Gambia: Ministry to Construct Rehabilitation Center for Cannabis Abusers

The Minister of Interior, Yankuba Sonko, has revealed that his-led ministry has plans to construct a rehabilitation center for cannabis abusers in the country.

"Serious lobbying with partners is in progress to construct a rehabilitation center to cater for the needs of abusers. This will complement other efforts to reduce the demand since victims will have access to various support services to facilitate their reforms," Minister Sonko said on Wednesday at the national assembly.

Sonko therefore, invited lawmakers to consider the funding mechanism when it is brought before them for approval for the actualization of the initiative.

The minister was responding to a question raised by Member for Banjul Central, Muhammed Ndow, inquiring whether measures have been put in place to mitigate or stop the use, possession and trafficking of cannabis in the country.

Minister Sonko responded in the positive. He said his ministry has designed and implemented strategies to address the disturbing surge of cannabis abuse and trafficking, covering supply suppression as well as demand reduction.

He said they are also engaged in public awareness sensitization.

In line with International Standards and best practices, Sonko said they have taken measures such as community service, counseling and mentoring would be provided for first, second and third time offenders in cannabis possession cases.

"Additional efforts include the upgrading of the Drug Demand Reduction Unit of the Drug Law Enforcement Agency The Gambia (DLEAG) directorate and implementation of robust and accelerated public engagement, sensitization activities targeting mainly the youth who constitute the majority of the victims," he said.

Speaking further, Sonko said series of schools' outreach activities in the form of symposium, drama, debate, quiz and competition are conducted in schools across the country alongside the establishment of the Anti-drug clubs in several schools.

Similarly, Minister Sonko said community outreach programs targeting traditional and opinion leaders, youth, women groups as well as the radio programs are ongoing.

"Furthermore, DLEAG has signed an operational Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with their counterparts in Senegal and Guinea Bissau. Within the framework of this agreement, joint-operation named Operation Open Road are conducted with the aim of strengthening sub-regional cooperation in drug interdiction and nurturing {inter-coopeeration} among the law enforcement agencies of the three countries," he said.

Asked by Ndow to shed light on the allegation that security officers are often engaged in the trafficking of cannabis, Minister Sonko responded in the positive.

He said in some instances, security officers who were involved in trafficking of cannabis were arrested.

"Couple of weeks ago, some officers of the army were arrested," he said.

However, Minister Sonko said they are trying to identify the 'bad' officers and weed them out if possible.

With this, Sonko believed that the fight against drug trafficking can be strengthened.

Banjul South lawmaker, Fatoumatta Njia asked the minister whether they are considering control mechanism of the drug rather than stopping the use and possession in the country.

"As far as I know, there has been research that has identified some benefits of cannabis," she said.

In his response, Minister Sonko said he is not an expert in the medical field and as such he does not have an answer to her question.

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