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Opinions of Friday, 5 December 2014

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

In Support of the Legalization of Marijuana

By Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo

About eight months ago, the boss of the now defunct Narcotic Control Board (NACOB), Mr. Akrasi Sarpong, raised some hackles in Ghana by daring to suggest that marijuana should be legalized in the country. A period of controversy followed this novel suggestion with some discerning Ghanaians positing that his declaration is akin to a grand shepherd advocating for wolves’ tickets to a dinner reserved for the sheep. After a hiatus of silence, some notable scholars and lawyers have recently added their voices to the call to legalize marijuana. I am writing to throw my full weight behind the legalization of the herb, and indeed all other drugs for that matter. As an initial caveat, I have never done any drugs in my entire life and do not intend to do so any time soon. Indeed, it is the general impression of many that know me that I am naturally hallucinating all by myself most of the time anyways, and so I don’t need the help of barbiturates, psychotropics or hallucinogens to stay in my own phantasmagoric world. Hard drugs are bad news, and sensible people who want to make something out of their lives will stay far away from it because they do indeed ossify the brain, enslave the individual and enhance one’s propensity for criminality.
But the issue of legalization of drugs, as opposed to their criminalization, is a valid argument to make, irrespective of whether drugs are salubrious or deleterious. It goes to the core of the substantive freedom of the individual person, and up to now, I am not convinced that the government has any compelling reason to interfere with the individual’s right to be as high as s/he wants, to have fun or to induce fantasy. I don’t see how the interest of our commonwealth and weal is advanced by proscribing the use of drugs.
The most stupid policy in this world is this so-called war on drugs. It is dangerously expensive, wasteful, destructive, distractive and unwinnable. It is just making the drug barons super-rich by hiking the drug prices while impoverishing everybody else! Nearly one century of war against drugs has seen individuals (especially of minority extraction) confined in jails here in America, making the country one with the highest per capita of incarcerated people. That war has cost the tax payer billions in wasteful human resources, pointless legal persecution and wanton destruction of many lives and property. Yet, up to now, there is nothing to show for it. Rather, there is every reason to believe that the future will see an exponential growth in drug trafficking, as the very laws that aim to proscribe the practice have made it more attractive. And for countries as poor as ours, the only hope for some to enjoy astronomical wealth is to go into the drug trade. That to me is far better than stealing from the mass of the people to get rich!
The beneficiaries of this so-called war on drugs are ironically the drug barons themselves, since government’s fixation on drug enforcement has created scarcity and increased demand. If the present trends continue, drug barons will become richer than whole nations and build formidable army to protect their turf. But if we are sensible enough to legalize drugs, the first casualties of legalization will be the drug barons themselves, since the availability of the drug in the open market will virtually collapse its demand and deflate prices, throwing them out of business.
And there is no evidence that legalization will lead to the collapse of the social order, or create a class of catatonic individuals perpetually caught in a somnambulist orgy. Those caught in the throes of this aforementioned fear have history as their guide. Between 1920 and 1933, the American society prohibited the use of alcoholic beverages. That act by itself created a class of bootleggers who became very rich and powerful through underground trading in alcoholic beverages. Today, the very core elite of American plutocracy may be traceable to bootlegging, a lucrative trade in alcohol occasioned by an ill-fated law.
In those days, the initial debate about legalization of alcohol took on the trappings of today’s hackneyed arguments against legalization of drugs. Paranoid individuals invoked frightful pictures of Bacchanalian societies addicted to drugs, unhinged by violence and uninhibited in its orgiastic adventures.…a society in which logic has entirely collapsed and law and order have descended into the Stygian abyss. But legalization of alcohol did not bring in its wake these apocalyptic phenomena, and our society has not collapsed on account of the bottle. The same will be the case for legalization of drugs; it will not bring an end to the world as we know it. European countries like the Netherlands lead the way in the experimentation of legalization, and so far, the records reflect that they are doing just fine. So what are we waiting for?
Anybody that decides to do drugs will find a way to do it anyway, and it is costly to him and the whole society if the drug is illegal and therefore inaccessible. It simply means that the drug is expensive, and as a result, the person needing it will engage in criminal acts if s/he cannot afford the drugs through a legal budget. In this sense, the very criminalization of drugs promotes more crimes in the system.
And the drug issue should be seen more as a mental health problem than a criminal one. A person doing the drugs can lose total control of all his faculties and become a lobotomized slave to the drug. Processing him through the legal system and confining him to jail will not solve his/her problem. He may be more amenable to counseling and care to bring him back to normalcy. Legalization, taxation and regulation are the ways to approach the issue and make it a win-win for everybody. You legalize the drug, regulate it through prescription and taxation, and monitor its use by proper legislation, and you save the life of the habitual user, take the power from the trafficker, and profit by it.
And those who are exaggerating the harm done to individuals by these drugs should be educated to understand that every drug has commensurate harmful effect whether prescribed by a doctor or purchased from the counter. The whole set-up of western orthodox medicine is grounded on pharmaceutical products which are per se harmful to the human anatomy. And yet we take these medications because they are prescribed for us by pharmacists who balance the equity of harm as opposed to their benefits. And using the same logic, it is not difficult to see that the cost of war on drugs is so astronomical that the benefits of legalization far counterbalance it. You have a whole regiment of law enforcement people devoted to the persecution of drug traffickers. Then you have the judiciary set up to try them. Then you have prisons upon prisons built to incarcerate drug users and traffickers, to be guarded and guided by troops of prisons officer, all to what avail? Yet, by the magic wand of legalization, we can take off the factors that weigh heavily on our resources and substitute them with life-preservation systems that promote the interest of all the society.
The fight against drugs is a Sisyphean one, putting the whole of the society on a dangerous merry-go round with no end in sight. It is sheer insanity to continue what we are doing over and over again while the drug problem becomes bigger and bigger. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by legalizing drug use, taxing it and regulating it. Meanwhile, there are the thieves, bribe-takers, rapists, fraudsters, bigots and nepotists for whom we must devote our limited resources in order to bring to book. The NACOB boss, Akrasi Sarpong, knows a lot more about these drugs than many Ghanaians, given his own peculiar history and experience with them, and when he waxes lyrical about legalization, perhaps it is time for all Ghanaians to pay close attention.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, General Legal Practitioner, lives in Austin, Texas. You can email him at sarfoadjei@yahoo.com