Review and Validation of Sierra Leone's National Drug Law Enforcement Agency
Members meeting of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency. Photos by author.
In partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, the Sierra Leone National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) kick-started a 3-day workshop on 4th November 2021 to support the review and validation of the agency’s Strategic Master Plan to address drug use and illicit trafficking in the country.
This is no doubt a forerunner of the proposed review of the National Drug Control Act 2008, and harmonisation with associated legislations to ensure effective drug control response. Moreover, since its enactment, the Act has been enforced without an expressed national Strategic Master Plan, an obvious element of oppressive drug control regimes. However, the veracity of a drug control strategy would depend on the degree of its evidence-based drug control contents, range of consultation and level of inclusiveness, particularly of drug affected persons and communities.
Impressively, doors to this process were widely opened to encourage the full participation and representation of various stakeholders, from both the government and nongovernmental sectors who are relevant to the subject matter. Leveraging this open door, their longstanding partnership with the NDLEA, and the appropriateness of evidence-based drug policy reform in the sub-region, the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) supported the process in numerous ways; most importantly, WADPN provided key recommendations for a public health and human rights-based approach.
This Strategic Master Plan stands on five significant pillars which wholeheartedly supports what can be defined as a balanced drug control approach. The document under its second pillar seeks to reduce drug demand through prevention, treatment and alternative development whilst increasing the availability and access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes. The latter component of this pillar is aligned with Article 4 (c) of 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which obliges parties to make available and accessible controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.
Sierra Leone is not exempt from parties that have arguably reneged on this obligation and focused on a prohibitionist approach trying to prevent other forms of drug use, such as recreational drug use, depriving citizens of their rights to health. This explains why the incorporation of this component speaks volume of the Strategic Master Plan.
Pillar Three explicitly proposes the review and alignment of the National Drug Control Act 2008 with fundamental human rights provisions and the rule of law, which have been awfully slow in their implementation due to lack of logistics and expertise despite political will. However, following the strategic partnership and intense engagements with the NDLEA, WADPN has gained the blessing of the agency to react and lead the review process.
Pillar Four proposes the provision of treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration for problematic drug users. Notwithstanding Sierra Leone’s heavy-handed approach to high-end trafficking and illicit cultivation of drugs, (as elaborated in pillar One) this strategy does not entirely side-track from WADPN’s recommendations. It maintains considerations for proportionality in sentencing, possible diversion of all minor non-violent drug offences from the criminal justice system and explores other alternatives to incarceration and criminalization, such as drug treatment and rehabilitation services. This is expected to translate into the decriminalisation of the use and possession of drugs, or the possession of drug use equipment for the purpose of harm reduction.
Beyond the opportunity for a more humane drug control response, this Strategic Master Plan is expected to contribute significantly to criminal justice reform in Sierra Leone as well as improve the country’s HIV/AIDS response. As pioneers of evidence-based drug policy reform in the sub-region, WADPN commends the NDLEA for following in the steps of Ghana and Liberia to consider reforming their drug law whilst looking forward to the validated Strategic Master Plan as an appropriate forerunner to this process.