A senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana, Legon, Dr Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua has called on the government to decriminalise drug usage by small-scale users and those who used drug for their personal needs.
He was of the view that those who were caught with drugs were perceived criminals and, therefore, punished for having drugs in their possession.
Dr Appiagyei-Atua made the call at the opening ceremony of the fourth West Africa Executive Short Course on Human Rights and Drug Policy that was held at the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana, Legon in Accra.
The Decriminalisation approach, he suggested, was for the government to amend criminal charges conferred on those who used drug on small-scale, personal usage and those who cultivated on subsistence level as a means of livelihood.
“We are suggesting that government should introduce practices such as harm reduction, whereby people who are addicted to drug are not seen as criminals or their cases treated as such. Rather, they should be seen as people with health problems who need medication,” he said.
The six-day executive course was aimed at developing the competencies of the participants to help support African states to adopt drug policies, which are underpinned by public health and citizen security, anchored in evidence-based harm reduction approaches and backed by laws or practices that keep people who use drugs out of stigmatisation, cells, courts and prisons.
Further, the course aimed at establishing appropriate national and international frameworks on human rights and to use concepts, laws and conventions and their actual implementation in an assessment of public policy relating to illicit drug use, both globally and nationally.
Dr Appiagyei-Atua recommended that the government ensured that drug users who were arrested were given options, including facing the criminal law, imprisonment or receiving treatment.
According to him, Ghana’s security agencies did not take into consideration the events surrounding the usage of drugs, but rather focused on arrest and prosecution, which, he said, was not the solution to the problem.
“When they intercept, we use that to judge the success of the drug fight. In most cases, the actual drug lords are left to go free and at the end of the day it is the small-scale users who are arrested because they do not have money to influence the system,” he said.
Dr Appiagyei-Atua added that the desire by security agencies to quickly resort to a custodial sentence was not the best option since our prisons did not have the required structures to reform wrongdoers.
The best alternative, he suggested, was to engage personal drug users and addicts in rehabilitation facilities and added that it required a special centre to address such cases.
The Programme Officer for the Open Society Foundation (OSF), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), responsible for promoting democracy and human rights, Mr Bougouma Diene, said there was the need for a progressive approach on drug policies in Africa as a whole.
He noted that in situations where “illegal drug users are made to suffer,” were human rights abuses.