Calls to modernise EU anti-drugs strategy

Governments need to update their approach to choking mainstream supply routes for the distribution of hard drugs, but not leap into any formal de-criminalisation of cannabis sale, EU and law enforcement agencies said Thursday with the release of an annual report on drug-market trends.

With a "booming market" creating vast investment potential for "large, sophisticated and dangerous criminal networks," according to Europol chief Rob Wainwright, governments need to target "the exploitation of legitimate commercial transport" networks as well as work harder to close down so-called "darknet" sectors of the Internet.

"We are trying to penetrate this murky underground world on the Internet," Wainwright said of anonymous, largely-hidden networks used as distribution hubs for especially new-generation, so-called "legal highs" that are taking an ever-greater share of the drugs market after cannabis and cocaine.

But at a press conference joined by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, neither backed early moves to standardise de-criminalisation the way the Netherlands famously did for cannabis.

"Obviously (EU) member states have different policies, but do we intend to propose a Europe-wide legalisation of cannabis? NO!" said Malmstroem, who suggested that EU ministers might first tackle the problem of Post Office use among sophisticated new-generation peddlers.

Wainwright too said he "would be concerned about a generalised liberalisation of drugs laws," arguing that with "greater criminality" comes a "greater volume of illicit profits," quite apart from issues of health.

A top official analysing the illicit drug market added that three million people in the EU smoke cannabis every day, causing psychological problems that place a burden on public health facilities and budgets, but that an increase in calls for treatment should mean no quick decisions taken on de-criminalisation.

The use of cannabis, in any case, he said, is already de facto tolerated, with possession in small quantities "not prosecuted in most countries."