West Africa has become a hub for drug trafficking. Drug use and trafficking have increased in volume, but the region has not been able to provide an adequate response by way of policy or law to confront the menace. Fortunately, the West Africa Drug Policy Network under the aegis of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) has been at the forefront of policy reform through the provision of a Model Drug Law, which will serve as a template that countries can adapt to reform their drug laws.
To that effect, several workshops have been held to promulgate this law, most recently in Accra. One individual, who has benefitted immensely from the workshop organised in April 2019 is Prince Bull Luseni from the Sierra Leone Drug Policy Network (SLDPN). Recounting how he got to be part of the workshop, Prince stated that, “our primary intervention is Policy Reform in line with human rights approach because the existing law/approach is on drug control”.
He went further to say that, “the model drug law was the best response in terms of offering an alternative to incarceration or criminalisation”.
A window of opportunity to engage government on drug policy reform
Among the notable contributions of the workshop, Luseni hinted that the workshop provided him with a window of opportunity to engage government closely to ensure the purported review of Sierra Leonean drug law reflects the model drug law.
The “model drug law provided the ‘how’ to other previous campaigns on supporting alternatives. OSIWA regional office recommended the Model Drug Law as an alternative,” he admitted.
After returning from the workshop, Luseni spurned no time in initiating a series of action steps emanating from the workshop. Beginning with his organisation, he cascaded the model drug law workshop thereby ensuring “every staff member is abreast with the substance of the model drug law,” he explained.
To gain public support for the law, he did a lot of direct/ indirect engagements on radio/TVs and organised five training workshops using the Model Drug Law as a reference.
Thanks to the workshops, Luseni made a considerable impact on drug policy reform in Sierra Leone. Luseni is happy with the notable milestones that have been realised. Top on the list is growing government responsiveness to reform drug law in Sierra Leone, evidenced by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) budgeting for drug laws reform in their 2020 financial year budget. Another interesting development is the appreciable increase in the level of tolerance in the legal and criminal justice system to minimise incarceration and allow the issue to be discussed.
He also mentioned that courts are now fining drug users instead of putting them in jail, which is a direct cue from the Model Drug Law. Thanks to this provision, at least 24 drug users under the WADPN have been fined, rather than being incarcerated for drug-related offences. Another remarkable achievement is the transformation of the centre.
“There wasn’t a rehabilitation centre, but a place for retarded people”, says Luseni. Currently, the centre is being reorganised and revamped for rehabilitation with the support of ECOWAS and Sierra Leone government due for February 2020.
Luseni calls for “more strategic training from WACSI”
Despite these achievements, Luseni admits that the war is not yet won and that greater work needs to be done since policy reform is an ongoing process that will require a concerted effort from all and sundry. He, therefore, called “more strategic training (on topics such as large-scale consultations, how to make policy inputs, community engagement, entry into the legislative process), support and follow-up from WACSI as the government is about asking the reforms” to have laws that will have the desired effect on drug use and trafficking.