Marijuana legalization in Sierra Leone, what hope?
Sierra Leone like most West Africa countries is deeply wrapped traditional and cultural beliefs, there are certain topics or issues that are considered taboo and forbidden to discuss, whatever is said about such issues must be accepted without question, because they considered inerrant and infallible. One of such is the issues of marijuana and its users, who are condemned by traditional, cultural and righteous bigotry. One of greatest blunder in Sierra Leone amongst the citizenry is the persistence denial or notion that “good people don’t use marijuana“.
This dangerous-prejudice has forced our national human right commission to conspicuously keep silent over the continuous harassment and violation of the human rights marijuana users in the country since their establishment, and the newly widely acclaimed Legal Aid Board vehemently denying to take up the matter of those languishing in our correctional centre’s and police cells across the country because alleged marijuana or other soft drug use and related matter.
Marijuana is cultivated in almost every part of Sierra Leone except Bonthe District which soil texture is not suitable for it growth. It is also a lucrative business. According the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Research Report Sierra Leone is currently the highest exported of Marijuana to the neighboring countries.
Above all there is an increased in the use of Marijuana in Sierra Leone, and it factual that Marijuana users are from various background, comprising people of influence and affluence; Doctors, lawyers, judges, pastors, imams, teachers, journalist, CSO’s, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, the military, the police, chiefs, correctional officers, student etc. clearly, showing that marijuana is NOT only used by the down thrown people/ poor people/local criminals.
I am also vexed with the double standard of our politicians who during electioneering period, will prove huge quantity of Marijuana to the young people for political rallies and throughout the campaign process , the moment they emerged victorious and are now in governance they start harassing and incarcerating the young people again for Marijuana use. Our selective justice on Marijuana and another soft drug use in Sierra Leone has only compounded the situation for the poor, marginalized and unemployed people, who we have branded as” common criminals” or “ bad people “simply because they use Marijuana.
Despite the continues intimidation, harassment and incarceration of Marijuana users there is hope, in the just concluded constitution review. The Rastafarians submitted a position paper calling for cannabis/ Marijuana to removed from the list of hard harmful drugs like cocaine and Brown-Brown and therefore considered an illegal substance in Sierra Leone. They also condemned the reckless use of cannabis sativa/ Marijuana everywhere which they considered a sacrilege, because Marijuana is use by them (Rastafarians) as a Holy Sacrament for spiritual proposes, cleansing/purification before Jah.
Just the same way the Christians consider the Holy Communion as the Body of Christ in their belief. They said the constitution of Sierra Leone makes it clear that no one should be decimated because of his/her belief. They also participated in Sierra Leone’s perpetration for UNGASS. I still wonder whether cabinet ever met to discuss the recommendation taken at the national consultative meeting held with participate from across the country in preparation for UNGASS, because the Minister, his deputy and the permanent secretary where all removed immediately after that national consultative meeting from the internal Affairs ministry that was leading the whole process. It is considered a frog leap, because in the 60’s-80’s marijuana was planted on people opposing the one party regime and throwing to prisons.
Allowing CSO’s and other groups like the Rastafarians movement to campaign for a change in our drug laws and policies and for marijuana to be remove from the list of hard harmful drugs is in itself considered an achievement. Though many Sierra Leoneans are still refusing to publicly support the idea but ministries, government department and agencies are ready to dialogue on drug issues. Which give us campaigners the hope that desire changes on our nations perception / righteous indignation is but a matter of time very soon a lot will understand the dynamic of drug problem.
Perhaps we should hear from people like Kofi Anna formersecretary-general of the United Nations “In my experience, good public policy is best shaped by the dispassionate analysis of what in practice has worked, or not. Policy based on common assumptions and popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions. Nowhere is this divorce between rhetoric and reality more evident than in the formulation of global drug policies, where too often emotions and ideology rather than evidence have prevailed…. The tendency in many parts of the world to stigmatize and incarcerate drug users has prevented many from seeking medical treatment….
Scientific evidence and our concern for health and human rights must shape drug policy. This means making sure that fewer people die from drug overdoses and that small-time offenders do not end up in jail where their drug problems get worse. It is time for a smarter, health-based approach to drug policy.” However it worth knowing that Kofi Anna is NOT in any way calling for legalization all drugs, or a field day drug barons listen to this”….that drugs must be regulated precisely because they are risky. It is time to acknowledge that drugs are infinitely more dangerous if they are left solely in the hands of criminals who have no concerns about health and safety.
Legal regulation protects health. Consumers need to be aware of what they are taking and have clear information on health risks and how to minimize them. Governments need to be able to regulate vendors and outlets according to how much harm a drug can cause. The most risky drugs should never be available “over the counter” but only via medical prescription for people registered as dependent users, as is already happening in Switzerland.
It would be prudent to re- publish the full article “Kofi Annan on Why it’s Time to Legalize Drugs” Currently Ghana is on the verge of legalizing cannabis, how much I envy them? I hope my country Sierra Leone be next to follow Ghana’s example in West Africa.
Saa Matthias D BENDU is the National Coordinator Development Initiatives and Hope for the Vulnerable and Director of Communication West Drug Policy Network – Sierra Leone Chapter.