The West Africa Drug Policy Network, in collaboration with the Student for Sensible Drug Policy – Gambia chapter, held a 2-day drug law reform dialogue in the Gambia with support from OSF-Africa.
Given the ongoing amendments to the Drug Control Act 2003 as part of the government's effort to address the country's drug problem, and as a key stakeholder in the process, WADPN and SSDP organised a civil society sensitisation meeting and a multi-sectorial stakeholders' dialogue forum for drug control authorities, policymakers, civil society, the media, religious communities, and drug users to discuss the current trend of the illegal drug trade and its impact on Gambians, evaluate the efficacy of the present legal and regulatory framework, and propose realistic alternative policy ideas for the government’s consideration.
The meeting was held at NANA Conference Centre and Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Centre in the Gambia. The forum was a 2-day held on 17 and 18 October, respectively, with the first day focusing on civil society support, engaging with CSOs and religious leaders for the drug law reform process and the second day being a multi-sectorial engagement with the Gambia Drug Enforcement Agency.
The main objective of this engagement is to reduce sentences and improve access to treatment for people who use drugs. WADPN and SSDP-Gambia are two of the most well-known Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working on progressive drug policy reform. SSDP is an international grassroots network of students concerned about the consequences of drug misuse and the drug war.
In achieving these goals, WADPN collaborates closely with the Africa Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and national drug law enforcement agencies (NDLEAs). The Network, among other things, effectively influenced the revision of Liberia's Controlled Drug and Substances Act 2014 (law approved in Parliament in 2021) and Sierra Leone's National Drug Control Law 2008.
Considering the above, we are confident that the forum did deepen participants’ knowledge of the current drug problem and their appreciation for a more balanced approach to drug supply and demand reduction.
However, at the end of our engagement with the Gambia Drug Enforcement Agency, they have agreed to open the drug law review process for CSO participation, prioritise harm reduction, drug treatment and rehabilitation for problematic drug users, differentiate between drug possession for trafficking from personal use and reduce custodial sentences for drug use and possession for personal use to not more than six months.
We are grateful to the various civil society organisations, religious leaders and the Drug Enforcement Agency for agreeing to reform the drug law considering the well-being and human rights of people who use drugs. This drug law reform process is a reintroduction of a previous initiative by WADPN in collaboration with SSDP-Gambia, RAID-Gambia and other civil society organisations and religious leaders.