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LET US COUNT THE COST

Posted by Johnny (john) on Dec 23 2014
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The same however cannot be said of our beloved country, Ghana.  For as long as Ghana do not return to basics and focus on agriculture and the production sectors of our economy, we will continue to face such challenges in the future should we recover from our present predicament. However, in our current situation, we need to take all measures to ensure that the public purse is used judiciously and we have value for money. In our bid to enforce the laws of the country, we need to ask ourselves some few questions; is this course of action cost effective? What do we seek to achieve? Is it the best practice worldwide and does the goal has any scientific justification?

INTERNATIONAL LAWS

Ghana has always pride itself as one of the foremost countries to ratify international laws and the laws on prohibition of narcotics is no exception. The 1961 and 1971 conventions on psychoactive substances placed all known substances in various classes of prohibition and Ghana, as a signatory to these laws, was mandated to let her laws be consistent with these international laws. The convention was that, ‘place all substances you are not sure about (in terms of its properties) in the most restrictive level unless otherwise proven by thorough scientific enquiry.

EVALUATION OF THESE LAWS

After several years of implementation of these laws, it is generally believed that these laws have failed to render our societies drug-free which were one of the aims of these international laws. Indeed, the war on drugs has tended to be war against the users of drugs to the advantage of all those involved in the production chain including drug traffickers. The media landscape is inundated with news of drug traffickers and their accomplices and there seem to be no end in sight. The UN itself has set up several expert commissions to evaluate these laws and one drug that has received several evaluations has been the cannabis herb. The conclusions of experts in the addiction field and other stakeholders have been that, cannabis is wrongly placed and there is the need to change the laws to be consistent with what we now know about the cannabis plant. The question is; why hasn’t the laws been changed? International politics as usual while some also believe it’s all about conspiracy in favor of the multinational pharmaceutical companies.

 

CHANGING THE LAWS

There is good scientific evidence that cannabis may offer control of the immune system and in turn provide protection from viral infections such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola, not to talk about its effectiveness against hepatitis, cancer, epilepsy, Nausea, glaucoma, etc and has a very large therapeutic window. Cannabis has already been recognized to inhibit fungus and bacteria growth. There is some sort of agreement among medical practitioners as to the medicinal benefits of cannabis. However, the challenge is how to make it safer for recreational users. The recommended way to go is Harm Reduction just in the same lines of encouragement of condom use among adolescents. Indeed, most countries that were signatory states alongside Ghana, realizing the injustices in the classification of cannabis have taken bold steps to change their laws. Apart from Uruguay which has completely legalize the herb, Holland tolerates retail use in their famous coffee shops set up. Others have shifted from criminal penalties to civil penalties and I wish Ghana would at least, make some amendments by shifting to civil penalties. In other jurisdictions you are only arrested and taken to a community tribunal when you are found with five (5) days supply of the drug.

THE COSTOF MAINTAINING A DRUG USER IN CUSTODY

One of the reasons given to support the claim that the international conventions has been a failure is the shifting of scarce resources to arrest, detain, prosecute and incarcerate offenders. It is believed that, if we are able to cost the resources expended in taking an offending drug user through the process, and compare it to our overall objective, we may conclude that it is really not worth it. Let us assume that, it takes the prison service an average amount of Ghc 5.00/day to maintain a drug user in custody. (This may not include the cost of transporting the offender to court, his medical bills, the cost to the judicial services and stationary among others,) and before prosecuting, the offender spends at least, 35 days in custody, this amounts to Ghc 175.00. Secondly, assuming that the drug offender is convicted and sentenced to the maximum ten (10) years as it is in the statutory books, it means the state will use a whooping Ghc 18,200.00 of our taxes to keep a breadwinner in prison. This excludes the other cost components mentioned earlier and the fact that, he goes to add up to the already congested prison makes this option very unattractive and a drain on the national purse. Moreover, this person is never a threat to national security and may have dependents whose dreams hang in the balance. Assuming he is even sentence to five (5) years in prison, the repercussions on his family (both immediate and extended) will be dire.

 

A BIRD IN HAND…

This year alone, psychiatric nurses in the country especially those who work at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital had undertaken a number of demonstrations to press home demand for improved conditions for the mentally ill patients at the facility. This is because, despite the fact that the management has taken steps to reduce the patient population by half the previous number, the hospital is still grappling with taking care of those on admission. I can state emphatically that the state has not provided the main stream psychotropic medications for use by the three (3) psychiatric hospitals for this year, 2014. Feeding the about 500 patients of the Accra psychiatric hospital is a big challenge to the management of the hospital since the government is not forthcoming with the projected amount to take care of the patients. This has made suppliers to grade the hospital as ‘not credit worthy’. This resulted in the situation where one day, the patients were deprived of breakfast. This is no doubt unacceptable and it is the nurses who usually bear the brunt of the aggression from patients. Sometimes, getting fuel into vehicles to transport patients outside the facility for treatment or examinations at other health facilities becomes a challenge. Recently, the Accra Psychiatric Hospital had to follow the other two (2) psychiatric hospitals in the country by stopping admissions for almost a week due to the financial challenges. The amount of money the state would have to spend on a harmless citizen who is a drug offender would do a whole lot of good in the psychiatric hospitals.

CONCLUSIONS

In as much as I agree that, till the laws are changed to decriminalize use, cannabis is still regarded as a dangerous narcotic and smoking in public places is prohibited, in this respect it is not cost effective to treat a drug offender as a criminal. Moreover, the conclusion of the West African Commission on drugs which was chaired by former Nigerian president, Olunsegun Obasanjo was that, African countries including Ghana should take steps to decriminalize low level drug offences and that, punishing personal use of drugs did not work. The commission further stated that the current policies only incite corruption and provoked violence. Need I say more?

 

The writer is a student of International Program in Addiction Studies and a staff at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital.

 

samuelhanu(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk

Last changed: Dec 23 2014 at 7:35 PM

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