Uruguay’s decision to legalise the planting, selling, buying and smoking of marijuana has drawn controversy worldwide.
The distance between Kigali and Montevideo is approximately 9,550km, a safe enough gap for Rwandans, but unfortunately drug abuse is a global tragedy.
The adoption of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, was regarded as a milestone in the history of international drug control because it codified all existing multilateral treaties on drug control and extended the existing control systems to include the cultivation of plants considered raw material for narcotic drugs.
In principal, the Convention’s objective was to limit the possession, use, trade in, distribution, import, export, manufacture and production of drugs exclusively to medical and scientific purposes and to address drug trafficking through international cooperation to deter and discourage drug traffickers.
Indeed, over 180 countries, including Uruguay, signed up through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. They pledged to develop laws to ensure compliance.
Uruguay’s new edict is a straight violation of this effort and the UN, Paraguay and Brazil are among those who have voiced their disparagement.
The truth is, though countries have won several battles including arresting top drug dealers, foiling drug trade routes or capturing and destroying millions of tones of drugs, they’re not anywhere near to winning the anti-drug war.
Rwanda National Police can testify to this with recent statistics. In August 2013, over 200 drug abuse suspects were arrested in Kicukiro district while another 117 were rounded up in Nyarugenge. But these are half victories because arresting suspects doesn’t cure their addiction so the fight against drug abuse continues to Iwawa Rehabilitation Centre.
Those who have visited Iwawa, Rwanda’s drug rehabilitation centre located on Lake Kivu in the Western Province, have witnessed the wrath of drug abuse on young people.
At Iwawa, the Government tries to give them a new lease of life with skills not a puff. Imagine if the country opted for legalising marijuana!
Iwawa is a costly undertaking for a country with many priorities, but one the government has to endure to ‘liberate’ drug hostages yet some have criticized the project as too restrictive. Would these critics prefer legalising then? It’s a no brainer.
A survey by the Ministry of Youth and ICT conducted in 20 districts and whose results were presented in 2012, found that 52.5 per cent of the youth in Rwanda have at least once used drugs, and 92.7 per cent of that population group kept on consuming them.
The head of anti narcotics unit in the Rwanda National Police said last year that the largest number people who abuse drugs are in the 18 to 35 age group. That means most of them are of school going age. Imagine what legalisation would mean!
Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that over 200 million people abuse drugs, at least once a year and 25 million of these are declared addicts. It’s also estimated that 2.5 million people globally die from drug abuse-related complications.
So where is the logic in legalising drug use?
Uruguay claims that by legalising marijuana use, the state will be able to control the planting, distribution and consumption of the drug through issuing licenses to institutions that want to be involved in the production, distribution or selling of cannabis.
This is aimed at reducing the black market dealers and even if they choose to compete, analysts say the government-owned marijuana stores will be cheaper with a gram expected to be priced at as low as one US dollar.
A small state with just over 3 million people, Uruguay’s new controversial law will be closely watched globally for results.
Already the fear is that the small South American nation could become a ‘drug paradise’ attracting many users from countries where the use and trade of drugs remains strictly illegal.
But Uruguay says their law only applies to citizens and foreigners can’t claim defense under the legislation.
What if it becomes a success?
Already, some commentators are arguing that any form of legalising drug use is a major victory to drug lords and a sign of surrender by governments. This argument is likely to gain more respect if it succeeds in Uruguay.
Whatever happens, success or failure, many in Rwanda or East Africa would hope that their governments resist temptations of adopting this approach to fighting drug abuse.
In East Africa, the police forces are doing a good job with joint operations and in Rwanda; Iwawa should be supported not lambasted; schools and parents should also get on with sensitization.
These efforts will help isolate Uruguay as a lone traveler on a sticky path.