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New Narcotic Control Act introduces alternatives to prison sentences for ‘wee smokers’

To inform judges and magistrates from the Bono, Bono East, and Ahafo regions about the recently implemented Narcotic Control Commission Act 2020 (Act 1019), a sensitization workshop was recently held in Sunyani.

The workshop, which was put on by the Judicial Training Institute, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), and the Perfector of Sentiments Foundation (POS Foundation), sought to inform participants about the alternate punishments for drug possession and use offenses, particularly with regard to Indian hemp.

The Narcotic Control Commission’s former and current director generals, as well as regional prison and police commanders, participated in the event, according to a DailyGuide story.

The Supreme Court’s Justice Tanko Amadu, who is also the Director of the Judicial Training Institute, Kenneth Adu-Amanfeh, the Director General of the Narcotics Control Commission, and Akrasi Sarpong, the former head of NACOB, were notable attendees. Additionally present were His Lordship Justice Patrick Baiye, the Supervising High Court judge for the Bono and Ahafo areas, and Jonathan Osei Owusu, the Executive Director of the POS Foundation. Justice Baiye served as the workshop’s facilitator.

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The POS Foundation’s executive director, Jonathan Osei Owusu, underlined the value of educating the judiciary on the new law and its application.

Instead of concentrating primarily on law enforcement, incarceration, punishment, and repression, he emphasized that the Act 1019 seeks to tackle drug use, possession, and dependency as public health and safety issues.

Individuals found guilty of possessing and using small amounts of narcotics were subject to a 10-year prison term under the previous law, PNDC Law 236. The new law has however replaced the prison sentence with a fine of 200 to 500 penalty units, or between GHS 2,400 and GHS 6,000.

By departing from the norms of the previous administration, this substantial reform provides trial courts with options to jail sentencing. In West Africa, where nations like Kenya and Nigeria have previously implemented pretrial measures to lower jail populations, the adoption of the new law sets a crucial model for drug policy reform advocacy.

Mr. Osei Owusu explained the need for the amendment by pointing out that drug regulations and enforcement have caused more harm than reform because drug use and trafficking have become more prevalent over time despite the harsh penalties in place.

The goal of the training workshop was to give judges and magistrates the skills they need to deal with infractions under the new law, taking into account the health concerns of drug users and offering them the proper rehabilitation or issuing fines.

Director General of the Narcotics Control Commission Kenneth Adu-Amanfeh addressed the audience and emphasized that drug use should be seen as a public health concern rather than a criminal one. He expressed satisfaction that the new law allows magistrates and justices to give human rights and public health safety top priority.

Adu-Amanfeh highlighted that those with light drug use and dependence need help, not punishment, and urged the courts to send them to rehab facilities.

DDP William Kula, the Bono Regional Commander of the Ghana jail Service, gave a favorable response and emphasized that the new act would aid in the reduction of jail population.

At now, the Sunyani Prison, which was built to house 450 inmates but now holds 915, is overcrowded by more than 100%. Notably, 31 prisoners are incarcerated for drug usage and are serving sentences of 15 years or less, while six more are detained pending sentencing. Kula regarded the modification in the new law as a positive development.

Justice Patrick Baiye praised the organizers for their excellent effort and characterized the seminar as being very engaging in his concluding remarks.


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