The question of whether or not cannabis, popularly known as Marijuana should be legalized for medicinal and recreational use has been a contentious one, with many people advocating for either side of the debate.
Miriam Onuoha, a member of the House of a representative from the Imo state had in 2020 proposed ‘A Bill for an Act to Regulate the Cultivation, Possession, Availability, and Trade of Cannabis for Medical and Research Use, and Related Purposes’
The bill seeks to allow the government to license the growing, cultivation, and use of cannabis in Nigeria.
In early 2019, Rotimi Akeredolu, the Governor of Ondo advocated the legalization of cannabis growing in his state for medical use. Although he repeated the call in early 2020, it didn’t receive much attention.
However, the conversation has gotten more heated. And it is why Nigerians should care.
On the 22nd of March 2023 – two years after Miriam’s bill, two members of the House of Representatives; Benjamin Kalu the All Progressives Congress (APC,) Abia state, and Olumide Osoba also of the All Progressives Congress Party from Ogun state co-sponsored a bill seeking to decriminalise the uses and cultivation of cannabis in Nigeria.
In order to show how lucrative the legalisation of cannabis is and what economic importance it could herald, Earlier, in January, the African Action Congress (AAC) presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, insisted on the legalisation of cannabis if elected as Nigeria’s president.
According to Sowore, “Cannabis is medicine, it is money. Canada is making over $4 billion from cannabis. If Ondo, Edo, Sapele in Delta, and Ekiti are exporting cannabis, they will not be requesting oil money in Abuja.”
The two instances were shoved off by the House of Representatives saying that cannabis cannot be legalised in the country citing the uneasy situations of insecurity and economic distress the country is facing.
However, the chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa while applauding the House of Representatives for rejecting the bill said that the over 10.6 million Nigerians who used cannabis in 2018 should have raised the alarm that there is unmistakable evidence linking drug addiction to the nation’s widespread security issues.
In his words, “Insecurity is today, a full-blown malady with many manifestations such as insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, murder, robbery, reprisal killing, name it.”
How Did Cannabis Become Illegal?
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, Cap N30 Laws of the Federation, 2004. NDLEA Act
“According to Section 11 of the NDLEA Act, producing, processing, selling, or importing hard drugs, including Cannabis, is considered illegal. If found guilty, the accused person can face life imprisonment.
In addition to this, the possession and use of Cannabis are also considered an offense under this section. If convicted, the accused person can face a minimum of 15 years imprisonment and a maximum of 25 years.”
Section 19 of the NDLEA Act also specifies that anyone found to be in possession of Cannabis without valid permission is deemed to have committed an offense under the Act. If convicted, they will be penalized with a prison sentence of not less than fifteen years and not more than twenty-five years.
The Dangerous Drugs Act, Cap. D1, Laws of the Federation, 2004 (DDA), defines Indian Hemp in Section 2 as any plant or part of the genus cannabis, or the separate resin – whether crude or purified – obtained from any plant of the genus cannabis, or any preparation containing any resin found in the plant.
Section 10 of the DDA lists Indian hemp as a dangerous drug.
In general, the DDA governs and regulates the licensing and importation of drugs classified as dangerous under the Act, and establishes penalties for violations or non-compliance with the regulations contained in the Act.
Despite the Law
Despite the provisions of these frameworks highlighted above, which criminalize the use of cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes, UNICEF reports that Nigeria is still ranked the 3rd highest consumer of cannabis with over 10.6 million people consuming cannabis last year.
Nigeria is also a major source of West African-grown cannabis.
Does cannabis have some advantages?
One of the main arguments for legalizing cannabis in Nigeria is the potential for economic growth. Cannabis has been a major source of income for many countries that have legalized it. For example, in the United States, the legal cannabis industry was estimated to be worth over $13 billion in 2019. Legalizing cannabis in Nigeria could create thousands of jobs and stimulate economic growth. Cannabis is widely grown across the States of Nigeria, including Lagos, Edo, Delta, Osun, Oyo, and Ogun State, and legalizing it could inspire mass production which will require more labor.
Additionally, legalizing cannabis could have medical benefits, as it is known to relieve symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Cannabis is also known to reduce symptoms of other conditions, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
Dysfunctional Role of Cannabis
While legalizing cannabis could have many potential benefits, it also has its fair share of disadvantages. One concern is the potential for increased drug abuse, as some people see legalizing cannabis as a green light to use other drugs as well. Additionally, legalizing cannabis could result in more people driving under the influence, which could lead to more accidents.
Legalizing cannabis could also result in increased crime rates, as many people may turn to sell cannabis illegally if the government regulates it too strictly. There is also concern that the government may not be able to regulate the quality of cannabis products, which could lead to dangerous health consequences for users.
If the Nigerian government decides to legalize cannabis, it will need to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure that it is used responsibly. One possible way to regulate cannabis is to limit its availability only to licensed dispensaries, which would be required to operate within strict guidelines. This could help prevent people from driving under the influence and reduce the potential for increased crime rates.
The government could also regulate the quality of cannabis products by requiring producers to undergo strict testing and certification processes. This would help ensure that cannabis products are safe for consumption and reduce the potential for dangerous health consequences.
Another way to regulate cannabis is to impose a tax on its sale, which would generate much-needed revenue for the government. This would also help discourage people from using cannabis excessively by making it more expensive.
In conclusion, the issue of legalizing cannabis in Nigeria is a complex and contentious one that continues to spark debate among lawmakers, citizens, and stakeholders. While proponents argue that legalizing cannabis could bring significant economic benefits and medical advantages, opponents raise concerns about potential drug abuse and increased public health risks. As the country grapples with insecurity and economic distress, the question of whether to legalize cannabis remains a pressing one.
However, whatever decision is ultimately made, it is essential that policymakers prioritize public health and safety above all else, while also taking into account the potential economic and medical benefits that could come with legalizing cannabis. Legalizing cannabis remains a pressing one. However, whatever decision is ultimately made, it is essential that policymakers prioritize public health and safety above all else, while also taking into account the potential economic and medical benefits that could come with legalizing cannabis.