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The War on Drugs, a Total Disregard for Human Right

Marijuana has been used as a substance for achieving euphoria since ancient times. It was described in a Chinese medical abstract where it was traditionally considered to date from 2737 B.C. It also has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. Its use spread from China to India and then to North Africa and reached Europe at least as early as A.D. 500.

A major crop in colonial North America, marijuana (Indian hemp) was grown as a source of fiber. It was extensively cultivated during World War II when Asian sources of hemp were cut off. Marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and was prescribed for various conditions including labor pains, nausea and rheumatism.

Somehow the world has somewhat treated marijuana particularly with disdain and in 1961, the UN Single Convention on Narcotics created a very strict and prohibitive control system with zero-tolerance for plant-based narcotic substances such as marijuana with the Don Quixotic ambitious goal of eliminating marijuana within 25 years.

The UN Convention was established as a universal system for limiting the cultivation, production, distribution, trade, possession and use of controlled psychoactive substances strictly to medical and scientific purposes. Special attention was given to substances derived from plants: opium/heroin, coca/cocaine and marijuana, also known as cannabis and the war continue to hang around.

The cannabis plant is not indigenous to Ghana. It is believed that soldiers returning from India and Burma after World War II brought seeds of the plant to Ghana. Given the tropical climatic conditions of the country, the plant found a favorable ground, thus in Ghana, the cannabis plant can be grown anywhere, particularly in the forest zone.

Ghanaian marijuana has been described by some experts in the field and users alike, as the most potent compared to other cannabis grown in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, its long-standing nature on the Ghanaian soil has not given it any wide acceptance in Ghana and by extension the African continent.

Controversy over the cultivation and/or use of marijuana have been somehow hushed and muted. However, recently it has become topical as well as heightened with both hardliners and liberals taking entrenched positions on the very controversial subject of this contentious substance. After about 59 years of independence, Ghana and the world as a whole is still divided as far as the need to amend the law on narcotics, especially as far as marijuana is concerned.

People have assumed and taken entrenched positions and there is an ever yawning gap between the hardliners and liberals on what to do with marijuana, which for now remains a prohibited substance to possess and use. Interestingly, the wide gulf between the two doesn’t look like bridging easily.

The excessively punitive nature of the law against narcotics in Ghana doesn’t deter growers of marijuana from daring to expand their territories by converting fallow lands into marijuana farms. Maybe they are taking advantage of the disagreements. But what really drives them are the market forces; the profits are huge if you should know. 

The existing and ever-growing black market continues to attract energetic young men and women who have found in it, a well-paid source of livelihood. Apart from the fact that growing marijuana has provided a source of livelihood, there is also the widely publicized medicinal value of marijuana.

There are those who argue that a criminal market always thrives when a substance that has some economic and recreational value is banned. That is why the illegal regime does not stop daring criminals from engaging in the illegality.

The basis for the wide acceptance to grow marijuana is NOT MORALITY; IT IS ECONOMICS; being a source of livelihood for a good number of people. As for its use, it is consequential to its cultivation.

Production of marijuana is rife in a number of regions in Ghana especially in the Eastern, Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions with the frustrated users as well as the producers are anxiously waiting on the fringes for the substance to either be decriminalized or legalized.

The fear, though, and the argument put forward by conservatives is that once it is decriminalized or legalized, a bulk of the population will join the cue of producers and users thus pushing the nation into the abyss. But studies in Portugal have proven otherwise.

The country decriminalized cannabis in July 2001 and so far, research has shown that the use of cannabis and the attendant problems associated with it has since reduced.

The West African Drug Policy Network has therefore drawn inspiration from the Portugal example and wants Ghana to emulate the Portugal example, with appropriate cultural settings borne in mind to contextualize.

With the consumption of cannabis on the ascendency, the Africa representative of Consortium for Drug Policy, Maria Goretti Loglo,  a lawyer  by profession, and a passionate campaigner for decriminalization of cannabis says, ‘’There should be an amendment of the current prohibitive law and use other alternatives that are clearly stated in Article 3 of the 1988 UN Convention. We are not doing any justice to the people of this country, we deserve much better. People who are using drugs are suffering’’.

The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan recently jumped into the fray and fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your bias, added more weight to the pro-campaigners call for a more liberal legislation on marijuana; legalization. In an article published in February 2016, Kofi Annan said:

‘’studies have consistently failed to establish the existence of a link between the harshness of a country’s drug laws and its levels of drug use. The widespread criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs, the overcrowding prisons means that the war on drugs is to a significant degree a war on drug users, a war on people.’’

And one man who knows the ins and outs of the war on drugs in Ghana is the Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board, Yaw Akrasi-Sarpong. According to him, it is in the interest of the country to openly and continually debate the decriminalization of marijuana in the public space.

‘’If you are arrested and investigations reveal that suspects are part of an international network you shouldn’t be allowed to go free. But for first timers who try or experiment with one joint, they shouldn’t be put behind bars but be warned. Don’t punish them,’’ he said.

Under section 3 of the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) law 236 of the narcotic drugs act of 1990:  “A person who without lawful authority has in his possession or under his control any machine, equipment, tool, utensils or any other material or article for the manufacture, production, distribution, administration or use of narcotic drug commits an offence, and Any person who commits an offence under this section and is found guilty is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than ten years.” 

Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence and Interior, Fritz Baffour, describes the current legislation as archaic.

“It is a confused drug policy because it is outdated. The thing is that the statute date back to the colonial era where when there was any problem then it was a matter of prohibition. I think we should have reform because the policies are archaic,” he said.

A High Court judge, His Lordship Francis Obiri, in open court in May 2015, expressed his frustration with the current drug regime.

“Someone can embezzle so many funds and can be bailed but somebody who commits a narcotic offence cannot be bailed. It does not make sense, ” he said.

The 2015 report by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime shows that the growing and consumption of marijuana is on the increase in Ghana. Despite the relentless war, the report puts Ghana at an unenviable third position on the African continent as far as usage of the narcotic substance is concerned.

Perhaps it is time Ghana and by extension the African continent takes a second look at the current laws on narcotics particularly marijuana or maintain the powers given to law enforcement agencies to keep on with the relentless war. 

Moreover, disregarding concerns that drug use is more of public health issue rather than the current prohibition led approach that has only brought unintended consequences onto the world’s population disregarding the rights of people who use drugs.

By Latif Iddrisu (Member of the West Africa Drug Policy Network – Ghana Chapter), originally published on

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