Written by Davids Blessing Aigbe, an SSDP student from Nigeria.The drug war is an age-long war that has survived many generations. Most leaders of the world and anti-drug agencies spend fortunes every year battling the use of drugs, using wealth that could be utilized to better the lives of citizens. Several anti-drug policies and laws have been enacted. Unfortunately, the war on drugs is failing by the day. Drug abusers continue to fill our courts, hospitals, and prisons. The drug trade still causes violent crime that ravages our neighborhoods, children of drug abusers are neglected, abused, and even abandoned. The only beneficiaries of this war are organized crime members and drug dealers. A question to ponder on is this: Why are some drugs legal and other drugs illegal today? When many currently illegal drugs, such as marijuana, opium, coca, and psychedelics have been used for thousands of years for both medical and spiritual purposes. It’s not based on any scientific assessment of the relative risks of these drugs – but it has everything to do with who is associated with these drugs.
The United States and many other countries have focused their efforts on the criminalization of drug use. Their governments have, to no avail, spent countless billions of dollars in efforts to eradicate the supply of drugs. Efforts of interdiction and law enforcement have not been met with decreases in the availability of drugs in America. Apart from being costly, drug law enforcement has been counterproductive.
As stated by Alex Klein, in his book Review of Nigerian Political Economy:
“The Nigerian government has taken dramatic steps to improve the country’s reputation as an international drug trafficking centre. As most of the emphasis has fallen on law enforcement and repression there has been a sharp increase in arrest rates and the prison population. In spite of such severe measures, a correlative fall in consumption has not been registered. There is a danger that Nigeria is not only repeating the unsuccessful strategies employed by the U.S but is also failing to take account of the very different conditions in the local drug scene. It follows that the ostensible outcome of drug control – reduced consumption and trafficking – has become secondary to the manipulation of drug law enforcement for the extension of state authority and to effect societal and political control.”
In recognition of this failure, it has become expedient that a new approach to drug use and the war against it is sought. There is a need for a fundamental shift in every state’s policies against drugs. Drug policies should be formed and reformed based on health, compassion, and human rights. Current drug laws that criminalize drug use and addiction need to be relaxed and nations need to shift spending from law enforcement and penalization to education, treatment, and prevention.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society. With a commitment to providing education on harms caused by the War on drugs, SSDP mobilizes and empowers young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive Drug War policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth. With a vision to develop leaders who advocate for policy changes based on justice, liberty, compassion and reason, SSDP holds annual conferences where young people meet to have open and honest conversations about the realities of the drug war. The 2016 SSDP conference brought together over four hundred students and young people from over the world and largely America. It was held from the 15th–17th of April at the Holiday Inn Roselyn, Arlington, Virginia, USA, with a demonstration on the 18th at the Dag Hammerskjold plaza, opposite the United Nations building in New York. It was a weekend of fun, serious talks, meeting and making new friends and sharing of ideas. Fellow SSDP Nigeria member Ononuju Okwaraogoma Silver and I were there to share the Nigerian experience.
At the conference, we wanted to educate our fellow SSDPers about the ways drug use is perceived culturally in Africa and how is differs from concerns about the effects of drug policies on drug users in general. In African culture we view drug involvement from an immoral perspective; any recreational drug use is viewed as bad. It is a child that is not properly guided and influenced by peer pressure that gets into drug use, and by extension, addiction. To our peers, questions about the ethics of drug use are never asked because in our society all drug use is unethical. This is in contrast to Western society where the level of freedom and advocacy for human rights has made the use of drugs within activist circles more normal, and there is greater tolerance to people who use drugs and more compassion towards people with addictions. We do not have the same level of cultural sensitivity associated with drug use in Africa as the western world. This does not mean that we condemn drug users as bad people, but rather explains why policies in African government’s favor a war on drugs through harmful policies towards drug users rather than policies that support drug users, and why it is so difficult to have conversations about changing those policies. The fact remains that harmful policies have never and cannot end the drug war. This is why SSDPers, irrespective of the cultural background stand together to say policies should be formed based on love, care, support, and compassion, bearing in mind that drug addiction is not a crime but a health issue.