Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s West Africa Commission on Drugs Calls for Drug Decriminalization

Press Release June 11, 2014
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240</p>

The drug policy reform movement received a global push on Thursday with the release of the West Africa Commission on Drugs statement calling for decriminalization of low-level non-violent drug offenses and broader drug policy refom. Initiated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Commission is chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango and includes other former heads of state as well as a distinguished group of West Africans from the worlds of politics, civil society, health, security and the judiciary.

The report, Not Just in Transit: Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa, concludes that drug use must be regarded primarily as a public health issue; highlights the need for treatment rather than punishment for drug use; states that the consumption and possession of drugs for personal use should not be criminalised; and that West Africa must not become a new front line in the failed “war on drugs.”

At the report’s release in Dakar, Senegal, Chair of the Commission Obasanjo said, “We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offences.” Kofi Annan echoed: “Most governments’ reaction to simply criminalise drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems.”

In recent years, debate and political will for drug policy reform has gained unprecedented global momentum. In 2011, Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, George Shultz and Paul Volcker joined former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Brazil), César Gaviria (Colombia) and Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico) and other distinguished members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in saying the time had come to “break the taboo” on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs – and to “encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs,” especially marijuana.

More recently, current presidents Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala, and José Mujica in Uruguay have joined these calls for reform. In May, the Organization of American States produced a report, commissioned by heads of state of the region, which included marijuana legalization as a likely policy alternative.

Statement from Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“First Europe, then the Americas, now Africa,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Drug policy reform is truly becoming a global movement, with Kofi Annan and Olusegun Obasango providing the sort of bold leadership that we’ve also seen in Latin America.  Maybe, just maybe, West Africa will be spared the fate of other parts of the world where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption spiraled out of control.”

More information on the West African Commission report can be found at: 

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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