and the merchants of the
illegal drugs, there is little incentive to try to stop the transaction.
Is that correct?
Mr. Labrousse: There are major political problems. I referred
to the situation in Mexico. It is now an established fact that for the
past 15 years, all Mexican presidents have entered into agreements with criminal organizations. Currently, the Mexican
police and army secret service even have reports that deal with
this. If there were only one report, it could be assumed there was
a plot to undermine democracy or a given party, but when there is
a whole series of reports with consistent information, like the
reports on Salinas' deposits with City Bank, there is no way this
could be a fabrication. Raoul Salinas, the very brother of the
Mexican President, was laundering money.
There are a significant number of indications that the Mexican
government under the PRI, in power for 70 years, had entered
into agreements. Some of those agreements were for economic
reasons. Apparently, in order to meet NAFTA membership
requirements, $5 billion to $10 billion in annual drug money
enabled the Mexican government to meet a certain number of
conditions with respect to its reserves, economic reforms and so
on. So the United States initially turned a blind eye to avoid
undermining the trade deal. When the agreement was finalized in
1994, it was the most conservative Republicans who attacked the
deal. The Clinton administration could not expose the connection
between drug traffickers and the Mexican government, even if it
wanted to, because that would call into question its involvement
in the trade deal.
Surely you find it interesting to know that a major economic
deal, in which Canada is a full participant, clearly benefited from
drug trafficking run by the Mexican mafias. In fact, the Mexican
mafias are much richer than the Colombian mafias because their
operations are much more diversified. They bring Colombian
cocaine across the border in exchange for over 50 per cent of the
proceeds. They grow poppies and export heroine to the United
States and maybe even Canada, I do not know. They have huge
cannabis crops. They have amphetamine factories that mainly
supply the American West, where there is heavy consumption of
that drug. So Mexican criminal organizations are very rich and
powerful, and for these economic and political reasons, no one
goes after them.
That is the great shortcoming of the film Traffic, which is
otherwise a good documentary. The film does not show the
political side of the problem. It exposes police and military
corruption, but not political corruption, particularly the "well-intentioned" brand of political corruption practised in the
United States for economic reasons. But Europe does the same
thing with Morocco. In the early 1990s, when France sold arms to
Pakistan, it did not ask any questions about where the money
All governments take the same approach. No contract has ever
been cancelled on suspicion that it would involve questionable
money. That does not happen. Yet there are companies that have
cancelled contracts to avoid tarnishing their image. For example,
Carlsberg breweries, in Denmark, cancelled a huge brewery
project in Central Asia on the strength on an article quoting an
OGD investigation, which revealed that the owner was a mafia
member. Overnight and without further verification, although it
may have had other information we don't know about, Carlsberg
cancelled the contract.
Governments, however, do not cancel contracts; nor does the
IMF or the World Bank. Colombia has always been the best and
most reliable country when it comes to paying down foreign debt.
Obviously, part of Colombia's foreign debt over the past 20 years
has been paid with drug money. Never has the IMF said it would
not accept that money because it might be dirty. There is a
contradiction, and it goes for a number of countries in the world.
The Deputy Chairman: Could you compare for us the
methods of calculation used by the United Nations and those from
the Observatory of Drugs? How do they differ?
Mr. Labrousse: The Observatoire géopolitique des drogues,
the former organization to which I belonged, did not do
quantitative studies. It did not have the means to conduct its own
studies. So it used studies done by various organizations and
highlighted any shortcomings or contradictions in them. The Observatoire mainly did political analyses and investigation
of all these phenomena I have discussed. It highlighted the
contradictions in international policies. For example, we were
struck by the fact that Iran has made great efforts to halt the drug
traffic coming from Afghanistan. That may be for ideological
reasons and not just to fight drugs; the majority of Afghans are
Sunni, whereas Iranians are Shi'ite. Their war on drugs may just
be a war against the enemies of their Islam. That may be a factor.
There are Shi'ites in Afghanistan, but they are not at all
involved in drugs. If Afghan Shi'ites had been involved in this
business, I wonder whether Iran would have taken such drastic
action. We can only speculate. Iran built a wall 800 kilometres
long to block entry via the valleys of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In
the past 20 years, 3,000 men have died in the struggle against
smugglers and traffickers. Serious battles have been waged, and
United Nations observers have witnessed those clashes, which
have led to several deaths. Throughout the 1990s, the United
States had placed Iran on the list of four or five decertified
countries, countries subject to economic sanctions by the United
States and international organizations for insufficient effort in the
war on drugs.
I have privately asked officials from the State Department why
they included Iran on that list, given that Iran was not one of the
five trafficking countries of the world. The reason they gave me
was that Iran was considered a terrorist State. Iran was punished
for being a terrorist State and an enemy of the United States by
also being put on the list of drug traffickers. That is also a very
significant aspect of international relations. Many governments
use drugs as a weapon to discredit their political opponents or
people who are not sufficiently supportive of the government
position. The most unfortunate part is that producing states, third
world states, have followed this example. In other words, if an
ethnic minority is not supportive of the central government, the
government sets up a campaign against drugs to oppress that
community. As a bonus, the government gets the support of the
international community for its efforts.
Two examples; first, the Bejas, an animist tribe from Sudan, are
small-scale traditional growers of cannabis and are generally
opposed to the Karthoum regime; the United Nations has funded
very aggressive eradication campaigns, which in fact were a way
for the government to retake control over those areas.
Second example; Aceh, Sumatra. There has been a great deal
of talk about Timor, but there is another area of conflict with
radical Muslim groups. It all started in 1990 with cannabis
eradication campaigns supported by the United States. The central government said it had to intervene because the people were
traffickers. Without taking a very close look, the troops were sent
in. There was some extortion and abuse, and the first truly violent
guerilla movements rose up to resist the eradication, which was
regarded as interference by Jakarta in their business. Today, the
situation has deteriorated. People have forgotten that cannabis was
at the root of this revolt that threatens to be extremely harsh and
bloody. In international politics, governments have to be very
careful about their allies' rather convenient use of drugs as a
weapon against their opponents. This is something that we have
observed and that has now spread to many parts of the world.
I gave you only two examples, but there are many others where
the mere allegation that a politician or government was involved
in drugs was enough to convince everyone it was true. Noriega is
a prime example. He was alleged to be a trafficker. The invasion
by the United States was condoned by almost all Latin American
countries, jealous though they are of their independence. Simply
pointing the finger at someone less powerful is enough to cast the
stigma of drugs over that person.
The Deputy Chairman: The question was whether you could
compare your system of measurement with that of the UN. Might
I stay on that line of discussion with you? It is clearly very
difficult to calculate production levels and demand levels.
However, we do hear figures respecting the calculation of profits.
How reliable are those? Are we just talking about orders of
Mr. Labrousse: I think it can be done in certain limited and
very specific cases. For example, Colombian economists have
discussed at length the role of drugs in their economy and the
percentage of gross domestic product they represent. Latin
American banks always have an "errors and omissions" section.
At one time in Bolivia, the Central Bank's "errors and omissions"
fund amounted to $360,000 million, or approximately one-third of
Bolivia's reserves at the time. There was reason to think that
"errors and omissions" came partially from illegal activities. And
since the main illegal activity in Bolivia was drugs, that was the
basis for the calculations. The margin of error in Colombia ranged
from 1 to 6 per cent of GDP, among economists with relatively
solid data. It is very hard to estimate profits when trafficking
involves a number of countries and flows of money that do not
necessarily come back to the producing country, but we can make calculations. We have calculated the wholesale value of
Colombian cocaine. If in fact there are 140,000 hectares of production in Colombia, we estimate that they can produce560 tons of pure cocaine, which is worth $40 billion on the U.S.
wholesale market. We can say that much. However, it is virtually
certain that no more than one or two billion dollars per year
makes its way back to Colombia. That is the kind of information
we have to work with.
As for overall figures for the drug trade in the world economy,
the $300 billion or $500 billion amount has no scientific or
economic basis. Someone simply came out with that figure one
day. I have looked for the source many times, and it is someone
who came up with that amount off-the-cuff. A French economist,
specializing in drugs, Mr. Pierre Kopp, estimated that the
international drug trade represents only $100 billion. I feel that he
is perhaps underestimating the situation, but he is a scientist who
has conducted very serious studies. In my opinion, it is impossible
to calculate the amount very precisely.
Figures were provided on the drug trade in Canada, in
Montreal, in September 1998, during a conference on money
laundering where a member of the RCMP said that dirty money in
the Canadian economy represented CN$17 billion. He is quoted,
but we can really say if this figure is scientifically sound or if it is
a guesstimate? I do not think it is possible to put an accurate
figure on the drug trade, even in a broad range.
The Deputy Chairman: In the course of your studies, have
any economists given you the factors that would be of importance
in altering the retail price of drugs? I am thinking specifically of
where drugs were legal in one place and not legal in another
place. What impact would that likely have on the price of drugs?
You gave us the example of the acreage produced in Colombia. If
you could imagine a scenario where that particular drug were
decriminalized, what would happen to the price of that drug?
Mr. Labrousse: To the best of my knowledge, there have not
been any prospective studies in that area. There are very few
studies on the effect of economic and anti-drug policies on the
retail price of drugs. The only ones I am aware of were conducted
by Mr. Pierre Kopp and Mr. Peter Reuter. As for the impact of
legalization on the retail price, I do not know if any studies exist.
Mr. Cohen: It is very difficult to know what would happen.
Much would depend on the economic parties that would play a
role in the legalization of drugs.
At the moment, in the Netherlands, the price of cannabis-type
products, which is more or less legal from the point of view of the
public, is slightly higher than it is now in the United States. It
depends, of course, on the quantity and the type of cannabis-type
products, but this supports my view that, once you legalize these
drugs and they become part of the normal, economic traffic, they
might become very much more expensive than they are now, in
spite of the lowering of the costs that are now paid out by
criminals. They have to deal with buying police people and
buying customs people. They also have to deal with all types of
illicit modes of transportation, and those are very costly.
However, you would have all types of legal production, legal
taxation and extra taxation that might ultimately lift prices well
beyond the level at which they are now. For instance, if you look
at normal benzyl diazepines that are for sale in Amsterdam under
medical prescription, their usual gram price is far higher than a
gram of cocaine on the illicit market of Amsterdam. This is not
true for the non-branded benzyl diazepines. You can buy benzyl
diazepines straight from the Roche factory in Switzerland and
they are immensely expensive. If you buy them from producers
who can produce these pharmaceutical drugs because their patent
has expired, these products are much cheaper. It depends on many
variables. Local and national regulations influence how prices
develop after legalization. No simple estimate can be made about
The Deputy Chairman: It seems that if there is a possibility of
drug prices going up if they are legalized, as you indicated earlier,
there is the danger of other routes developing. We were talking
about taxation, if you recall, and if you overtax the product grey
markets would come in to provide the product more cheaply. The
underlying assumption of legalization has always been, in my
mind at least, that you would do away with the criminality. You
would do away with the need for someone to go out and rob a
home in order to get enough money to buy drugs. If you are
coming to the committee and telling us that by legalizing drugs
the price will go up, our inevitable conclusion will be, "Goodness,
with a higher price we will see more violence, more crime."
There is no sense in following the process of legalization.
Mr. Cohen: The relation between the illegality of drugs and
the types of crime they provoke is quite complicated. At the
moment in the Netherlands illicit heroin is between CAN $10 and
$20 per gram. Most heroin users use from 1 gram to 2.5 grams a
week, which they are well able to sustain either on their state
income or on the jobs that they have. Under the present system in
the Netherlands these drugs have fallen to a level below which
they cannot fall much more. They no longer entail criminality.
Much depends on the base level prices. I do not know how
those compare to prices of drugs in this country. However, if it
costs a few hundred francs per gram of heroin in France, of
course legalization will make those prices lower. I talked about
the long period of competition between methadone and heroin in
Germany and in the Netherlands. When heroin reaches a certain
price level, legalization will probably make it a little more
expensive. However, you would have pure qualities, and more
secure and more stable supplies. There are many trade-offs that
are difficult for me to go into now. I really do not know how
legalization would effect pricing in this country. It might very
well be that prices would drop under a system of legalization.
Mr. Labrousse: In France - and yet we are quite close - a
gram of cocaine or heroin costs 400 francs, or US$70. It is clear
that in Pakistan, where there is a huge market of 2 million heroin
addicts - an estimated 80 to 100 tons of heroin from Afghanistan
is sold in the Pakistani market - a gram of heroin costs about $2. By moving production into European countries, drug
traffickers can make money, probably about $5 or $6 a gram. The
problem would be for European governments to not be tempted to
impose taxes that are too high, which would encourage the
development of a parallel market as in the case of cigarettes.
There is a huge market for smuggled cigarettes in Europe, which
varies according to the countries. In Italy, it represents 25 per cent
to 30 per cent of the tobacco market, because taxes are relatively
high and contraband exists. If the retail price for illegal drugs that
become legal is not low, a very active parallel market might well
The Deputy Chairman: You have told us what will happen if
the prices are not kept low. My question is: What will the market
do to the prices? The assumption that has been implicit in the
room up until now is that legalization will cause the supply of
drugs to increase to match demand. Therefore, the economic
incentive would be removed for illegal suppliers. When the
thought is introduced that, in fact, economic forces may drive the
price of drugs up if they are legalized, the message, again, comes
back to the committee that we will still see the violence and
criminality associated with the drug trade for which we assumed
legalization was the cure.
Mr. Labrousse: In Holland, where there is widespread
legalization, prices are low and there is very little violence. And
in countries with relatively high repression, the classical model
exists. Holland is an example of what we believe implicitly,
although we're not talking about true legalization, the effects are
somewhat similar to those of legalization. I do not think there is a
contradiction because the practice in Holland, not the law but the
practice, is obviously very different from in France.
Senator Banks: You have considered trade on a global scale,
which has, I am sure, included our country. The conventional
wisdom in Canada is to attach motorcycle gangs to the drug trade
and to assume - I think most of us assume by reading
newspapers - that much, if not most, of the illegal drug trade is
done at the retail and distribution level by motorcycle gangs. Is
that a reasonable attribution, or is that just a bit of show business?
Is there someone bigger behind it, or are they the perpetrators of
the drug trade in Canada?
Mr. Labrousse: You clearly said "at the retail and distribution
level." It is clear that motorcycle gangs are not importers, they are
the distributors. So they play a role at the retail level, but they are
not the main players.
I have read in police reports that they do in fact manufacture
synthetic drugs like amphetamines and that they also organize
cannabis-growing in some cases. They play an important role in
these areas, but as far as hashish, heroin and cocaine go, their role
is simply one of an intermediary. A much more important role is
played by Chinese organizations for heroin, Colombian organizations for cocaine and Pakistani organizations for hashish.
Motorcycle gangs are simply subcontractors for these organizations. I am not an expert on the situation in Canada, but
this is the impression I have from what I have read.
Senator Stollery: I have been to Colombia 19 times and I
know the country very well. I have a fairly good grasp of the
cocaine problem. In France and in Europe, if I understand
correctly, heroin is the major problem today, whereas here, the
problem is cocaine. Heroin is also a problem, but to a much lesser
Mr. Labrousse: That needs to be qualified.
Senator Stollery: I am from Toronto, and in the 1940s and
1950s, there was much more talk about heroin than there is now.
When I talked to my friends in Miami, everyone said that it was
the world capital for funding the drug trade. I would say that they
lost the war against drugs 20 years ago. The money is now
everywhere, but no one talks about it. They talk about biker
gangs, but who are the people behind these gangs? The New York
Times, ten years ago, talked about billions of dollars. I think
anti-drug policies have made criminals, who do not pay taxes,
richer. No one ever talks about the people behind these
organizations. Is it because it is too dangerous?
For example, if I arrive in Miami from Colombia with 5 kilos
of cocaine, what am I going to do with the drug if I do not speak
English and if I do not know anyone? Someone will have to be
there to receive it, won't they? Where are the people who are
funding this trade and who are in charge in North America? Why
doesn't anyone talk about these huge sums of money and the
people who are behind this trade?
Mr. Labrousse: In response to your first comment, heroin has
long been the main problem for European countries and France.
We are currently seeing a sharp decline, and this is probably
because of substitution programs, methadone, fear of AIDS, and
so on. All indications in France, for example, show that fewer
users and small traffickers are being arrested and less heroin is
being seized. Heroin addicts who have been treated are getting
older and the number of deaths due to overdose is on the decline.
I think that is true in a number of European countries, not all of
them, because Great Britain, for example, still has a very serious
heroin problem. However, there is an undeniable decrease in
problems caused by heroin. However, the presence of cocaine in
Europe is on the rise, both behind the scene, in well-integrated
circles like the stock market and entertainment, and, for the past
two or three years in France, on the streets in the suburbs, where
it has become a multi-use drug that is combined with other drugs.
To clarify your vision, heroin use is on the decline and cocaine
use is on the rise, even if it is heroin that continues to pose a
In the situation you have outlined, I do not much believe in the
idea of a "big boss" with a white collar, who may be a political
figure in our countries, in the United States, France or Europe,
and who would be behind these operations. It may sometimes
exist, of course. In my opinion, the situation is very simple:
organized crime has people in Cartels like Pablo Escobar who
carry out the operations, and its white collar money launderers
include accountants, professionals, and lawyers, who are very
well prepared and do not have a criminal background. These
people place the money in respectable banks where their reception
is problem-free and where a blind eye is turned to the situation.
Instead of a "big boss"-
Senator Stollery: There are several "bosses."
Mr. Labrousse: Yes. I think it is more a situation where
mobsters have employees who are very competent and present
able people who are not being monitored by the banks.
In the case of Raoul Salinas, the President of Mexico's brother,
the City Bank accepted major sums of money without any
verification. What is even more serious is that there are still no
trials. The case will extinguish itself by prescription. So the
American government is acting in complicity because the City
Bank is very important. Those are four situations where there is
no deus ex machina behind them. It can be explained quite easily.
In many cases, these lawyers and accountants, et cetera, have
Some times people do have a tendency to fantasize. If drug
money were removed from the world economy, would it not
collapse? That is an exaggeration. The weight of the drug trade on
the world economy, even if it is $500 billion per year, must not
be exaggerated. Are there countries where the economy would
collapse if drugs were removed? Maybe not countries, but some
states in large countries, and Florida would in fact be one of them.
In the early 1990s, a report by a conservative American senator
stated that Florida's economy was based in part on the deposits
made by Colombians. There are still just as many Colombian
banks and just as much excess money and bills in banks in
Miami. That also occurred to some extent in Texas. There is an
excellent American magazine entitled Money Laundering Alert
that analyzes this situation and explains all of these trends in
It is clear that Colombian and Mexican deposits play an
important role today in the economy of this State, which is the
fourth most populated in the United States. If these deposits were
withdrawn overnight, it could cause Florida's economy to
collapse. This shows that the United States is also benefiting to
some extent. The American economy could do very well without
money from drugs and other illicit activities. Some American
banks might have trouble. Remember the Russian funds that the
Bank of America had received - a sum of $13 billion - that
went undetected. A rival bank had to denounce this export of
Russian funds coming from the IMS for the matter to be raised.
All of the large states have a very lax attitude toward suspicious
The Deputy Chairman: I would just ask you one last question
by way of wrapping up of our morning's hearing and as a teaser
for our witnesses this afternoon. I have here a release from the
Canadian Police Association. I will ask you for your views on this
comment. The Canadian Police Association sates in this release:
"The social experiment of countries with drug liberalization policies demonstrates that crime, violence and
drug use, go hand in hand", said Orban. "When illicit drugs
are legalized, drug usage increases; the demand for chemical
drugs increases, and crime increases. The costs of drug
liberalization will be astronomical, not only in terms of
health care and social services, but in true human terms.
Sweden learned from its permissive policies of the sixties
and seventies, and has since moved to a drug eradication
strategy that has proven to be far more successful. Canada
should learn from the mistakes of others."
Would you care to comment?
Mr. Labrousse: It is true that Sweden has once again started
taking a more liberal stand. The last Minister of Justice, for
example, stated several times that he had smoked cannabis; the
argument can in fact be turned around. As for increased
consumption due to legalization, there is no scientific data to
Italy changed its policy three or four times. No significant
change was noted, in the more liberal or repressive phases.
Government policies do not seem to have much influence on
users' attitudes. These statements have no real basis, I would even
say they are not scientific, they have not been observed.
Mr. Cohen: Each year, the European Monitoring Centre for
Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EMCDDA, which is based in
Lisbon, publishes a report in which it tries to compare different
indicator data coming from the different EU member states.
According to that data, almost nothing, which is what I also see in
this piece of text, can be verified as being true. Actually, Sweden,
which has embarked on a very strong fight against drugs, has the
highest level of drug-related deaths in all of Europe. How much
higher than the rest of Europe, I do not know, but it can be very
easily found in the yearly reports of EMCDDA. Perhaps those
reports would be interesting literature for you because they give
the data available in Europe in a compact format which is easy for
you to survey and to determine which of these claims may be
We see in Europe very different rates of drug use which usually
have nothing to do with local or national drug policies.
I read here, "countries that have legalized drugs." There is no
such thing. There is no drug legalization in Europe. For instance,
Holland has done something that looks a little bit like it, but only
in a small aspect of the whole thing.
"Countries that have legalized drugs have highest rates of illicit
drug use and death by overdose per capita in Europe." In Europe,
the highest drug use levels are in the U.K. and in Denmark. These
countries have not legalized drugs at all. The lowest levels are in
the periphery of Europe, which includes Sweden and Portugal.
I cannot see that there is data that would support this type of
observation. Fortunately, we slowly have more and more data
available for Europe, and it is not really difficult for you to check
on as many aspects as you can on these types of allegations.
In the area of epidemiology, we are better equipped with data
than other areas that are more or less cultural or moral
pronunciations, and that should be taken with a grain of salt for
what they are, moral expressions.
The Deputy Chairman: I would thank both witnesses for
taking the time and effort to appear before us today. The
information that you have given us will be put to good use.
To those of you at home following our work, please visit our
Web site by going to www.parl.gc.ca and follow the links to
Senate committees. We post witness briefs, testimony and
research work relevant to this study, as well as confirmed hearing
schedules. Otherwise, you may contact the clerk of the committee
by calling (613) 990-0088 for further information or assistance in
contacting members of the committee.