Over one million illegal drug addicts in Sierra Leone

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency has been gathering credible and reliable reports over a 3-year period on the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone and the activities or operations of key law enforcement institutions in the security sector, and other bodies with an interest in the illegal drugs trade. The Agency has also conducted a 6-month nationwide survey during the 2nd half of 2013 on the use of illegal drugs in Sierra Leone.

For the purpose of establishing the facts, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency is now in a position to release some key aspects of its findings. It is hoped these findings would throw some light on the true state of Sierra Leone’s illegal drugs trade and order a re-think or re-examination of widely accepted beliefs and perceptions relating to the country’s illegal drugs situation.

The author wishes to emphasise that the veracity of the reports has been assiduously confirmed over time and that the findings are not in any way meant to cast aspersions on the professional integrity of any person or institution.  Rather, the findings are a true reflection of the current situation prevailing in the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone, which the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, the institution with the Parliamentary mandate in the fight against the illegal drugs trade has a moral and official duty to make public.  Thus, it is hoped that all stakeholders involved in the fight to tackle the illegal drugs trade would acknowledge that the success of our efforts is a matter of individual and collective responsibility.


The most significant aspect that came out quite clearly in the findings is that both the Sierra Leone Police and the Transnational Organised Crime Unit (TOCU) have abysmally failed to stem the tide of the illegal drugs trade in Sierra Leone. However, the author intends to deal with this aspect in a separate article.

The survey on the use of illegal drugs in Sierra Leone was conducted by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency over a six-month period from July to December 2013 on the adult and teenage population of Sierra Leone between the ages of 14 and 60.  It was a nation-wide random survey in which 3,500 (three thousand five hundred) persons were interviewed.  Although credible domestic surveys on the use of illegal drugs in Sierra Leone are rarely conducted, and as a result, reliable and up-to-date survey figures are hard to come by, the survey results reveal that 25% of these two age groups are using illegal drugs.

The survey reveals that locally, the three main illegal drugs that are prevalent in Sierra Leone are cannabis sativa (diamba), brown brown and cocaine. Cannabis sativa is the most commonly used illegal drug in Sierra Leone and accounts for over 98% of the age groups mentioned above.  At the domestic level, cannabis sativa is cultivated and used all over the country, including the urban and rural areas of the capital, Freetown.  Over the past several years, the cultivation and use of the drug has increased dramatically, so too is its export to neighbouring Guinea and Liberia, with the full cooperation and connivance of some sectors of the country’s law enforcement bodies.

Presently, Sierra Leone is the principal producer of cannabis sativa in the Mano River Union.  It is also the chief exporter of the drug in West Africa to other African countries, the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

Around 80% of users of cannabis sativa in Sierra Leone are also taking brown brown.  The survey also reveals that both cannabis sativa and brown brown are used in the production of local hard drinks with serious harmful effects for consumers.  Indeed, this is an alarming development.

The use of cocaine by local inhabitants is a new phenomenon and is only prevalent among the 40 to 60 year-old age group.  This is mainly due to demographic changes as the income levels and lifestyles of the middle and relatively small number of upper classes improve.  However, cocaine accounts for less than 2% of illegal drugs used locally. Nonetheless, the country is still a major distribution/transit zone along the West African Coast for South American trafficking organisations, establishing safe havens for the receipt, storage and trans-shipment of large consignments of cocaine destined for European and North American markets.

Some West African countries, namely, Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, the Gambia and Guinea Bissau are using Sierra Leone as a distribution/transit zone for illegal drugs, especially cocaine, also destined for European and North American markets.  A recent alarming development is that cocaine is now being trafficked through Sierra Leone to countries in East and South East Asia. Another disturbing development is that Sierra Leone is now becoming a consumer market for cocaine.  This is a new phenomenon with a potential to become a very serious social and economic problem.

Today, there are more cocaine traffickers and cannabis dealers in Sierra Leone than ever before.  Publicly, the number of cocaine traffickers seems to be relatively small. But the fact of the matter is that major cocaine traffickers are receiving the full protection of certain government officials in law enforcement who are strategically placed, mainly owing to the existence of an “illegal drug protection ring,” organised and run by these officials.


The survey also reveals that the culture of smoking cannabis among military and police personnel during the tribal rebel war still persists to this day.  There are four key contributory factors responsible for this practice.  Firstly, following demobilisation at the end of the tribal rebel war in early 2002 and the implementation of the Public Sector Reform Programme, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency was completely left out of the programme even though narcotic drug was largely responsible for the perpetration of the most inhuman and heinous crimes committed during the war.  Secondly, the recruitment policies of both the Army and the Sierra Leone Police have attracted young men and women who are already cannabis smokers in their civilian lives.  Thirdly, officers in both the Army and the Sierra Leone Police are not firm enough to stamp out the practice.  Fourthly, cannabis smoking is prevalent among many officers in both the Army and the Sierra Leone Police who do not see anything wrong with the practice.

In terms of the figures involved, around 60% of soldiers are actively smoking cannabis.  In the case of the Sierra Leone Police, around 55% of policemen are actively smoking cannabis.

Some Military and Police personnel also engage in the smoking of cannabis at road blocks/check points, especially at dusk and during the night.  This practice is very common upcountry.  Officers deployed at road blocks/check points either turn a blind eye or are themselves involved in the practice.  Military and police personnel are likewise seen smoking cannabis in the company of civilians in broad daylight at “pot joints”.  Members of the security forces are easily identifiable as they are in full uniform. This practice is prevalent all over the country, more so in the capital Freetown, and people refer to it as the police smoking cannabis together with those they are supposed to be policing.


Shockingly, military and police personnel on United Nations peace-keeping missions abroad are similarly engaged in the smoking of cannabis at their bases, especially at night.  The cannabis is usually purchased from local inhabitants, which undoubtedly compromises security.  Although other foreign contingents are also engaged in the practice, the case of Sierra Leonean contingents is notorious.There is no denying the fact that cannabis smoking by Sierra Leonean contingents on United Nations peace-keeping missions abroad is a sign of grave indiscipline, which portrays a very negative image of the country.

Considering that the population of Sierra Leone is now close to six million inhabitants, the survey represents around four million of the country’s total population.  This means that around one million people are presently using illegal drugs, that is, one in four of the teenage and adult population (13 years and over).For a low income country with scarce resources, the drug menace is having a devastating impact on the country’s social and economic development.  If Sierra Leone’s ‘Agenda for Change’ and now ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ are a reflection of the country’s history, culture, tradition and level of development, is the notorious illegal drugs trade not seriously undermining Sierra Leone’s development and long-term stability? 

Today, the use of cannabis in some European countries and the United States is so wide-spread; it has become a very serious health and social problem.  In search of a solution, some Western governments have been forced into thinking the unthinkable – legalise cannabis.  In fact, some of these governments are in the process of legalising cannabis or have already done so.  Do we really want Sierra Leone to go down this path?  In any event, as Western countries continue to legalise cannabis, there is no doubt that at the domestic level, this development will encourage the increased illegal cultivation and export of the drug.

However, it is essential to point out that at the other end of the pendulum, some countries in the Middle East, and East and South East Asia have taken the most extreme of measures against the use and trafficking of illegal drugs – life imprisonment or the death penalty.

As the number of illegal drug addicts in Sierra Leone continues to rise on a daily basis, is the country not really moving towards a quagmire situation, that is, legalise cannabis or take the most extreme of measures, which would hardly speak well of the rule of law and a civilised and tolerant democracy?

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