Most African countries, especially West Africa, are still contemplating the issue of drug legalisation. Many advancements have been made so far in most African countries like Ghana, Liberia, and ongoing interventions in other West African countries towards decriminalising drugs. The West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) has initiated the reviewing of more drug laws in West Africa, which Sierra Leone, Senegal, The Gambia, Nigeria et al., will not be left out.
In the case of Ghana, Parliament passed a Narcotics Control Commission Bill into law somewhere in March 2020. That brought great excitement to many who have been following the legislative process since 2015. The purpose of the drug law was to treat drug use and dependence as a public health issue. Even though many presume it has been legalised entirely. However, the law makes huge inroads toward a more humane drug policy. It will pave the way for other good examples to emerge in the sub-region.
Liberia is making progress in its drug law review, having passed the bill from the House of Representatives to the House of Senate for concurrence. At the same time, Senegal also unveiled its master strategic plan and Sierra Leone.
Drug use, especially marijuana (cannabis), has more health, industrial, and economic benefits to every country. That has been proven by research. But at the mention of drugs, ignoring what it means to a government and its citizens. People often single out a few drugs, tagging them as the only drugs that are evil and not good for consumption. People who use drugs are stigmatised, but most people forget that so many factors may have led them to choose that path; therefore, it is best to support and not punish.
Research has also shown that, in the earliest days of the HIV epidemic, cannabis mainly was used to treat many of the complications of the disease, ranging from the symptoms of HIV wasting syndrome to side effects associated with antiretroviral drug use. So why make it difficult for people living with HIV to have access to it? I think denying them access is an actual crime and infringes on their human rights.
Taking it from an economic growth perspective, in a country like the USA, expected sales of cannabis in Colorado and Washington over the past several years have resulted in resilient tax revenues. In 2019, Colorado collected more than $302 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational cannabis. Sales in the state totalled over $1.7 billion. According to a report from ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics, sales in the United States were about $12.2 billion in 2019 and are projected to increase to $31.1 billion by 2024. Local research also supports this view; a report from the Colorado State University-Pueblo's Institute of Cannabis Research recently found that the legal cannabis industry contributed more than $80.8 million to the local economy in 2017, primarily through taxes and other fees.
It has been projected that, should cannabis become legal on a federal level, the benefits to the economy could be exceptional: A report from cannabis analytics company New Frontier suggests that federally legal pot could generate an additional $105.6 billion in aggregate federal tax revenue by 2025.
It is unfortunate how the industrial benefits of cannabis are being ignored, aiding the harmful effects to increase more. The war on drugs is on us humans; people who use drugs need help rather than sending them to jail. In an honest opinion, policies have done us more harm than drugs, just as Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, once said.
Illegal drugs kill more youths, but authorities cannot control their uses and effects if the substance is not legalised. The sad part is that only drug users suffer the consequences, not the source or people responsible for broad distributions. These and many more are why authorities need a different approach to fighting drugs.
Rethinking drug policy toward drug regulations will be the best approach for National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies in West Africa and beyond to reconsider.