Call to rethink response to South Africa’s drug policy landscape
Cape Town - Rethinking the response to drugs may reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, as a study has found that the current approach has not reduced their use or impact on crime.
This is according to a report published on Wednesday by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) as part of the Enact organised crime programme.
The seminar held by ISS explored ways in which South Africa’s drug policy landscape could be reshaped.
Drug policy specialist and researcher at the University of Pretoria Shaun Shelly said: “Prohibition seemed like the only logical solution to deal with the problems of drugs and the people who use them. Drug policies are, however, a fundamental barrier to an equitable, just country.”
He said drugs had become more readily available today: whenever there is a demand, there is always a supply. This could be seen during the Covid-19 lockdown when there was hardly any disruption in the flow of drugs and the prices did not change significantly in the market.
“Criminalising people that use drugs turned out to be a massive burden on the police and courts. This burden distracts them from other, more serious crimes.
"The conviction rate for crimes such as possession is exceptionally high compared to crimes such as violence against women and murder,” Shelly said.
Former Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron said: “The use of drugs is distributed across all socio-economic and racial groups. The harms that drug policies inflict on them are often defined by race than by class.
“If someone is poor and black, they are much more likely to be the target of misplaced drug enforcement and misplaced incarceration compared to a white person.”
Shelly said people that get caught tend to live in poorer areas because there is more policing. They are also more likely to not have the resources for legal representation at court and to be able to go to an expensive rehab.
“The current drug policies present a problem when it comes to decreasing the demand for drugs. Due to the fact that it is being criminalised and stigmatised people are less likely to seek help for it. All policies should be based on a human rights approach by over emphasising the human health interventions especially in the public health sector,” he said.