Africa’s Response to its Growing Substance Abuse Crisis: A New 'War Against Drugs'
Africa is facing a substance abuse crisis that is growing exponetentially. This is leading to increasingly harsh penalties for drug offences and the increasing criminalization of cannabis, particularly in West Africa
20 July 2023 at 14:00:00
Africa is embarking on a new 'War against Drugs' and cannabis is firmly in the firing line.
At the heart of the problem is that all African governments remain firmly in a prohibitionist mindset and are resistant to the potential healing properties of the plant. That’s because there’s an exploding substance abuse crisis on the continent, particularly amongst the youth. From the Limpopo River to the southern Mediterranean coastline, cannabis is firmly defined as a narcotic, up there with the most addictive drugs in the world.
Instead of being receptive to legalizing and regulating cannabis as a way of wrestling control of the plant from organized criminal syndicates and exploring its healthcare benefits for the continent, Africa is stepping up the “War on Drugs”. This is also despite the theme of the 2023 United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse being: "People First: Stop Stigma and Discrimination, Strengthen Prevention."
It’s all in the definition as to whether cannabis is a drug or a plant. The World Health Organization says “Cannabis remains the most widely used illicit substance in the African Region. The highest prevalence and increase in use is being reported in West and Central Africa with rates between 5.2% and 13.5%.”
If a more progressive approach to cannabis was taken by African governments, perhaps they could start focusing on the real substance abuse problems, currently seen as less serious than cannabis.
The WHO says: “Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as "ecstasy" and methamphetamine now rank as Africa’s second most widely abused drug type. Other substances that were used by children and youth surveyed in Sierra Leone, included benzodiazepines such as diazepam, chlorpromazine and different inhalants, while 3.7% were injecting drugs.
“Injecting drugs carries a high risk of infection with bloodborne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and the sharing of contaminated needles and syringes is an important mode of transmission for those viruses” is the overview take-out of the report.
The West African state of Liberia has taken the lead in the new “War Against Drugs” by amending legislation, making certain drug offences non-bailable and increasing jail time. The executive director of Ahlul-Bayt Assembly for Development in Liberia, Sheikh Askary Musa Kromah, has lauded the Liberian Legislature for passing the amended Controlled Drugs and Substances Act of 2023.
He said that cannabis and other drug dealers, cultivators, and manufacturers should not eligible for bail until their trials were completed and if found guilty, they should be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Nigeria’s DEA commander in Akwa Ibom, Obot Bassey said the people-first approach did not mean the State should go easy on drug dealers and that the most commonly abused substances in the state were “Cannabis Sativa, Cocaine, Heroin, Meth and Amphetamine, among other psychotropic substances”.
"From last year's celebration till this moment, NDLEA Akwa Ibom State Command has been committed to saving humanity through its mandate of eliminating illicit drugs from homes and streets through arrests and seizures of illicit drugs” she said.
"Prosecution of drug dealers, preventive mechanisms of campaign and awareness creation on the consequences of illicit drugs abuse”.
The Gambia’s Drug Law Enforcement Agency (DLEAG) has stated that "marijuana stands as the most prevalent" illicit substance in the country.
According to a statement by DLEAG, the presence and use of marijuana in the country is pervasive across various strata of society.
"Yet, it is not just the allure of marijuana that plagues the nation; The Gambia has become a crossroads for international drug trafficking, with cocaine smuggling routes intricately woven through its borders," a statement in its website says. "This complex and multifaceted issue poses formidable challenges for the Gambian authorities, requiring a comprehensive approach to combat the menace of drug abuse."
Authorities say most of the cannabis found in The Gambia "comes from the Cassamance region of Senegal and the West Coast Region", although it is grown in diverse places across the country.
He also said it was important for society to support them to recover and also educate them on the dangers of drug abuse. He said "The fight against drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking is a shared responsibility which requires our collective and concerted efforts in dealing with the cancer. It has become clear that many drug users are subjected to stigma and discrimination by the society in which they live as a result of their situation, which can worsen their physical and mental health and keep them from receiving the assistance they require," he added.
"The use of cannabis is reportedly very prevalent in West and Central Africa, with a past-year prevalence of usage of about 10 per cent translating to 28.5 million individuals, according to the 2022 UNODC World Report," he added.
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