Call for Legalization of all Drugs in West Africa, Musings from the Regional Consultation on Drug Po
In my last article I wrote about the recently concluded West Africa regional consultation towards the United Nations General Assembly Special Session 2016 on the World drug problem held in Accra and how I was startled by a proposal from a senior West African Police officer calling for legalization of all drugs as one of the critical solutions to the world drug problem.
Few days afterwards I got a mail from the fellow containing his opinion on the subject and the regional dialogue. I also got his approval to share the content on this blog. He is Mr Morie Lengor, Assistant Inspector General of Police, Sierra Leone. The remaining texts of this article are the very words of his.
“Morie Lengor is my name my rank is Assistant Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police. I am the Director of Crime Services of the National Police in Sierra Leone and also the Chairman of the Management Board of the Transnational Organized Crime Unit. I have over thirty five years of Policing experience and I am a trained qualified Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone.
Let me thank OSIWA for inviting me to contribute to this resonating global debate and also all the speakers for their eloquent presentations. I must say without flattery that the regional dialogue was one of the most excellently organized meetings I have attended and believe me I have attended so many. Thank you very much to all those who made it happen.
I want to start my intervention on the premise that the world drug problem is slowly becoming quick sand; the more we wriggle, the deeper we sink and it seems we are running out of ideas for the best solution so we have to be brutally frank and put all options on the table for discussion including the palatable and the non-palatable; the thinkable and the unthinkable.
We should start thinking of legalizing drugs across the board and regulate its standard and use; create competitive markets and take out the huge profits going to drug barons who can do anything on this earth to keep their macabre monopoly, profit and power. Legalizing drugs will attract legitimate investment to sanitize the current toxic drug market similar to the present day tobacco and alcohol markets.
Selective decriminalization or legalization by states and countries for me personally is just deferring the inevitable. This is my personal view it is not the view of my state I must hasten to say.
I would like to recommend further that at the heart of any policy that we come up with at the end of our deliberation or beyond, we take the following considerations very seriously and this is from a more pragmatic position:
1) Strong Community buy in and ownership
2) Early warning and rapid response mechanism to be preventative and proactive (young people experiment with new drugs Eg. Take Over Me in Sierra Leone. Let’s don’t wait until the horse has bolted to close the stable as we are doing now; let’s have a nip in the bud policy.
3) Create a policy and legislative research, planning and implementation Special Task Force for West Africa. How quickly do member states implement international or regional protocols? How quickly do they amend their laws to transform policies into tangible results?
4) We need affordable and sustainable policies and strategies.
5) Harmonized standard policies, legislations and penalties (if we have a weak or a more liberal policy in one country it attracts the criminals or creates the balloon effect. Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana are all working separately on policies that might not sync with the rest of ECOWAS member States)
6) Robust data collection and sharing to inform policy implementation is key. We cannot really talk about evidenced based intervention without credible data.
7) Let me ask this question; is West Africa really well prepared and ready for UNGASS or is this a panic or knee jerk reaction? Why can’t we wait and properly put our houses in order and go with a formidable front? After all we can call our own UNGASS or prepare very well for 2019. I want to believe that the countries that have called for the coming UNGASS have prepared very well with facts and figures empirical evidence etc. What have we got?
I was rudely shocked to hear that the Common African Position is not after all common so we need to get out of this predicament and the urgency of it is now, before UNGASS.
Someone said during the regional consultation that the Law Enforcement voice does not seem to be loud enough. Naturally we take orders even if a law is bad when we are called upon to enforce it we do not have any choice unless and until it is changed. If I step outside of the meeting room with Nana (WACSI executive director) and I see her with a wrap as Adeolu would call it, I will arrest her, Why? Because it’s against the law and that’s what I have been sworn to do .So please look at things from our own perspective as well, feel with us and work with us.
Yes we have challenges in the enforcement of especially cannabis in Sierra Leone. We are being overwhelmed especially in the face of violent crimes such as robberies , theft of our natural resources, emerging new crimes such as cyber crimes and terrorism but we have a job to do; enforce enforce and enforce the current drug laws.
But don’t think we are all blood thirsty repressive vampires. we are humans we have feelings and we could be victims too of what you think is inhumane policies.
To conclude, I want to lend my voice that there is now more than a need for drug policy reform in West Africa
That said, I am not the biblical Saul turned from persecutor to preacher because I have been suddenly struck by the light of salvation on my way to Damascus or to Accra. I took this position since 1994 when I did a paper as a requirement for my detective training in the UK. My lecturers were bemused and shocked beyond disbelief but where are we heading today?
To reiterate we are only just running against a stormy tide if we fail to legalize and decriminalize but if we flow with the tide it might take us to more comfortable resolutions of the drug problem.”
By AdeoluOgunrombi, Regional Coordinator West Africa Drug Policy Network