Liberia: Senate Debates Making Amendment to Drug Law

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Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Liberian Senate is debating whether or not to make a law that will declare drugs abuses bailable or non-bailable. The current proposed law calls for people arrested with narcotics   be arrested and be made to pay two times the cost of the drugs in their possession as a bail bond.

However, a new bill is still in committee room, but some senators believe the current law is weak and to make it stronger and enforceable, the crime thereof must be a non-bailable offense because people dealing in harmful substances are financially strong to pay fines or bail bonds.

In responses to the senators’ concerns, Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman, who is the chairman on the Senate Judiciary committee, warned that any attempt to instill harsher or excessive punishment in the proposed law could violate the Liberian Constitution that speaks against harsh punishment.

Sherman said: “Make it bailable and violate our constitution? Our constitution says there should not be excessive punishment for a crime.”

The Senate Judiciary chairman also warned that to make such amendment, there is a need for referendum that will repeal excessive punishment from the constitution.

The senate is still debating amendment to the drugs law.

Liberia’s new Controlled Drug and Substances Act and the associated Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency Act illustrate the Liberian government’s interest in adapting legislation on drug control to place a strong emphasis on enforcement activities.

According to the U.S. Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, “Liberia is not a significant transit country for illicit narcotics, but the country’s weak law-enforcement capacity, porous border controls, and proximity to major drug transit routes leave it vulnerable to becoming one. While Liberia is not a significant producer of illicit narcotics, local drug use, particularly marijuana, is common.”

Accordingly, the U.S. supports law reform in Liberia, having pronounced that new laws can “create a stronger foundation for more effective law enforcement activities,” and noting that under existing legislation “defendants can only be charged under public health laws.”

Liberia has ratified (or acceded to) the three main drug control international conventions which aim to control illicit drugs by reducing their supply, in particular through criminal sanctions. While Liberia must uphold its obligations under these conventions, Liberia must also fulfill its obligation under other international treaties including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights — all of which Liberia has ratified.

When poorly developed and implemented, drug policies can lead to serious human rights violations such as police harassment, arbitrary detention, disproportionate sentencing and incarceration, ill-treatment, torture and discrimination. As described by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), since “one of the stated aims of the international drug control conventions is to protect the health of individuals and society from the dangerous effects of drug use.”

Human rights laws are also relevant because they guarantee the right to life and the right of “everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Problematic drug laws can not only exacerbate the harms associated with drug dependence, but also lead to a wide range of other preventable health conditions, such as HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV).

In other senate news, the President Pro-Tempore of the Liberian Senate has reiterated calls for members of the Liberian Senate to work in uniformity to enable the Senate to achieve a common goal of impacting the lives of the Liberian People.

Pro-Tempore Albert T. Chie made the statement on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, at the start of a Special Session of the Liberian Senate. President George M. Weah recently recalled the Legislature from its second quarterly break for a period of one month. The move is backed by Article 32(b) of the Constitution.

According to the Pro-Tempore, the issues for which the Senate have been summoned are crucial for the Government’s overall performance to further improve the state of governance of the country.

Among the legislative instruments to be considered by the Senate are the setting of a date for the conduct of the National Census, holding of confirmation hearing after nomination of a new Chief Justice by the President of Liberia, conclusion and passage of amendments to the New Election Law, ratification of loans, incentives and agreements of economic nature as well as dealing with some issues pending before the Senate prior to recess.

The Special Session of the Senate is expected to last until September 13, 2022.

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