Saturday, December 08, 2012

Liberia: Call for tougher drug laws

Photo: Prince Collins/IRIN. A cannabis smoker in Monrovia

Source: IRIN

MONROVIA, 7 December 2012 (IRIN) - Liberia's Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been trying to crack down on local drug dealers since the civil war ended but there are significant challenges due to weak laws and logistical problems.

Liberia is both a transit point for drugs being transported from South America to Europe, and also a drug-producer, mainly of marijuana which is grown by small-scale producers.

"The fight against illicit drugs in Liberia is a challenging and an overwhelming kind of undertaking. There has not been any kind of legal framework to address the issue. And as such, traffickers, users and other people take advantage of that weakness and there is a serious problem in the country," said LEA Director Anthony Souh.

"Logistics has been the problem. Logistics are all driven on the wheel of finance. Government has not been in the position to finance all of its projects properly because of the war," he said, adding that Liberia can only become drug-free if there are harsher penalties.

Under current law, a drug user can get bail for as little as US$72.

"If you want to fight drugs in any country, the first and most important thing is the adequacy and effectiveness of the legal framework, and the next area... is the control of illicit drugs, which has to do with law enforcement. In this area we have deployed men in all 15 counties since we took over... We will need to beef up our intelligence capability, and training is also taking place too," said Souh.

A bill is currently going through parliament. Its drafter, Bong County representative George Mulbah, says if passed it will make drug-trafficking a non-bailable offence.

Pervasive in capital

A 2012 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) pinpoints some of the worst-affected areas in and around the capital, Monrovia. Brian Morales, foreign affairs officer from the US Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, who is one of the authors of the report, told a gathering in Washington DC that the communities in Liberia with the highest drug use are Congo Town, Chocolate City, New Kru Town, Clara Town, Duala, Red Light and West Point.

Almost all other neighbourhoods in the capital were perceived as having drug-related problems to a greater or lesser extent, he added.

Some 9 percent of students in Liberia say they use cannabis, according to the UNODC 2012 global drug report, while the increased trafficking of cocaine has also led to increased cocaine use across the region.

Morales, who is expected to lead a delegation to Liberia shortly, said the main objective of the report is to provide a snapshot to help decision-makers with initial low-cost interventions on drug prevention, treatment and care.

"I... realized that the contributing factor has been the addiction of most of our young people to drugs," said Mulbah. Criminal activities, including armed robbery, are carried out by drug addicts, he added. "...When government arrests any of them, they file a bond and the next day they are out."

Crime and addiction

Zuo Taylor, director of Youth Crime Watch, a local NGO which works with underprivileged youths and drug addicts to try to get them to change their behaviour, and also with students to explain the danger of narcotics, notes some of the difficulties:

"It is a challenge because every sector of the country is affected. We meet them one-on-one encouraging them to change their attitude and live a positive life. We have succeeded in changing the lives of some of them but more needs to be done.

Victor Swen, a father of two, said planting marijuana helps him support his family, but pointed out that some youths who smoke marijuana turn to theft.

Substances were heavily promoted during the civil war. Various concoctions of drugs were reported to be regularly consumed by militias as a form of psychic and physical "protection" against enemy bullets, and to make fighters brave and fearless.

"They rob people at night and hold people up at gunpoint. Marijuana makes them brave to do anything," he told IRIN, adding "I love smoking it... I also supply it to other buyers from Monrovia and Guinea. That's the business that I do."

In the central Liberian town of Gbarnga where residents grow marijuana, local youths frown on people who see them as useless in society.

Melvin Willie, 22, a high school dropout spends his day planting marijuana and smoking it as well. He said he has been in the business for more than five years.

"Whenever I smoke marijuana I do anything that my heart tells me to do. I look into the face of anyone and tell them what I think. I am not afraid when I smoke. I become brave whenever I smoke the crops. Many times I get involved in a fight with people who try to look down at me," he said.