Relaxing drug laws in Tunisia – it’s not just for potheads

One of the joys of post-revolutionary Tunisia is the seemingly endless number of advocacy groups that have sprung up. One such group is the movement to decriminalize pot. I first heard about their protest last week in front of the Bardo, where Tunisia’s parliament sits. Another such protest took place today.

There is much more to this movement than stoner pride.

Activist and blogger Slim Amamou was quoted in

Cette loi appartient à l’ancien régime dictatorial et ne doit plus être appliquée après la révolution. Nous ne demandons pas la légalisation du cannabis ou d’autres drogues, nous nous insurgeons contre ces pratiques visant à assimiler les consommateurs à des criminels…Il est aujourd’hui aberrant de traquer et d’emprisonner quelqu’un pour une simple consommation ! »

English translation:

This law comes from the dictatorial regime and should not be applied after the revolution. We are not asking for the decriminalization of cannabis or other drugs, we are fighting against practices aimed at equating consumers (of drugs) with criminals….It’s abhorrent that today we hunt down and imprison someone for simply consuming!

Tunisia, like much of the Arab world, has extremely harsh drug laws. I have personally talked to several Tunisians that have personal experience with these draconian laws. Five years for a joint, 10 years for minor dealing. The drug laws here turn a minor infraction into a devastating life event. Countless young people have had their lives ruined for what many in the west would consider “youthful indiscretions.”

Of course, these drug laws were also part of the totalitarian state built up under Ben Ali. Police searches were common, of course, only if you weren’t a friend of the regime. As a tourist, it was common to be offered drugs under Ben Ali. But if your loyalty was questioned, it was inevitable that police would find a joint on you.

It’s uncertain the level of support the legalization movement has. Drugs are considered taboo in Tunisian society. But one thing is certain, Tunisian society would benefit from relaxing the kinds of laws that have done little except encourage corruption and tear apart families.

Postscript: My personal experiences with these laws came from a time living in Tunisia in the 1990s. A  close friend of mine’s brother was jailed for possession of a small amount of zetla (hashish). He spent 5 years in prison. He lost out on most of his 20s. His employment prospects dimmed. All for something he did when he was a young man. This harsh punishment cost not only a young man his freedom (for a crime he did commit), but also a family their son, and to society a bright young contributor. I don’t editorialize often in this blog, but on this, I agree with Slim.

2 thoughts on “Relaxing drug laws in Tunisia – it’s not just for potheads

    • Hi Yunani, my brother has been jailed for consuming cannabis for 8 years. Could that be right….8 years for smoking a joint.

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