West Africa should decriminalise drugs - Obasanjo commission

 
A teenager smoking marijuana in Liberia - 2003 Most West African countries have tough laws criminalising all aspects of drug use

Related Stories

Low-level drug offences should be decriminalised in West Africa, according to a high-level report.

The West Africa Commission on Drugs says drug cartels are undermining the region by using it to transit cocaine.

The commission, headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, says the cartels should be tackled but that punishing the personal use of drugs does not work.

It argues that current policies incite corruption and provoke violence.

Drug trafficking and consumption have become major issues in West Africa since the turn of the century.

Efforts around this time to stem the flow of cocaine from the producing countries of Latin America to consumers in the US and Europe led criminals to target West Africa as a new route.

Dramatic events like the crash landing of a Boeing 727 full of cocaine in Mali in 2009 have alerted the authorities to the problem.

The new report, commissioned by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, estimates that the annual trade in cocaine alone through West Africa is now worth $1.25bn (£744m) - more than the total of foreign direct investment in the region.

line break
Graphic comparing the estimated value of cocaine trafficking in West Africa  and foreign investment in the region
line break

Although drug trafficking and consumption are not new to the region - cannabis smoking there, for example, has traditionally been more widespread than in most parts of the world - the advent of harder drugs like cocaine and amphetamines is.

Pre-trial detention delays

Most West African countries have tough laws criminalising all aspects of drug use.

Start Quote

Drug users need help, not punishment”

End Quote West Africa Commission on Drugs report

In some cases, prison sentences of 10 to 15 years are given for possession of drugs for personal use.

But in countries where court proceedings are slow, the commission's report says, people end up spending long periods in pre-trial detention and are sometimes only released after paying a bribe.

This, the report says, encourages corruption and does the prisoners more harm than good.

In Guinea, drug offences can be punished by a fine or imprisonment.

This means that the better-off drug traffickers escape by paying up - often corrupting officials in the process - while more vulnerable drug users who cannot afford fines face appalling conditions in jail.

Prisoners in a temporary police cell in Guinea-Bissau  - 2008 One of the consequences of the widespread criminalisation of drug use is a large prison population
Packets of seized cocaine are displayed at a police station in Bissau on 21 March 2012, by the department in Guinea-Bissau in charge of anti-drug trafficking operations Guinea-Bissau, where these packets of cocaine were seized, is a notorious trafficking route

Mr Obasanjo and his colleagues argue that drug use should be regarded primarily as a public health issue.

"Drug users need help, not punishment," the report says.

"We abhor the traffickers and their accomplices, who must face the full force of the law.

"But the law should not be applied disproportionately to the poor, the uneducated and the vulnerable, while the powerful and the well-connected slip through the enforcement net."

One of the consequences of the widespread criminalisation of drug use is a bloated prison population, with inmates who are rarely reformed and in many cases end up more criminalised or sick as a result of their time incarcerated.

 Ivory Coast drug enforcement gendarme watches as the contents of seized bags which reportedly contained more than a tonne of cannabis is incinerated in Bouafle on 26 June 2009 The report says that those involved in drug trafficking should still face the full force of the law

The report says its recommendations on decriminalisation were partly inspired by the work of the Organisation of American States which last year floated the idea of reducing sentences, particularly for use of cannabis.

In the last decade countries as diverse as Armenia, Mexico and Switzerland have adopted some form of decriminalisation, the commission points out.

"West Africa would remove a huge weight from an already overburdened criminal justice system if it were to decriminalise drug use and possession, expand health and social services for those with problematic use, and expend greater efforts on pursuing traffickers," the report concludes.

As well as Mr Obasanjo, contributors include Senegalese psychiatrist, Idrissa Ba, retired Sierra Leonean judge Justice Bankole-Thompson and Malian singer Oumou Sangare.

 

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 

Comments 5 of 47

 

More Africa stories

RSS

Features

  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?


  • Women doing ice bucket challengeChill factor

    How much has the Ice Bucket Challenge achieved?


  • Women in front of Windows XP posterUpgrade angst

    Readers share their experiences of replacing their operating system


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.