02/03/21 Ruth Dreifuss

Ruth Dreifuss, who in 1999 was the first woman to hold the Swiss presidency, is the founder and president of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The commission wants “responsible state control, from production to consumption of drugs” but that the opposite is now the case. “It’s an unregulated market in the hands of criminal groups.”

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Guest: 
Ruth Dreifuss
Organization: 
Global Commission on Drug Policy
Ruth Dreifuss
Download: Audio icon FDBCB020321.mp3
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DEAN BECKER
I, I feel it's quite a privilege and honor, truthfully today. We're going to be speaking with the former president of Switzerland, um, Ruth Dreifuss, and she's with us now. Hello, president, uh, Dreyfus. How are you?

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Fine. Fine. Happy to be with you. Thank you for the invitation.

DEAN BECKER
Well, and, and thank you. And, um, you know, but besides having been a past president of Switzerland, you are also a, a pioneer, if you will. Uh, one of the founders, one of those who, uh, helped to form the global commission on drugs. Uh, am I correct? Ma'am yes. Yes ma'am. And, and tell us a little bit about the history of that, how it came to be and why it came to be, I guess,

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Well, the, the beginning of the whole, uh, trip, if I can say, so was in Latin America, there was a commission on a track and democracy, uh, lead, lead it by, uh, three from a president president, uh, uh, [inaudible] president [inaudible] from Columbia and president the deal from, uh, Mexico, but also many cultural leaders and economic leaders, uh, who, uh, were just, uh, amazed about the link between drug policy, uh, the presence of dragons society and the threat for democracy, uh, institution were corrupted by the drug trafficking organization. Um, money-laundering, uh, was, uh, on the, also on, on one of the big problem, but the biggest problem was the violence, the violence that was between, uh, different gangs, but also between the state and the gangs between different, uh, so-called, uh, law enforcement organizations, some of them on the side of the gangs and the others fighting against them.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Um, and this was a real war and a war that was a demented, but what we call the war on drugs, which is the militarization of the system, the harsh repression, uh, without having any positive aspect, uh, on the whole issue. So this, uh, commission and it's a report, uh, 2009, where really, uh, an effort to break the taboo to show the consequences of failed policies. And this was I think, a very important step in the awareness about what drug policy and drugs can do to a society. But in the meantime, our Latin American fellows had a look to you hub. And so that in your hope also, uh, the discussion was the debate was open and, uh, some solution in the field of public health, where, uh, in experiments that were very important in, in many, many countries in Porto gal, uh, for the decriminalization in, uh, Switzerland, Germany and others country for a public health approach, bringing new kinds of treatments, new, new kind of harm reduction measures, inventing really new approaches.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
So in, uh, 2011, these two groups met to create the global commission on drug policy. And since then we expanded to other continents to Africa, to Asia, to Oceania. And, uh, I think we can say more or less that we are really a global movement, a global movement of, uh, citizen world citizen who think that, uh, it is their commitment to, uh, promote reforms in drug policy. We have now, uh, 26, I think, members, uh, of which a blush, but a group is, uh, constituted by former head of States, uh, from a head of governments. Hi, uh, uh, how civil servant of the multilateral system.

DEAN BECKER
And, um, first off, I just have to commend you and praise you. I, uh, I've been at this for more than 20 years. I've, uh, beat my head against the wall, so to speak. Uh, so often here in the United States, there are so few people and especially the higher you reach in authority. Um, there are few people willing to even begin to discuss this subject. I have broached that subject. I have made great progress in my city with the district attorney that the sheriff, the police chief, I think they understand it. They grasp the concept that the drug war is a miserable failure, and yet at the higher echelon. And I have great hopes that the Biden administration will take some steps along this path, but at the higher echelon, it's just been non-existent and you have had, I would hope the opportunity to speak to some us officials about this situation. Why is there such a roadblock here? Is it that we run the drug war in essence, around the world? We have demanded through the United nations that it exists. Can we just not back down now, get your thoughts there, uh, president please.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Well, I think, uh, the difficulty to, to make the paths of reforms is linked with a hundred year fight against substances that are the CLA declared illegal. And, uh, it began with opium and it was at the beginning really also a colonial, uh, feature, uh, and the fight between us, you know, the British and the China war on opium and so on. But, uh, the, the difficulty were cemented, I would say by the international convention and the UN flag, uh, that begins in 61 convention, 71 for a second one and, uh, 18, uh, 1988 for the third one. And then from one to the other, I would say the repressive system, the prohibition got stronger and stronger. Now these three convention are among the international multi-lateral convention that have Mo most, uh, received ratification. And, uh, there is really a difficulty to break this false consensus, uh, around the convention.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Why do I say it's a false consensus because the need for the different countries are, uh, very different. I mean, also, and, uh, the, there is a pressure to keep this, uh, international controlled regime also under the pressure from some, uh, very important countries, the important countries being, for instance, the United States of America, with the possibility of a torsion, if countries are not doing what they, uh, uh, comply to do with the ratification of the convention, because, uh, the other element is that all this history of, uh, generalizing yeah, making it an evil, uh, by the, from the drugs have also created a perception among the public opinion about what the drugs are, even if they are not what they seem to understand. So, uh, there is a whole history of, uh, false, uh, perception of discrimination of the people who use draw of stigmatization of the drug, uh, drug users.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
And it is important to say that a scientific basis to, uh, make this difference between legal and illegal and to make the difference between the substances that are more severely controlled, that owners lack the scientific basis. I mean, they are the reflection of, uh, which kind of products are socially accepted and economically, perhaps also very, uh, uh, they effective in the, in the legal market like tobacco or alcohol and the others that are, uh, prohibited. And in this sense also left in criminal hands. So it's a, a long history, and this is probably the reason why it is difficult to change the mindset, uh, of the people. So the fight against stigmatization, the fight against, uh, stigmatization, which is totally linked with the fight for the DEC criminalization of the consumption of drugs is, uh, uh, in my view, one of the biggest, uh, priority and past to, to go further.

DEAN BECKER
Yes. Thank you. That and the folks, um, to remind you, we are speaking with Ruth Dreifuss, she's a former president of Switzerland, one of the pioneers of the global commission on drugs policy, um, president Dreyfus. I want to back up a little bit, you were talking about the violence, uh, in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, these, it hasn't gotten better during this COVID. I was just reading some stories that, uh, uh, halfway through last year, they had, um, uh, 17,000 deaths in Mexico alone. Uh, from this cartel violence, there were 446 policemen killed during, uh, last year as well. Uh, from this cartel violence, I often wonder what will it take?

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
So, I mean, development is, is really key. We have to change the approach to this population now, uh, marginalized and entering into the criminal, uh, uh, the illicit activity. Now, what we say also as commissioned in one of our reports is how important it is to make a difference between the people who are really at the bottom of the pyramid, who are, uh, just entering into these activities for a necessity and the real log that needs that organizer of the criminal organization. They lead the buses and criminalizing.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
The people at the bottom is just entering into a vicious circle without having any efficacy safety on the reality of the existing of, uh, of criminal organization and well, a concentration on the top is a concentration of, uh, the money. There is a concentration of co fighting. The corruption is an international effort to fight against money laundering is an effort in the country to fight against the entering the money of the drug in the legal sector. Let's say for instance, uh, the, the building, the housing, uh, the housing system and so on. So, I mean, it's, it's really difficult. I feel very humble when I speak about Latin America or Africa or Asia, because, uh, well, I was the president and I was in charge for public health and for the implementation of the narcotic law in Switzerland, but it was easy. It was not, it was not understood immediately, but, uh, it is now well, uh, well, hooted in the public opinion. And it was so easy that, that I have some difficulties to give advice to people who are responsible to, uh, who are in such a more difficult situation because also Switzerland had the means. We had the scientific, uh, team, we had the money, we had, uh, people at the forefront working in the streets. We had all we needed, I would say, too, we had all the possibilities, uh, to act. I wouldn't say that this is always the case everywhere right

DEAN BECKER
Now, speaking of which, uh, your time, uh, as president was back in around the year 1999, that was when Switzerland was beginning to adopt the, uh, the heroin injection program. If I am correct. Uh, I, a couple of years back, I was invited to speak to the European monitoring center on drugs and drug abuse. And then I went on to burn and I, there, I met Dr. Kristoff Burkey, who was one of the pioneers in, in setting up this, this program. And as I understand it, you guys are now over 20 million injections in these facilities with zero overdose deaths, which compares so well. So favorably and the United States last year, it was 83,335 overdose deaths. Let's talk about that comparison, please.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Yes, with pleasure. I mean, uh, the first, uh, the first experiment with, uh, safe consumption consumption rooms was made very early in 86 in a vain, quiet city, quite conservative city, the city, the capital of Switzerland Burnham. And this was really the beginning and it expanded, uh, to, through the whole, uh, country during the last 30 years or 40 years now. So we have a huge experience with, uh, with this service. And, uh, it is clear that, uh, it saved life. It helped to, to strengthen, uh, to build, uh, con uh, confidence relationship between the people who were there, uh, medical, social professionals. And so, so that, uh, if somebody is ready for instance, to a change in his life, uh, okay. I mean, he will find, or she will find exactly the person that can help. And we accept absolutely also that, uh, drug consumption is not always problematic, that people can live very well, even with an addiction and that if they cannot, uh, are not ready or not willing to abandon this consumption, uh, in my view, they have a right really to make it in a safe, uh, in a safe way.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
I mean, the people who were directly, uh, the, the, the main actor in this, their families, uh, and the public, uh, some association and the public, uh, the public opinion. So we, this, this is in, I would say is no longer considered as something, uh, [inaudible] very innovative. It is, it is accepted. It is also accepted by the neighborhoods because they saw, uh, also that, uh, it was, uh, for them better to have such a place than to have people lying around shooting themselves and, uh, and, uh, underground, uh, in playgrounds. And so on. Uh, for instance, one of the services, the users of the, of the safe consumption home are doing is to be sure that there are no needles around in the, in the neighborhood. And the contact with the neighborhood is also very, very important. But as I say, we have the largest experience in the world of this kind of, uh, of institution. And, uh, uh, we can only say it is positive for everybody. It is positive for the people who use drugs. It reduces the risk of transmission of, uh, blood drain, uh, illnesses. And it saves people from overdoses.

DEAN BECKER
I'm not sure how that's progressing, but the fact that they're attempting, it says a heck of a lot. If you ask me, and in, in, uh, uh, Canada, the police chiefs are now behind the safe injection facilities. They actually want them in their neighborhoods. And yet here in the United States with state and local authorities and judges and preachers, all trying to block this idea to prevent this from happening in America, it's a good idea. Is it not president Dreyfus?

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Well, you know, uh, during the whole period, I was in charge in, in Switzerland, and I could progressively gain the support also of the voters of the citizen, of the population. I still had to go every year to Vietnam, to the commission on narcotics to explain what we were doing. And, uh, we were not, I mean, some countries, uh, were not, uh, convinced that we were still, uh, compliant, complying with the conventions now, uh, it is true that, uh, consumption rooms were long considered as not being in line with the convention, but this has changed. It is now recognized that it is a measure that can save life and that it is to be considered as a, what we call a harm reduction measure. Uh, but it was a long fight. I had to discuss several times also with that. I MCB the control board and not, uh, before the members of the CMD to explain that.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
It was no longer being asked by the police. It was really the possibility to take a heroin, like a diabetic person can take, uh, insulin and has to take insulin. So this, uh, at the beginning was also considered as something quite, uh, uh, well, a big step, but it was also accepted by the NCB, by the CND, by the who, uh, as a measure that is not different than other substitution therapies like metagon. And so that it can be, uh, why not a lifelong, uh, treatment, uh, in a atmosphere where this is recognized as a necessity and the people, uh, receive also the, I would say the social support, they probably need at the beginning of this, uh, of this, uh, way. And, uh, this was also monitored. We published all the results. We made a great debate. We had to vote on it to put it in the law.

DEAN BECKER
Earlier this week, the district attorney Kim all came out with another half dozen indictments of drug cops who killed a couple wounded, each other shooting through the walls. It's taken two years, there's still no ballistic evidence or whatever, but this follows on the heels of a crime lab that was scandalous. That was convicting people without even analyzing the, uh, uh, the drugs. Um, the, the, this is just not new or unique corruption and the money laundering, the, the, the, the, the deaths in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, all of this happenstance that doesn't need to happen anymore. And, and I guess from my perspective, it seems like a us politician could get elected by saying, I want to stop funding the cartels. I want to basically eliminate overdose deaths. And yet nobody steps forward your, your thought, how do we massage or maneuver these us politicians to embrace this possibility?

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Yes, let me first perhaps speak about another commission. I was sister, if I can say so, which is the West African commission on drugs, they made an excellent report. They drafted also a model law for the whole region changing, uh, decriminalizing the consumption on the, on the, on drugs. But what I want to, to say to, to, to stay with your question is that, uh, in the first report, they said, there is no electoral campaign on all sides without the money of, of, of drug count. And there is no new buildings, uh, in, uh, in, uh, in, uh, rich places of the cities who are not financed by the drug, uh, and bland drugs like this, I mean, uh, entering into, into, uh, the, the legal, uh, housing market. So yes, corruption is really a key problem. And as you know, I mean, the worldwide, uh, drug markets, uh, is estimated between, uh, 350 and, uh, and 600 billions of, uh, of dollar.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
We speak generally from 500 to have a simple, a simple figure because it's, uh, it's underground. So we don't know exactly the only way is really to take as much as possible out of the criminal hands. What does that mean? That means regulation. That means that this market should be regulated by the state and not left in the hands of the cartel. So we, from the global commission on drug policy, uh, one of our five proposal is clearly to go step-by-step cautiously, but to go into the regulation of all drugs, it is important that, uh, such, uh, uh, that substances, that there are certain risks. And for some, it's a high risk for others, it's not, uh, such a, a great risk. I mean, cannabis, it is not worse than alcohol or, or tobacco, uh, but it can get worse if it is in criminal hands.

DEAN BECKER
And one last one I'd like to share with you, president Dreyfus is you mentioned the, was it three 50 to maybe $600 billion a year being earned by these cartels and gangs, and was never really presented much as the fact that over the decades, that becomes trillions of dollars that we have given to these criminals over the lifetime of this drug war, and no wonder they are able to move into human trafficking, as you say, and other means of crime and corruption, uh, w we're just feeding them, uh, in this this way, right?

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
The state has no, right. I would say to interfere in a free decision of, uh, of, uh, of, uh, somebody, uh, but, uh, and to find, uh, kind of, uh, proper for Nate and, uh, yeah, I mean, what the, what is now the destiny of the people at the bottom, the dealers industry, uh, the farmers in the mountains and so on is absolutely disproportionate disproportionate in most countries. I mean, in Europe, we found, I would say, uh, uh, a way to be more purpose Jeanette, but, uh, we should really decriminalize. Uh, we should also find, uh, find ways I would say to show other possibilities of a living to these people and to, to cut the, I need, if I can say so to cut the summit from the bottom, it has, it makes no sense to hire us people let's say young dealers in the street, if they have no other possibilities of living, and to know that they will be replaced the day after by somebody else or that, uh, coming out of the jail would be perhaps, uh, an opportunity for a little promotion in this, uh, in this, uh Yarki.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
So we have really, to, to find a ways to, yes, to break the business model, I would say of the organized crime, and this is attacking the summit, being a yes, offering to the basis, other opportunities and not pushing them in despair and marginalization, and, uh, building down the pure possibility, the, the, the poor possibilities they had at the beginning. They come in at eight in the consumption. I think this is a model we are promoting, and it, uh, we think it works. It will not be perfect. Not at all. It will not, uh, eliminate, uh, criminal organization, but it will be more human. It will be based on human rights. It will, it will be better on, uh, on the issue of public health. And, uh, it gives the opportunity to, um, to integrate people in society who now are just at the, at the margin regulation should also, uh, look at this.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
I mean, uh, we, uh, uh, from the commission, we are happy to see that at least two States in the United States who regulated the cannabis market, decided that former dealers should be, uh, receive an ethnicity and should be also those who can receive the permit in the legal cannabis market. This is, is very clever. It's very smart. Uh, it follows different purposes. The purpose of having, uh, a good market well regulated with a good quality of the product and so on. And it gives a chance for the people to enter into the legal, uh, and into the society.

DEAN BECKER
Well, there you have it friends, uh, we've been privileged to be speaking with, uh, president Ruth Dreifuss, former president of Switzerland. Um, one of the pioneers in the global commission on drugs policy, and one of my heroes for being so brave, courageous, and stepping forward to help end this madness. Thank you, president. Right.

PRESIDENT RUTH DREIFUSS
Thank you. You are a hero, you know,

DEAN BECKER
Thank you for that.