UNODC director Antonio Costa is something of an enigma. One day he seems to be keen to engage with the progressive NGO community, the next he calls them lunatics. One day he will make political capital from his NGO engament strategy, the next treat them with disdain and contempt. One day talk sense, the next, utter nonsense (or complete tosh). He will positively engage with the harm reduction NGO community (speaking at the IHRA conference next week), before visiting Sweden for an anti-harm reduction back slapping prohibitionist hoe-down.
Now it seems, having said some pretty outrageous things about The Netherlands (and being forced to apologise to their Ambassador), Costa has spent some of last week visiting the country famed for it progressive drug policy. The blog learns that included in his trip were a visit to a cannabis coffee shop (apparently on called De Dampkring in the Spui area of the city) and a visit to supervised injecting center. So what's all this about?
De Dampkring ('the atmosphere') coffee shop in Amsterdam
Well, who knows. Previous visits to Amsterdam by prohibition big wigs have been pretty calamitous, but something feels different this time and you have to think it can only be a good thing. I'll ask him in Barcelona next week and let you know, but until then we can but speculate.
An international man of mystery, yesterday
- Maybe its a diplomatic PR move, trying to make amends with Dutch diplomats for his ridiculous 'river of poison' comments about their drugs policy - which, by any public health measure stands up favorably relative to the rest of Europe without resorting to the heavy handed enforcement that some of its neighbours (including the UK) fetishize over.
- Maybe, he genuinely wanted to see for himself what people were going on about and what pragmatic drug policy interventions and sensible (quasi) legal market regulation actually look like - especially after being deluged in letters following his CND outburst. Or maybe he just wanted to reinforce his pre-determined prejudices - and will see what he wants to see.
- Maybe, despite his occasionally inappropriate rhetoric and rudeness, the recent push of NGO engagement is having a positive impact, making him think, and actually forcing him to confront some of the critical issues and tensions within the UN drug control system, long swept under the faded 70s carpet at the Vienna International Center. By all accounts Costa has been meeting with a whole range of people, and more importantly, apparently listening to what they have to say.
- Or maybe he just wanted spliff and somewhere to shoot up (on balance, fairly unlikely).