For the last half century, governments all over the world have been involved in a gratuitous war against drugs, its users, producers and distributors, with the intention of creating a drug free world. This war has been lost evidenced by the exponential increase in drug consumption over the past two decades and the establishment of new drug trafficking syndicates across Southern Africa (Rolles et al, 2012). This is true for Zimbabwe, a country in the heart of Southern –Africa, like its global counterparts Zimbabwe adopted punitive prohibition, criminalising use, possession and production with harsh sentences (Ndlovu, 2012). This prohibitionist stance has created a multifaceted crisis for the country exacerbated by the structural ineptitudes of the government. A progressive and robust solution like decriminalisation is required immediately.
Nature and Magnitude of problem
The prohibitionist approach entrenched under Section 157 of the Criminal Act 23 of 2004 criminalises use, possession and production, with a maximum sentence of 14years. This prohibitionist policy has created a plethora of social, economic and political problems. The problems range from:
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Massive incarcerations. The scope of the current legislation is too wide, criminalising a
wide range of activities. This has resulted in overcrowding of prisons, with the prison
services nearing collapse.
An ever increasing budget for drug related prosecutions. The government allocates a
substantial part of its budget to prosecuting drug related cases. Indirectly government
spends a greater amount in keeping such offenders in prison.
An increase in drug addiction prevalence. There is no clear scientific correlation
between criminalisation and decrease in drug use. On the contrary, statistical evidence
proves that drug addiction has increased over the last 10 years.
Increase in new HIV infections associated with drug use. This relates to intravenous
drug users, who aren’t allowed access to health facilities as they can potentially be
prosecuted. This leads to sharing of needles thus spreading the HIV pandemic.
Tribal and religious disparities in incarcerations, creating political anarchy (Tsakiwa,
2013). Government has been accused of tribal, religious and racial profiling, leading to
the rise in identity politics. Identity politics is extremely dangerous as it can lead to
extremism as witnessed in Rwanda during the genocide.
The problem has also presented itself in nuanced externalities of criminalization. An
unregulated drug market fuelled by free market forces has a number of unintended
consequences (Open Society Foundation, 2011. p 9). Such externalities include violence
perpetuated by drug cartels, hardening of citizens illustrated by high recidivism propensity
associated with drug related offenders and weakening of state institutions through corruption.
Barret in his report warns that if the criminalization of illicit drugs is not reversed, the