The magnitude of the impact may differ, but one thing is for sure: the war on drugs is present on all continents. This is a personal philosophy I have coined ever since my interest in drug policies were ignited in the months I have actively been involved in Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).
Even though no country has fully diffused the ticking time-bomb of the war on drugs, some countries have paved the way by supporting policies which seek to address this menace. In the United States of America, some states are working hard to protect their citizenry by ensuring some acts/bills are introduced while other previously harsh ones are amended. Zooming-in on Oregon State, Congressmen Peter Defazio and Earl Blumenauer – as well as Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden – are some of the great individuals fighting and ensuring sensible and impactful drug policies are being introduced.
Two young women, I and Irene Ockrah-Anyim, took part in both the world’s biggest youth conference on Drug Policy organised by Students for Sensible Drug Policy in the USA. Two things were key, very key, as we journeyed for 21hours and 30 minutes. The first question was, How do we end the Drug War; do our policies work in Ghana? These questions were puzzles that were difficult to solve.
There are so many individuals that have suffered as a result of the drug war, and the terrible example of the current situation in the Philippines sends a communique on how undesirable this drug war waged in global circles is – but are our policymakers listening? Let us zoom-in on Africa, focusing my lens on my beloved country, Ghana; a country proud of democracy and its peaceful nature – yet having a pungent stench in its drug policies.
One may ask if I have read or have a fair idea about some of the drug-related international treaties signed by my beloved government – a question most policymakers pose just to justify their inhumane criminalisation engendered by this beautiful country’s policies on drugs. My answer – a question on its own of “Do you understand the treaties you sign?” – always awes them. It saddens my heart to know Ghana has not sought to amend some uncalled-for policies, especially in the jurisdiction of drugs since we are evolving as a country in so many sectors.
Let us set aside the drug policy for a minute; let us just say it is too much for our policymakers to gulp down in full. What about rehabilitation centres for drug abusers in the country? How many do we have in the country? What is the state of these rehab centres? Are there any incentives for them to be used – that is, is the NHIS able to offset some of the bills?
It would surprise you to learn that two of the rehab centres I visited recently were totally empty – and not because we do not have drug abusers in the country. There are many reasons why these facilities are empty; prominent among them is the fact that drug abusers are rather thrown into jail, and the few that are sent to these centres cannot afford the fees which have an average cost of US$3,500. The above and many others are obstacles which can cause an activist against the drug war to either slow down or give up!
The SSDP 2018 congress, which was held from the 2nd to 5th of March, saw hundreds of student and youth leaders’ activists and advocates from all walks of life converge in Baltimore. The congress saw representations from all five continents, which brought a versatile and dynamic twist to all panel sessions held.
As it doubles as the 20th Anniversary of this great organisation, the enthusiasm shown by students, alumni, board members, staff and sponsors was refreshing and extremely encouraging for individuals like me to not think of giving up. The experiences shared, the failures encountered, and the success stories heard are the very adrenaline any individual against the drug war needs to fuel their passion.
Lobby Day – a day set aside for constituents to lobby their congressmen/women and senators – crowned the Congress in grand style. International students were not left behind in this exercise. It was a sight to behold, reaching the US capitol of Washington D.C. and having the privilege of meeting all those distinguished policymakers who – to our satisfaction – showed positive engagement with the acts/bills we were lobbying for.
This is the same setting I envision for the policymakers in my motherland, Ghana. I look forward to the day other nationalities come to my country and are inspired by the positive impact and humanity embedded in our drug policies. I look forward to the day Ghana becomes an icon on the global platform due to its positively-influenced drug policy reforms – further becoming a role-model for other African countries. Until then, we continue to forge ahead with our advocacies until the needed changes are implemented.