Cruel Disciplinary Actions Against Drug Users are Mistakes of the Past; it’s Time for a New Approach
Barely 8 days more to make the international drug day, observed on the 26 June every year. Magistrate Binneh Kamara has on Friday 17 June 2016 sentenced Joshua Sankoh to seven months imprisonment or pays a fine of seven hundred thousand Leones to the court sub judicial treasury for the illegal possession of twenty four parcels of leaves suspected to be cannabis sativa, contrary to the Pharmacy and Drug Act of 2001
He also sentenced the remaining eight accused persons to six months imprisonment or pays a fine of three hundred thousand Leones, the particulars of the offence state that all nine accused persons were arrested on Saturday 11 June 2016, at a place used for smoking marijuana in the Freetown central business district. All accused persons pleaded guilty to the charge proffered against them.
Cannabis sativa for which this nine people must pay fines or be imprisoned is the most commonly used illegal drug in Sierra Leone. At the domestic level, cannabis sativa is cultivated and used all over the country, including the urban and rural areas of the capital, Freetown. Over the past several years, the cultivation and use of the drug has increased dramatically, so too is its export to neighboring Guinea and Liberia, with the full cooperation and connivance of some sectors of the country’s law enforcement bodies. Presently, Sierra Leone is the principal producer of cannabis sativa in the Mano River Union. It is also the chief exporter of the drug in West Africa to other African countries, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Around 80% of users of cannabis sativa in Sierra Leone are also taking brown brown. According to The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency survey report, this same report reveals that we have over 0ne million illegal drug addict Sierra Leone.
Most of whom have suffered rejection, intimidation, stigmatization and incarceration all because we have chosen to joined the woefully failed war on drugs. During the process many have lost their dear lives, some came out of prisons with lingering ailments. The nine people before Magistrate Binneh Kamara, is vivid evidence showing the faith of many citizens unfortunate to be found in areas or places used for smoking marijuana or for other drug use during police rides.
A cousin of mine Mohamed Biango some years ago spent 6 month in one our prison, Pork Loko to be precise , without the knowledge to family members and relative, he traveling Kono district in Makeni the vehicle he boarded stopped to look for more passengers, two of the passengers who had wanted joined them had bag containing cannabis, police detective trailing the two, who also aware that there followed by saw the police coming, they quickly asked my cousin to look after their bags and disappear, Mohamed ignorant of what was happening challenge the police that the bag belong to his friends, he was arrested pleaded guilty, as they are often advised older inmates to make the matter snapping in court because they don’t have lawyer(s) to represent them “ you better plead guilty and spend short time here 6/7 month or pay the funds than plead not guilty and spend over 2/3 years here still going to court.” At the end of the six month Mohamed Biango was released he came home sick one Dr. Peter Manner a friend treated him for severe cold.
Statistics are hard to come by because our records management system very in the county, but it is certain that hundreds if not thousands of innocent citizens in Sierra Leone have been and or still incarcerated and languishing in police cells, and our correctional centers across the country for similar so called offences of: a joint of cannabis found with them, caught in a place notorious for smoking Marijuana or use of any other drug, and or some amount marijuana or any other drug found in their possession. Sadly, we have failed realized that our punitive measures by putting them in prisons, cells and correctional centre’s for months or years, our prison walls DID NOT remove the addiction from them, in fact almost all of them came out more addicted to drugs and as hard core criminals . And for heaven sake why are we so blind to see that we are dealing human beings, not stones or trees, some body’s son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister etc. our fellow human beings with a problem of substance abuse “addiction” a non-communicable disease, why have we chosen prisons for them rather than treatment centre’s as stated in our drug national drug policy? You don’t get angry with sick people; you work hard to heal them. If you get angry, it is contagious, (the anger) and you end up acting worst, by promulgating bad policies which we have done over the years with “righteous- traditional” indignation. It is true that drugs are dangerous, but not as dangerous as the bad polices that has killed more than drugs over the years. We can’t continue to repeat the mistakes of the past, the war on drugs has woefully failed; it’s time for a new approach, Support. Don’t Punish!
By Saa Matthias D BENDU
National Coordinator Development Initiatives and Hope for the Vulnerable and Director of Communication West Africa Drug Policy Network Sierra Leone Chapter.