Using cannabis to relax after work landed me 10 years in prison – Awukye’s story

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My name is Awukye, but in my neighbourhood, my friends call me ‘Togo man’. I got the name Togo man because I migrated from Togo, where I lived with my family, before moving back to Ghana to go into farming. I am 56 years old and was a yam [herbaceous vines providing an edible tuber] and cassava [staple food eaten in West Africa] farmer before I went to jail. 

I started using weed at the age of 19 and still do. I do not consider myself a problematic user. When I smoke weed after a hard day’s work, it makes me relaxed and I can carry out my work with much more ease. I am an adored man in my community, and I like to crack jokes for people to laugh at in my spare time with my neighbours. The kids in the neighbourhood will usually hear my stories about life in Togo, and they call me ‘old soldier’. I am a peaceful man, and I don’t fight in my community. I used to take the herb after a hard day’s work to help relax my aching body, and once I take my herb, I eat and sleep. I usually will plant the herb among my crops to use it myself. I don’t particularly appreciate buying the herbs from outside because some of them are adulterated with other substances that can make you misbehave when you take them.

I would always plant the herb among my cassava crops for personal use, and I also provided it to some of my fellow farmers. Nine years ago, a friend I often smoked with informed the police about my herbs on my farm. I was arrested and charged for possession. I was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. I served eight years, two years on remand at Akuse prison and six years at the Nsawam medium-security prison before my release.

When I was in prison, the sale of weed within the prison walls was even higher than in the community. So, while in prison, I could still purchase some from fellow prisoners peddling the drug – provided I had money. But you needed to do so with so much care not to get caught; otherwise, you will be given further punishment while serving your term.

Since my arrest and incarceration, life has been complicated for my family and me. I suffered while in prison. It was tough for me. Prison is not a joke. Going to prison was like a dark cloud for my family and me. It completely shattered the dreams of my family, especially my two children. 

They all dropped out of school while I was in prison because I used to be the breadwinner. My first son, Korshie, was in high school when I was arrested and his younger sister was in junior high school. Both had to drop out of school because there was nobody to pay for their education. Our landlord sacked my family from our residence because my unemployed wife could not afford the annual rent. My boy, Korshie, ended up on the street as a hawker. My daughter got pregnant through some area boy who took advantage of her vulnerability, which ended her ambitions. That, in all honesty, crushed my family.

It is my humble plea that something is done about the law regarding weed. I have never had a problem while using weed, neither have I heard someone, especially my friends who also use it, complained of health issues or misbehaving when they use it.

Day in and out, we hear about people dying of drinking akpeteshie [alcoholic spirit produced in Ghana] yet it is allowed to be sold to people. So why can’t they allow us to take our herb? The police keep harassing and extorting monies from us each day; I wish the President, Nana Akuffo Addo, could do something about this law, it’s not a good law, it’s destroying lives; look at me, a young able strong man who had to waste time in prison for ten years for no crime against anyone. I have never fought or stolen, and I’m a good citizen, yet I had to be imprisoned for just planting my herbs for my own use, which are making me feel good. I think they should allow people who desire to produce the substance to do so with close monitoring. I am not a criminal.

I am a peace-loving citizen of Ghana. I have never stolen, killed or done anything terrible. 


Awukye’s story was compiled by Maria Goretti-Ane (IDPC / WADPN). This story has been edited for clarity.