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Some Reflections on the Ghanaian Drug Economy

Some Reflections on the Ghanaian Drug Economy

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This work explores the emergence of hard drug use in Ghana, and interrogates the motivations for the transnational trafficking in these drugs.The work also deals with the economics of drug trafficking and approaches for preventing hard drug use in Ghana.
This work explores the emergence of hard drug use in Ghana, and interrogates the motivations for the transnational trafficking in these drugs.The work also deals with the economics of drug trafficking and approaches for preventing hard drug use in Ghana.

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Published by: Thomas ANTWI BOSIAKOH on Feb 19, 2010
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The Ghanaian Drug Economy: Some Evidence for Reflections______________________________________________________________________________Thomas Antwi Bosiakoh
Department of Sociology P. O. Box LG 59University of GhanaLegon, Accra
Mobile Phone Contact:
+233 244 882 190
The drug problem has become widespread and endemic not only in the Ghanaian society but theworld at large. It transcends both national and continental frontiers. According to Frey (1997),illegal drugs constitute a major social problem all over the world and have therefore sparked off enormous amount of literature in several scientific fields. Consequently, its presence is felt inthe US and Jamaica, in Bolivia and Switzerland, in Peru and Mexico, and in Columbia and Fiji just to mention but a few. In the Golden Crescent of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the least saidabout illegal drugs, the best. So widespread is that, in Nigeria, it has assumed the description ‘theNigerian Connection’. In the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Burma, and Malaysia, illegal drug isconsidered not only as a nuisance but also as real social problem because it impinges on theconscience of the people. In Ghana, literature on drug is particularly paltry. There are hardly anypublished sources of any kind on drugs. This situation notwithstanding, reflections on theGhanaian drug situation is interesting on two accounts. First, is that, most of the drugs especiallymarijuana, cocaine and heroin are of recent provenance and have gained widespread discussionwithin the Ghanaian society. Secondly and most importantly, reflection on the Ghanaian drugsituation is justified on accounts that, the drug phenomenon, if not controlled, could meddle inthe relative peace the country has achieved on the political and security fronts. In Ghana, drugdealings occur in diverse forms and therefore present diverse ramifications. In this paper, effortsare made to unpack some of the diversified facets that the phenomenon presents itself. In the firstfew sections, emphasis is placed on definitional issues and the historical development of druguse in Ghana as well as the production modes of drugs in Ghana. Following then, drugtrafficking is taken up with focus on the motivating factors. In the light of the increasingshrinking of the world, in what has been described as globalization, we ground the discussionson the motivating factors in a transnational perspective and then isolate the elements of economics underlining drug trafficking and drug trade in Ghana.
Unsettling the Definitional Disquiet
In some studies, drug is considered as a chemical used for the prevention, treatment, andalleviation of disease. The term ‘medicine’ (as used in prescription-only medicine) is sometimesused to distinguish therapeutic drugs from recreational and other drugs, such as opiates, whichare used illegally or abused. Some sources bring out the natural or artificial nature of drugsubstances that alter the functions of organisms (for pleasure and or improve performance)
. Inmost countries, these drugs are forbidden to the general public. Most countries restrict the use of such drugs, although what is and is not legal varies widely. Whereas the legal position indifferent countries reflects historical and cultural attitudes to the drug in question, in manycountries it is a matter of continuing controversy. Drugs are divided into three classes—A, B,and C—in descending order of gravity: offences concerning class A drugs attract the most severesentences. The commonest class A drugs are heroin (diamorphine), cocaine, ecstasy, and lysergicacid diethylamide (LSD); class B drugs include amphetamines and opiate pain-relief compounds;class C drugs are generally sedative drugs and cannabis (cannabis was reclassified from class Bto C in 2004 by the UK government). Ghana has long been identified as a major producer of cannabis in West Africa. Indeed Ghana’s production of cannabis is only surpassed by Nigeria inthe West African sub-region and much of it is said to be of ‘high quality - high delta-9-
The discussions in the next two paragraphs are from the same source unless otherwise specified. The text beingreferred to here is
 Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (2005). Microsoft Corporation.
tetrahydrocannabinol or THC levels - with a large domestic market and large exports’ (Bernstein,1999).The use of drugs among humans dates from prehistoric times. The first list of drugs withinstructions for preparation, called pharmacopoeia, appeared in 1546 in Nuremberg, Germany.With time, drug offences have come to reflect continuous use of restricted drugs. In criminallaw, drug offences refer to any of the various offences connected with drugs. In Ghana, all mind-altering or mood-changing drugs are controlled, taken only under medical observation.Exception is made to alcohol. A similar case is also found in other countries, such as Nigeria andthe United Kingdom.
Tracing the history and cultivation of cannabis and marijuana in Ghana
The Second World War (1939-1945) represents the first time drug production and usageespecially of cannabis was introduced into the country. This period, which extended into the late1950s saw the introduction of cannabis by soldiers who had returned from Asia, having foughton the side of the group Britain belonged. This Asian attribution of narcotic use in Ghana is alsoexpressive in the terms Indian hemp and bhanga among marijuana users albeit marijuana hasbeen christened among users and non-users alike as
. In the most dominant local languageTwi, marijuana is referred to as
obonsam tawa
, literally translated as the ‘devil's tobacco'.Following the introduction, cultivation was initiated in areas around Accra and the EasternRegion in small scales. According to a publication by Paris-based Observatoire Geopolitique desDrogues in 1995, the early cultivation of cannabis in and around Accra created drug use anddiffusion among lower-class social and occupational groups, especially in the cities (OGD, 1995,cf. Bernstein, 1999). It was the period between 1960 and 1980 that provided avenue forexpansion in cultivation to areas in Ghana beyond the south-eastern drug production enclave.During this time, cultivation was expanded to new growing areas in the Ashanti and BrongAhafo regions. Drug use had become a habit for the lower-class social and occupational groupswhile young upper-class Ghanaians found 'recreational' service in drugs. Like the Nigerian casewell articulated by Klein (1994) drug use by upper-class Ghanaians was first pursued duringperiods of study and vacations abroad. Klein’s observation on the Nigerian case finds applicationin Ghana. Klein states:‘There is evidence that the habit of taking hard drugs was first acquired byNigerians during periods of study and vacations abroad. On their return theyhad the means to pay for the ‘stuff’ and, what is also important in asovercrowded a city as Lagos, the hotel room, if no private house wasavailable, where the ritual of consumption could take place’ (Klein, 1994:668-669).Clearly it was on their return that young upper-class Ghanaians joined in the use of drugs inGhana, which of course had been dominated by the lower-class social and occupational groups.Latter on according to Bernstein (1999) middle-class Ghanaians badly affected by the decliningeconomic fortunes of the country also adopted drug consumption as a habit. In all these, it wasthe period beginning from the1980s that Ghana's drug market attained the maturity status(Bernstein, 1999), having achieved an estimated 15 per cent of the population, and exportsestimated at 50 per cent of domestic production by the Narcotics Control Board (ibid:14).Presently, areas in the Sefwi (eg. Humijebre) and Aowin areas of the western region of Ghanaare heavily noted for the cultivation of cannabis. Here and in other growing areas, the cannabistree is intercropped with other plants such as cassava and okra to make for its concealment. Bothcannabis and marijuana come in different types. Bernstein (1999) cites one trader in the businessin the following manner:‘The following types and sources of cannabis were identified by a trader (wellinformed about cultivation and trade in the south, but not the north), indescending order of quality: 'no seed dope': grown in the most fertile soils,often marshy and deep inside forests, on the Afram plains, in Ashanti and
Brong Ahafo, with marijuana from Wenchi especially prized; 'taffeta': denseleaves and very small (concealed) seeds, grown in Volta Region; 'seed dope':which grows anywhere; 'area dope': grown close to Accra and cut early toavoid detection, giving the lowest quality marijuana’ (Bernstein, 1999: 15).
Trafficking in drugs: Some motivating factors
Trafficking in drugs is a worldwide activity. It is a black market consisting of production,distribution, packaging and sale of illegal drugs. The illegality of the black markets purveyingthe drug trade is relative to geographic location, and the producing countries of the drug markets.For instance many South American, far Eastern, and Middle Eastern countries are not as inclinedto have "zero-tolerance" policies, as the consuming countries of the drug trade, mostly UnitedStates and European countries. Demand underlies the increasing drug trafficking offences, forwithout it, the economics of it cannot be sustained. Increased demand has therefore led toincreased practitioners, and consequently, refined techniques and operational procedures. Beingat least a step ahead of the law enforcement authorities has been a requirement for allpractitioners, especially those who operate from a low resource base.The origin of illegal drug trade is rooted in jurisdictions where legislations prohibit the sale of certain popular drugs. In such jurisdictions, it is common for illegal drug trade to develop. Forexample, the Ghana government has identified a number of controlled drug substances. Thesame can be said of Britain and, USA and indeed very many countries across the world. As aworld-wide phenomenon, illegal drug dealing has been explored as topic in books and films. Thephenomenon has become a major staple for humour and entertainment and was the topic of 
TheFrench Connection
 Midnight Express
Clear and Present  Danger (1994),
2 Fast 2 Furious
Bad Boys II 
(2003), and
Miami Vice
Drug Trafficking: A Transnational Business?
Transcending political borders and knowing no bound, not a single country is insulated from itseffects. According to one literature, a high number of jailed Africans in Western Europe and USare Nigerians who have been arrested on drug charges
. This reflects the trans-nationality of thedrug trade, and the complex operational techniques associated with it. In very many cases of illegal drug dealings and general drug pushing activities, people of diverse nationalities areinvolved. Here, the infamous East Legon Cocaine Saga is handy, because it reflectedcollaboration between Ghana and Venezuela
and comes close to what can be described as aperfect copy of the Colombian model. This however is not to suggest that, the trade thrives onlyon groups of diversified nationalities. For instance, Klein observes that, some Nigerians havetheir own syndicates
. The same can be said of the Mexican and Ghanaian cases. The Mexicancase for instance has been described in the literature as a
 Drug Trafficking Federation
, posing atremendous drug threat along the US southwest border through its poly-drug smugglingoperations. This federation has patrons, division heads, gatekeepers and family syndicates
.Other producing countries such as Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru (the Andean producers) as wellas Thailand, Burma and Malaysia (the Golden Triangle) are also into the drug trafficking
See Wikipedia
the free online encyclopedia.
Klein, A. (1994). Trapped in the Traffick: Growing Problems of Drug Consumption in Lagos.
The Journal of  Modern African Studies,
Vol. 32, No. 4:657-677, p. 660.
Cases of this nature have recently engaged the attention of the Ghanaian media. The East Legon Cocaine Sagafor one has been in the media for over a year now, beginning from the last quarter of the year 2006. Prior to this,there had been other high profile cases that involved people of Ghanaian and British nationalities and were alsocaptured by the Ghanaian media. See for example
 Daily Graphic
, July 20, 2006, April 30, 2007 editions and
Ghanaian Times
, April 30, 2007 edition.
Cf. Klein, op cit., p. 660.
Cf. the website of the Drug Enforcement Administration of the U. S. Department of Justice.

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