Roadmap to Sierra Leone’s Drug Law Reform
Like most countries in West Africa, Sierra Leone has a drug problem and is faced with multiple challenges in addressing this problem. However, the country uses two sets of laws to respond to this problem – the Pharmacy Act and Drug Control Act enacted in 2001 and 2008 respectively. Where the conflict, the latter takes preeminence. These laws are punitive in nature. They criminalize all aspects of the drug trade including consumption.
In 2008, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was established by parliament under the Drug Control Act as the lead agency for drug control response. However, other agencies like the Transnational Organized Crime Unit (TOCU), which comprises of officials from various law enforcement departments, Office of National Security (ONS) and Interpol are actively involved in the fight against drugs, but with greater focus on organized crime and illicit drug trafficking.
2.0 The Issue:
Despite their punitive nature and harsh enforcement by these multiple agencies, effective drug control remains a major concern in Sierra Leone. There is evidence of widespread availability of various types of drugs throughout the country which unequivocally suggests that the current imbalanced approach has failed to address the supply and demand for drugs. Moreover, NDLEA remains grossly underfunded to lead the implementation and enforcement of these laws, which has resulted in over-reliance on excessive policing and mass incarceration carried out by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) which is also under the supervision of the Internal Affairs Ministry.
Records show that unemployed, vulnerable and minor nonviolent drug offenders continue to suffer disproportionately from various forms of human rights abuses during arrest and detention due to this failed imbalance-drug control approach. Despite provisions to refer people who use drugs for treatment and rehabilitation by an approved panel in the 2008 Drug Control Act, there is hardly any account where the judiciary referred people who use drugs for such services. Unfortunately, too the approval panel is yet to be set up to facilitate this referral process. Moreover, the imposition of minimum mandatory custodial sentence for all drug related offences including, “possession” of one roll of cannabis, leaves judges and magistrates with incarceration rather than treatment and rehabilitation as the only option. These laws further compound the problem by criminalizing harm reduction practices. This has not only led to the limited or no availability of the services but completely ruled out possibilities of referral of people who use drugs. In order to effectively address the challenges and threats that drug trade pose to the security, economic and political stability of Sierra Leone and the wellbeing of its citizens, there is a need to first remove the barriers posed by its very non-evidence based drug control laws.
3.0 The Rationale:
In 2019, the government of Sierra Leone expressed interest in harmonizing and reforming its drug laws in order to ensure effective and evidence-based drug control response that is rooted in human rights, public health and sustainable development. This process which has almost been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions will require more than adequate financial resources and logistics. Credible information and evidence-based knowledge and skills are unquestionably additional requirements for the drafting and implementation of a successful roadmap to the reform process. In order to support the government and advance this course amidst restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) is organizing an online information sharing and dialogue forum on “Roadmap to Sierra Leone’s Drug Law Reform”.
4.0 The overall goal:
Is to create a pool of wide range of credible information and seek clarity on the positions of various actors to make the process successful.
This forum seeks to:
a. Enhance participants’ understanding of the current trend of Sierra Leone’s drug problem,
b. Help identify possible opportunities and threats to the process,
c. Capture perspectives of civil society, faith-based and drug-affected communities, and
d. Learn from Ghana’s drug law reform process.
6.0 The Forum:
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, this forum will be hosted on WADPN’s online Zoom platform https://zoom.us/j/91290873077?pwd=VlpaTW4xdDRqYVVJN0ZxSmdBamhBZz09 with panelists from the law enforcement, civil society (policy reform advocates and harm reduction practitioners), faith-based and drug affected communities. Attendance is open to all, particularly to members and allies of WADPN.
7.0 Forum Schedule:
Date: Thursday 16th July 2020
Time: 1:00 PM GMT
Venue: WADPN Zoom platform