Accra, Ghana: The West Africa Drug Policy Network, WADPN for short with support from the International Drug Policy Consortium, organised a street procession to call for the decriminalisation of drug use and the provision of harm reduction centres in the country.
On 26 June every year, drug policy reform and harm reduction advocates across the globe come together to celebrate the Global Day of Action Support Don’t Punish(United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and the Illicit Drug Trade, also known as World Drug Day) in solidarity to promote harm reduction and drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights of people who use drugs.
Over the years, drug policies worldwide have faced significant criticism for their adverse effects on vulnerable communities. Women, poor people and ethnic minorities often face particularly harsh penalties under such policies. The annual Global Day of Actionstands out as an initiative dedicated to resisting these policies while championing sustainable alternatives like drug decriminalisation and harm reduction.
The latter approach recognises that substance abuse is more a health issue than a legal one and seeks to prevent related harms, including disease spread, by providing safe needles, overdose treatments and other support. In contrast to legalisation, drug decriminalisation advocates for no criminal repercussions related to drug possession and use, which acknowledges it as a choice made by individuals themselves.
This year, the WADPN secretariat in Accra, Ghana, as part of the Global Day of Action, organised a street parade to create awareness of the need to support people who use drugs through kindness, compassion, and respect for their well-being. WADPN used the opportunity to educate the public about the war on drugs, address the misconceptions about decriminalisation, and promote harm reduction.
In a conversation with Michael Kumordzi Tetteh, the Campaigns and Communications Officer, he emphasised that individuals should not be blamed for their involvement in drug use. He pointed out that there are numerous factors and reasons behind youth engaging in drug use, which deserve careful consideration. One significant factor is the existence of illegal and unregulated drugs, providing an opportunity for those with malicious intent. Additionally, the problem of unemployment and economic instability cannot be ignored.
Mr Tetteh further elaborated that instead of punishing people who use drugs, it is crucial to provide them with support. “These individuals could be our own family members, and we all have a vital role in shaping our communities, he added. He also questioned the effectiveness of continuing to fight against drug use when it is evident that prohibition has not yielded the desired outcomes.
He highlighted that individuals who use drugs often find themselves isolated, facing life’s challenges on their own and resorting to desperate measures. He also mentioned that sending them to prison has not improved the situation either.
WADPN stressed the importance of seizing the moment to #ReclaimPeoplePower and commemorated the Global Day of Action against the ‘war on drugs.’ They called for a sustainable alternative that addresses the root causes of the issue and collectively puts an end to this injustice.
Therefore, WADPN urges policymakers, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, and the public to collaborate in envisioning a future beyond prohibition. They aim to foster positive change by reforming drug policies and decriminalising drug use.
Ghana’s Drug Law Status
Ghana is the first West African country to revise its drug control legislation, the Narcotics Control Act 2020 (Act 1019), in accordance with human rights and public health principles. While the new law does not legalise or decriminalise drug use, it does provide alternatives to incarceration and legitimise harm reduction programmes. However, there are numerous challenges and misconceptions surrounding the legislation’s passage, including the widely held belief that drug usage is legal in Ghana, which explains the significant public indifference to the new law.