Decriminalise drug use: Lobby groups

By Chipo Gudhe

An advocacy group, the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession and use.

The ZCLDN emphasized that they are not advocating for the legalization of drugs but for a more progressive approach to drug policy.

Wilson Box, the Director of ZCLDN, recently spoke to journalists, urging the government to move away from outdated methods of dealing with drug and substance use.

“Let us remove harsh sentences and give civil penalties for possession and use of small quantities. We are against harsh laws that punish young men and women who can be rehabilitated. Zimbabwe’s drug laws are outdated and no longer help in dealing with the rising problems of drug and substance abuse,” Box said.

He added that the country should adopt a progressive stance in addressing the issue.

“Let’s move away from the archaic way of thinking and use 21st-century solutions. Countries like Portugal and Switzerland have decriminalized with success. They have implemented harm reduction pillars and established drug agencies,” Box said.

Box stressed that drug use should be treated as a health concern rather than being bundled with other issues like mental challenges.

“The problem with Zimbabwe is that there are no differentiated services for people using drugs and those who are mentally ill. They are all bundled into mental institutions like Ingutsheni a mental health centre.  We are saying let us take them to detoxification centers, not mental institutions,” he explained.

Charity Dheka, the Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Zimbabwe, echoed the same sentiments, highlighting the need for harm reduction services in the country.

“We are advocating for harm reduction policy reforms and the prevention of HIV and other opportunistic diseases associated with drug use. On harm reduction, we are pushing for the availability of services that may help people who use and inject drugs so that we can stop losing lives due to drug use. We are advocating for drug consumption services or centers where people who inject drugs and are not yet willing to stop can safely use these drugs under the supervision of professionals such as nurses. This way, they can receive immediate help in case of an overdose or any emergency related to their drug use,” Dheka said.

She further explained the concept of monitored spaces for drug use.

“In Zimbabwe, we have what we call bases. These centers will be monitored spaces where people who inject drugs can be supervised, ensuring their usage is not fatal,” she said.

In Zimbabwe, drug use has become a significant issue and has been declared a national disaster. Portugal signed a decriminalization bill in 2001, treating drug users as patients rather than criminals. Decriminalization means that while drug use remains illegal, the legal system would not prosecute individuals for the act but might issue a civil fine or no penalty.

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