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Report: West African governments should decriminalize drug use

[JURIST] West African governments should decriminalize drug use and treat it as a public health issue, according to a report [text, PDF] published Thursday by the West Africa Commission on Drugs [advocacy website]. The report also recommends that governments try to confront corruption so that traffickers cannot exploit corrupt officials. The report, commissioned by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, states, "[w]e believe that the consumption and possession for personal use of drugs should not be criminalised. Experience shows that criminalisation of drug use worsens health and social problems, puts huge pressures on the criminal justice system and incites corruption." The commission also noted that, while West Africa is mainly used as a transit point for smuggling drugs, the West African poor are now using and suffering the effects of the drugs that are being smuggled to Europe and the US. According to the report, although data is scarce, the most popular drug used in West Africa is marijuana, which the report states that is less harmful than other popular drugs such as cocaine and heroine. The commission also released a press release [text, PDF] stating, "[w]e caution that West Africa must not become a new front line in the failed 'war on drugs,' which has neither reduced drug consumption nor put traffickers out of business."

West Africa is mainly used as a transit point for trafficking drugs to Europe. In February 2012 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern [JURIST report] "about reports stating that terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have formed alliances with drug traffickers." West Africa has also faced criticism for human trafficking [JURIST backgrounder].

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