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Call for legalisation of all Drugs in West Africa, Musings from the Regional Consultation on Drug Po

Representatives of Government ministries, law enforcement officers and civil society organisations across West Africa gathered in Accra, Ghana on the 19thand 20th of January 2016, for a regional consultation on drug policy reform and to contribute towards the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) 2016 on the World Drug Problem.

The diversity of the participants contributed immensely to the richness of the consultation and the usual passion West African people are known for was not missing in the discussions. In the midst of the many contributions and proposals for drug policy reform in West Africa came a startling recommendation from a person who was calling for LEGALISATION of all drugs.

I was startled not because I never heard the word ”legalisation” nor know what the concept means, but was a rarely used word by West African Stakeholders in an open discussion. You may not understand how strange this is in a region where drug policies are highly punitive and repressive. Drug policy ideas such as decriminalization and harm reduction that could be said to be of lesser weight (in terms of public perception and when compared to legalization) are still being fiercely opposed and here is someone talking about legalization.

After the meeting I walked up to this fellow to reconfirm if he truly meant what he said and his response was in the affirmative. This individual is an Assistant Inspector General of Police and director crime services with over thirty-five years of policing experience in one of the West African countries.

Unarguably, he is highly ranked and knowledgeable enough to say what he said. My focus in this article is however not about drug legalization but an open proposal for it by a highly ranked police officer in West Africa underscores a point that the current drug control system truly need to change.

It is also a pointer that there are law enforcement officer in the region who are tired of upholding a drug control system that has failed to achieve the desired objectives. The availability and consumption of illicit drugs in West Africa is now much more than before despite the continuous focus on law enforcement and repression.

Besides are also the negative impact on health, human rights, citizen security and development. The overwhelming failures of the current drug control regime in West Africa and globally should be enough to compel and allow putting all the options for reform on the table without fear.  However, I know it won’t be that easy as I am conscious of the little affection between drug policy reform and ”common sense”.

The discussions and debate at the Accra regional meeting was indeed progressive when compared with what the discussions previously used to be. Despite that, true reform will only start when we begin to consciously unstiffen the institutional grip of the current drug policy regime in our countries, region, globally and institute a system that truly works.

By Adeolu Ogunrombi, Regional Coordinator, West Africa Drug Policy Network



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