The son of a Scottish aristocrat, Jack Marrian, 30, has been charged in Kenya with trafficking nearly 100kg of cocaine in one of the country’s biggest drugs seizures in recent years.

You could soon pay fines in the range of sh5 million and Ksh20 million for being in possession of narcotic drugs. This is according to the Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2020, a proposal of purely religious and hardline conservatives in the Kenyan parliament.

In particular, the bill is a proposal by the committee on Administration and National Security chaired by Hon. Paul Koinange, MP Kiambaa Constituency. Mr. Koinange, an ardent supporter of family values. In a recent interview with a leading television network, Mr. Koinange noted that drug abuse increases the severity of mental health issues, damaging family and social relations. He revealed that 55% of young people have engaged in at least one major form of substances abuse; hence, he seeks a more hardline approach to war on narcotic drugs.

The legal definition of narcotics in Kenya is broad, and contains a series of drugs in the First Schedule. Notable drugs listed as ‘narcotics’ include cannabis, cocaine, codeine, Desomorphine just to name a few.

According to the Amendment Bill championed by Mr. Koinange, law enforcement officers who fail to prevent the supply of narcotic drugs will be fined not less than Ksh20 million or imprisonment for not less than 20 years or both.

The proposed penalty for trafficking of narcotic drugs and substances is a 10% increase in the current fines that range from Ksh500,000 to Ksh1 million or three times market value of the drugs.

Landlord are not spared too; if their apartment host tenants that prepare or use narcotics are liable for a fine of at least kes. 20 million or imprisonment of not less than 10 years or both.

Flawed Public Policy

Over 25 years ago, President Moi declared drub abuse public enemy number 1, starting an unprecedented government campaign on war on drugs. Today, the numbers are in. As reported by Deputy Commissioner of Prisons Benjamin Njoga , “We have an average of 54,000 inmates convicted and non-convicted involving both genders. There is a bit of overcrowding since the capacity is 28,000.” 

The war led to not only mass incarceration, but also government corruption and the destabilization in certain parts where police brutality is common especially in the coastal city of Mombasa. All of this while we still waste billions of taxpayers money every year only to create and fuel powerful drug cartels while the goal of war on drugs seems more unachievable that ever.

A world without drugs, can this be achievable?

The core strategy of winning the narcotics war, according to Hon. Koinange and his colleagues at Parliament Road is ‘no drugs= no problems’. All his proposals are focused on eradicating the supply of drugs and imprison drug traffickers. Nonetheless, narcotics do not follow the law of supply and demand.

Narcotics are not price-sensitive- drugs will be consumed no matter their prices. Even after a major drug dealer has been arrested, the supply for the end-user is not reduced. There are thousands of small-scale traders that still supply narcotics to the end users.  Remarkably, a prison warden attached to GK Manyani Maximum was recently found with a consignment of cannabis suspected to be ordered by a prisoner.

The supply of narcotics will still remain the same even if stringent measures are proposed in the country. Dar es Salaam has been fingered as the region’s key transit point for illicit drugs, facilitating the movement of multi-million-dollar narcotics to Kenya, Uganda and Europe as a result of its porous borders and poor policing. Heroin is transported by small vessels southward along Kenya’s southern coast, which is easily accessed by Tanzania’s traffickers with loads of experience transporting drugs.

So, harsh penalties here in Kenya will make narcotics business more lucrative for local or international traffickers, and will not reduce supply at all. Mr. Koinange and his colleagues cannot win war on drugs by focusing on the supply side. Not only drugs are readily accessible, the demand is increasing especially during pandemic times; a survey by the International Society of Addiction Medicine (ISAM) found an increase in the number of Kenyans indulging in substance consumption.

For many young people across the world, it is as easy to access cannabis as alcohol. But this does not end here.

Harsh penalties may prevent a certain type of people from taking drugs, but in the process, causes huge damage to the society. Many of the problems associated with drug use are actually caused by the war against them. For example, harsh penalties on marijuana use has now forced traffickers to be more creative in their packing to ensure more potent cannabis, or ‘shash’ are stored in the little space as possible to increase profitability. This is also evident after Mututho law was enacted; there was an increase in consumption of ‘new generation’’ drinks (mostly, flavoured spirit-based beverages marketed in the formal sector) as compared to beer.

The prohibition of certain narcotics, especially cannabis and heroine, has led to more violence and murders across the country. In 2018, 43 criminal groups were identified as operating in Mombasa by the National Crime Research Centre (NCRC) – a state office under the Ministry of Interior. Gangs and cartels in the coastal region that have no access to the legal system set their scores using violence. This has led to an ever increasing spiral of brutality, especially the gruesome murders involving machetes in Kisauni and nearby areas.

The Most Damage and Solution

But where the drugs on war cause the most damage is the incarcerations of non-violent drug offenders. In July 2013, Kenyans were startled by a story of Kevin Muriithi, a Moi University graduate, who admitted to growing cannabis at his farm, and that it provides him with nutrients just like any other plant. Mr. Muriithi was a victim of harsh punishments as he was arrested and charged with possession of narcotics.

The only solution for this is harm reduction. For example, as regards to marijuana, MPs could legalize its consumption, not only for the sake of the economy, but for the purpose of maintaining family values. Besides, for heroine addicts, the governemnt could provide treatment centres where they would be provided with free heroine of high quality, get clean needles, and access safe injection rooms, beds, and medical supervision. Social workers could help them overcome major problems in the addicts’ lives. Here, the addicts would focus on getting better not financing their drug dependence behaviors.

The war on drugs initiated by Moi resulted in a system that bulldozes human rights and creates significant human suffering. After several decades of fighting, Mr. Koinange and his colleagues are joining an unwinnable war using the same old unpopular strategies.

It is time for our MPs to embrace new line of reasoning to move to something better, harm reduction.

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