We have not run out of road! – OPINION

Chairman Felix Alvarez

Published: Gibraltar Chronicle

13 December 2017

As we approach year’s end, it’s a welcome sign to hear the Chief Minister announce recently that he was now assuming leadership on Government’s promised review of how the drugs issue is handled in Gibraltar. An initial commitment on his part which was delayed by the surprise visited on us all by Brexit.

Still, we all know the cruel realities; and the vast majority of us are in agreement: we need to control drug trafficking and drug consumption. The question as to ‘how’ is what leads not only us, in Gibraltar, but very many other countries, to divide. Yet we are, fundamentally, on the same side, and we must treat our varying points of view as essentially held in good faith.

The Chief Minister’s task is, therefore, to call in the evidence, listen to the experts, and trace a better course than we have been pursuing. A better course that is long overdue, as we have watched the problems grow and widen over time. Much of that, who can doubt it, is due to the perplexing scientific and sociopsychological complexity of a field which shifts with every passing month, let alone with every year, as new products in new guises enter the marketing strategies of some very sophisticated drug business outfits.

Nonetheless, the recent attendance of a Government team at important international conference presentations has been a welcome development arising out of the increased public profile which we have, once more, reached. Additionally, I am certain Government will have, more quietly, been employing its resources to further gather information prior to the Chief Minister’s assumption of his role in tackling the drugs portfolio.YOUNG PEOPLE IMAGE

It would be foolhardy for Gibraltar to expect to match the high level of qualified expertise available in, say, specialised funded public and private international organisations. It would be remiss to pretend so; and it would do us no good. But Gibraltar can indeed properly make use of the high expertise out there, and as such it is to be hoped Government will be open to bringing as wide an input to the scientific background as possible on the arguments in favour or against competing approaches to drugs reform. On the hard evidence, ERG continues to consider that a regulatory regime offers the best approach to snatching control away from the mafias, and exercising better management of the problems. But that is something the Inter Ministerial Committee, at this stage, will need to admit into discussion and to later determine upon review. While consideration of the medical and recreational application of some drugs needs to be carefully reviewed in contrasting analyses of the relative permissiveness with which tobacco and alcohol are regulated.

As Chair of ERG, therefore, I welcome Mr. Picardo’s commitment to moving the issues forward to a better place. We disagree with those whose disappointment led them to suggest that the issue had run out of road. Indeed, when, fifteen months ago, ERG deliberately widened its campaign on sexual health in the published ‘Connected Health’ Campaign Report by suggesting an agenda which recognised the important link to drug use and misuse, we were much aware of the sense this implied; for there is plenty of evidence to suggest that by dealing with both issues in tandem, not only do you more efficiently reach core target audiences for each question separately, but you more than double effectiveness in both. We still harbour an expectation that the Minister for Health will announce timely measures to reach out on the sexual health issues facing our community along the lines of our discussions since 2012. Likewise, we embrace the hope that Government will formally incorporate drugs policy within the purview of the Ministry for Health. It is, indeed, fundamentally a health not an equality issue. We continue to be open to further dialogue on this and other questions, too.

As I have clearly stated all along, even from within the sometimes acrimonious noise of criticism or tones of indignation, all views must be on the table now. And all views should be listened to and aired if science is to lead this community into a healthier world where criminal profiteers are no longer free to set the prices, market their products, be their own arbiters of ‘quality control’, and dictate their well-planned and even better sustained distribution systems, terms and conditions.

As in other campaigns where ERG has borne the brunt of providing the at times controversial impulse on pressing social issues, when the dust settles it is of the utmost import that we all act in all conscience, and in the collective interests not only of the present, but also of future generations in not falling short of our duty of care obligations to our time and to our society.

In that, the Chief Minister and his team is guaranteed my and ERG’s fullest and most committed support as we recommit to positive starts and a better new year. There’s road ahead!