The review and validation of the Sierra Leone national drug law strategic master plan: An opportunity for humane drug control response!
In partnership with the ECOWAS Commission, the Sierra Leone National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) kick-started a 3-day workshop on 4th November 2021 to support the review and validation of the agency’s Strategic Master Plan to address drug use and illicit trafficking in the country.
This is no doubt a forerunner of the proposed review of the National Drug Control Act 2008, and harmonization with associated legislation to ensure effective drug control response. Moreover, since its enactment, the Act has been enforced without expressed national Strategic Master Plan: an obvious element of oppressive drug control regimes. However, the veracity of a drug control strategy would depend on the degree of its evidence-based drug control contents, range of consultation and inclusiveness of particularly drug-affected persons and communities.
Impressively, doors to this process were widely open to encourage the full participation and representation of various stakeholders, from both the government and non-governmental sectors who are relevant to the subject matter. Leveraging on this open door, their time-honoured partnership with the NDLEA, and appropriateness for evidence-based drug policy reform in the sub-region, WADPN supported the process in numerous ways but most importantly with recommendations of public health and human rights-based approach.
This Strategic Master Plan stands on five giant pillars which wholeheartedly supports what can be referred to as a balanced drug control approach. The document under its second pillar seeks to reduce drug demand through prevention, treatment and alternative development whilst increasing the availability and access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.
The latter component of this pillar well aligns with Article 4 (c) of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drug, which obliges parties to make available and accessible controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes. Sierra Leone is not exempt from parties that have arguably reneged on this obligation and focused on a prohibitionist approach trying to prevent other forms, such as recreational drug use, hence depriving citizens of their health rights. This explains why the incorporation of this component speaks volumes of the Strategic Master Plan.
Pillar three explicitly propose to review and align the National Drug Control Act, 2008 with fundamental human rights provisions and the rule of law: which have been slow in coming due to lack of logistics and expertise despite political will. However, following the strategic partnership and intense engagements with the NDLEA, WADPN has gained the blessing of the agency to reactive and lead the review process.
Pillar four proposes the provision of treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration for problematic drug users. Notwithstanding its heavy-handed approach to high-end trafficking and illicit cultivation of drugs, under pillar one, this strategy does not entirely sidetrack from WADPN’s recommendations. It sustains considerations for proportionality in sentencing, possible diversion of all minor nonviolent drug offences from the criminal justice system and other non-punitive alternatives to incarceration and criminalization, such as voluntary drug treatment and rehabilitation services. This will further translate into the decriminalization of the use and possession of drugs or drug use equipment for harm reduction.
Beyond the opportunity for a more humane drug control response, this Strategic Master Plan is expected to contribute significantly to criminal justice reform in Sierra Leone as well as improve the country’s HIV/AIDS response.
As pioneers of evidence-based drug policy reform in the sub-region, WADPN commends NDLEA for following in the steps of Ghana and Liberia to consider reforming their drug law whilst looking forward to the validated Strategic Master Plan as an appropriate forerunner to this process.
By: Prince Bull-Luseni
Executive Director - WADPN