The Legislative Committee of Liberia reports back to Senate on the Controlled Drug and Substance Act 2014 (amended).
Following months of a careful review of the amended Controlled Drug and Substance Act 2014, the Legislative Committee of the Liberian Senate, on July 25, 2022, presented its findings and recommendations to the plenary.
In cooperation with the Office of Honorable Thomas Goshua and the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) facilitated the amendment in March 2021. It was motivated by calls for a stricter drug law to address the drug trade and its effects in Liberia.
The committee highlighted that the amended law is progressive and in line with international standards for a comprehensive approach to drug control, even though all drug-related acts remain unlawful. The law allows people with substance use disorders and dependence to participate in drug treatment and rehabilitation programs instead of being locked up under the law. It also dramatically reduces the minimum and maximum sentences for drug use and possession from 5 to 20 years to 3 months and 18 months, respectively, and separates possession of prohibited substances for trafficking from personal use.
The law designates illegal drug cultivation, manufacture, transportation, and trafficking as a first-degree felony offence that is not subject to bail and carries a mandatory 10 to 20-year prison term. The committee emphasised that the classification violates Article 21 d (I) of Liberia’s 1986 constitution, even though the law establishes an evidence-based drug control intervention framework. Therefore, they suggested that illegal drug cultivation, manufacturing, transportation, and trafficking should be a criminal offence punishable by bail, but only if a 200 per cent instant-payable bond covering the value of the exhibit is paid.
According to a different senator, the recommendation defies the very goal of the amendment, which is to stop the flow of drugs into Liberia by ensuring that high-end traffickers are subject to the full force of the law and are not given any opportunity to get out of it. She referenced several incidents in Liberia where top-end dealers used bail to evade the criminal justice system. She maintained that because too-end dealers usually have fortunes in billions, they should not be subject to bail since they can easily afford whatever bond sum set by the court and use their connections to dodge prosecution.
The Controlled Drug and Substance Act of 2014 was amended with the express intention of making drug trafficking a non-bailable offence while simultaneously lowering the criminal penalties for drug use and possession and improving the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs.
But it appears that the non-bailable drug trafficking provision in the amendment has become the main point of contention among senators, and if this issue is not resolved at their next session, the concurrence of the amendment is likely to stall.
As a major player in the process and an organisation that supports progressive drug policies that are human rights and public health-focused, WADPN urges the Senators to find a compromise that adheres to the constitution while advancing the human rights and welfare of people who use drugs.
However, the committee Chairman advised members to read the revised statute and pick up their discussions again in October following their constituency recess. WADPN will continue to closely monitor the process to ensure that the outcome is in the best interests of minor, nonviolent drug offenders and associated underserved populations.
Watch the session here!