Rethinking the war on drugs


After looking at the evidence, consulting experts from the region and around the world, and visiting some of the most affected countries and communities in West Africa, an independent report of the West Africa Commission on Drugs released last week highlighted a number of conclusions about how we should tackle the problems of drug trafficking and consumption.


The report concluded that drug use must be regarded primarily as a public health problem. Drug users need help, not punishment. It stated that the consumption and possession for personal use of drugs should not be criminalised. Experience shows that criminalisation of drug use worsens health and social problems, puts huge pressures on the criminal justice system and incites corruption.



In its report Not Just in Transit Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, the West Africa Commission on Drugs headed by former Nigeria president, Olusegun Obasanjo, stated that while the traffickers and their accomplices must face the full force of the law, the law should not be applied disproportionately to the poor, the uneducated and the vulnerable, while the powerful and well-connected slip through the enforcement net.


They caution that West Africa must not become a new front line in the failed “war on drugs,” which has neither reduced drug consumption nor put traffickers out of business.


They urged the international community to share the burdens created by the rise in trafficking through West Africa, which neither produces nor consumes most of the drugs that transit the region. Nations whose citizens consume large amounts of illicit drugs must play their part and seek humane ways to reduce demand for those drugs.


The report called on political leaders in West Africa to act together to change laws and policies that have not worked. Civil society must be fully engaged as a partner in this effort. Only in this way can we protect our people, as well as our political and judicial institutions, from the harm that illicit drugs can inflict.