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Western Africa Model Drug Law Explained

Since the West Africa Commission on Drugs launched a groundbreaking model drug law in 2018, civil society across the region and beyond has been engaging stakeholders on the need to use the model law as a blueprint for national reform.

The model drug law promotes, among other things, the availability of harm reduction services as well as the decriminalization of possession of drugs for personal use, which have long been called for by UNAIDS.

As the model drug law is, by design, a long and technical document, UNAIDS supported the West Africa Drug Policy Network and the International Drug Policy Consortium to develop and disseminate two important new tools for civil society: a shorter and more accessible resource that summarizes the key points of the model drug law and a short guide for local nongovernmental organizations to explore how to use the model drug law in their work.

In other words, the first advocacy explainer is about the key “ingredients” of the model drug law and the second contains a list of methods and strategies on how to use these ingredients to better integrate the law in their advocacy and to advance drug policy reform, based on experiences from the region.

These new tools will directly support and empower civil society advocacy for more health- and rights-based drug policies in western Africa

The documents were launched on 27 September during a virtual webinar live on Facebook and can be found in English, French and Portuguese at wadpn.org/resources.

“These new tools will directly support and empower civil society advocacy for more health- and rights-based drug policies in western Africa and, in turn, strengthen the response to HIV among people who use drugs,” said Patrick Brenny, the Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for West and Central Africa.

Adeolu Ogunrombi, a West Africa Commission on Drugs Commissioner, underlined that the needs and demands for drug dependence treatment and harm reduction are high, but service provision is low in the region and specified that the law provides guidance on this. He also noted that criminalizing the possession of equipment and materials, such as needles, syringes and other paraphernalia, has been demon­strated to undermine harm reduction service provision and uptake and to have a damaging impact on public health.

A case study was presented by Chinwike Okereke, a civil society organization representative and focal point for the West Africa Commission on Drugs in Nigeria, on the use of the model drug law. In 2020, a coalition of civil society organizations made presentations on the model drug law to key policymakers, including the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Drug Law Reform Commission and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.

“The model drug law presented an opportunity to have face-to-face discussions and drive a buzz on the reform that led to a drug law reform round table where all key federal, criminal justice and state actors and civil society made a case for the adoption of the law as a template for reform,” he said. Further engagement with the Drug Law Reform Commission then led to the setting-up of a working group that is actively working on reshaping drug laws in the country. He also encouraged civil society to use the new explainers and urged technical and funding partners to invest more funding for this effort across western Africa, as law reform takes some time to achieve.

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