18 Nov 2020

Drug trafficking / South Africa should map the long road to unbanning drugs

Re-focusing drug policy on harm reduction rather than law enforcement will take time and evidence.

South Africa’s prohibitionist and punitive response to drugs has not reduced the supply, demand or harms related to their use and trade. The criminalisation of people who use drugs is a massive burden on the criminal justice system and a barrier to improving livelihoods in affected communities.

 This has been the trend worldwide according to a new report published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) as part of the ENACT organised crime programme. The study was released during an online seminar on 18 November. ENACT is an EU-funded programme that monitors and develops responses to transnational organised crime in Africa.

 Despite vast expenditure on drug bans, arrests and imprisonment over more than five decades, drugs are now more readily available at lower prices. Drug use globally has increased significantly and the social and health harms associated with current drug policies are substantial.

 Re-thinking drug policy in South Africa is essential but will take time, says Shaun Shelly, drug policy specialist and researcher at the University of Pretoria and co-author of the report Rethinking prohibition: Towards an effective response to drugs in South Africa.

‘Current attitudes among politicians and society towards people who use drugs mean that change is unlikely until the benefits of alternative approaches are proven,’ Shelly said.

 Given the enormous challenge of reforming the country’s approach to drugs, the ISS report aims to spark dialogue and debate rather than prescribe action. The aim of future policy and law should be to reduce the potential harms and risks of drugs to the individual, community and society, said Shelly.

With harm reduction prioritised over law enforcement, the police and courts will have more resources to fight serious and violent crime. And those currently criminalised for using drugs would be able to access health, social and other services without fear and stigma.

Policy and legislation that regulates scheduled drugs should enable education, community-based services and support, and treatment when appropriate. These programmes must be based on evidence about what works in the South African context. Reducing crime, violence and gang activity related to the drug trade will also be important.

The contents of this media release and the research report can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the EU or necessarily, the members of the ENACT partnership.

For further information and interviews, please contact:

Shaun Shelly: [email protected], +27 76 511 0863

Romi Sigsworth, ISS: [email protected]

The full report by Shaun Shelly and Romi Sigsworth Rethinking prohibition: Towards an effective response to drugs in South Africa is available here. To watch the video recording of the seminar, click here.

Photo © Adobe Stock – Impact Photography


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