Law enforcement trained on shifting roles as Ghana's drug policy pivots toward health and rights
Co-authored by Doris Bangfu, Legal practicioner, Ghana
On the 14th and 15th September 2021, the POS Foundation and the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) Ghana Chapter organised a two-day workshop for law enforcement officials in the country. The workshop was delivered in collaboration with IDPC Africa, with support from the Open Society Foundations – and the theme was “Understanding the Narcotics Control Commission Act 2020: The role of law enforcement and prosecutors in health- and rights-based implementation of the Act”. Nearly 30 participants were drawn from the Ghana Police Service, the Prison Service, the Narcotics Control Commission, and the Attorney General’s Department.
The objective of the workshop was to increase the awareness of participants on the new Narcotics Control Commission Act 2020 (Act 1019), and also build their knowledge on current trends in drug policy - which require that drug law enforcement should be situated within a human rights and public health context, especially the need for harm reduction services for people who use drugs.
The workshop was preceded by an opening ceremony, chaired by a Justice of the Court of Appeal, and there were also solidarity remarks from the Prisons Service, the Narcotics Control Commission and the Ministry of Health. The Special Guest of Honour was the Country Director of the UNODC, who pledged their support to work with the Narcotics Control Commission in the implementation of the new Act.
The Republic of Ghana, through its Parliament, passed the Narcotics Control Commission Act in March 2020, which was assented to by the President and made into law on 11th May 2020, repealing the preceding drug laws on the books. The new Act represents an important example for drug policy reforms in Africa, as it seeks, amongst many things, to treat drug use and dependence as a public health issue rather than focusing on law enforcement, incarceration, punishment, and repression. For example, the new law has converted the previous prison terms for drug possession for personal use into fines of between 200-500 penalty units (translating to GHC 2,400–6,000). This means that, instead of sending people to prison for a minimum of five years for simple possession of drugs for personal use, as was the case under the old law, Ghana will now offer alternatives to incarceration and criminalisation.
To ensure an effective and efficient implementation of the law, civil society in Ghana deemed it necessary to engage key actors to help build their capacity and understanding on how to achieve an effective implementation of the new Act. Law enforcement personnel will remain key actors when it comes to these issues, as the Act means that they will continue to be the first point of contact between state authorities and many people who use drugs. It is therefore imperative to emphasise their obligations and roles.
During the workshop, participants made several recommendations on how the new law can be most effectively implemented to address the needs of people who use drugs:
- Participants proposed that it was important to have in place Standardised Operating Procedures amongst the various law enforcement agencies on how to treat people who use drugs, because there appears currently to be a disparity of treatment and focus among the various agencies.
- Participants also proposed the involvement of the Department of Social Welfare in the assessment and diversion of people who use drugs from the criminal justice system and into treatment, rehabilitation, or harm reduction services to ensure expertise and continuity.
- There were calls by participants to also introduce drug policy and human rights training as a standard, constant element of the curriculum for all new recruits of the police service.
- Further, there were calls for similar trainings or workshops for new and existing judges at both circuit and district courts, since they are another important group in the implementation of the new law.
- Similar trainings around the new law are also being organised throughout the country for local cannabis farmers, to sensitise them on what the new Narcotics Control Commission Act is, and what benefits it may bring.
- International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
- West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN)