Undoubtedly, it has been a long drawn-out war against cannabis since its proscription. Regardless of the strict laws, the global cannabis trade has remarkably continued to thrive, fuelled essentially by both active supply and demand, which have effectively guaranteed a huge inflow of cash that has proven to be the underlining incentive.
Instructively, a strong stigmatisation campaign incentivised its prohibition in America which birthed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Before then, it was unregulated and widely used for recreational and medical purposes with mixed tales of efficacy.
However, Nigeria supported its war with laws like the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1935 and Indian Hemp Act 1966, which bans the planting, harvesting and consumption of cannabis before the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Act of 1989. This is, in addition, to being a signatory to the single convention of narcotic drugs 1961 and the UN convention on psychotropic substances of 1988.
Essentially, the pattern of the war has been within the framework of the extant laws, which more often than not, involves the seizure of the substance, setting alight of large swathes of farmlands and the seized consignments, and arrest/prosecution of barons and couriers. Notwithstanding the whole enchilada, it hasn’t deterred the large presence of ever-ingenious and bold players in the ecosystem.
Cannabis has a long medical history and a resurgence is only just being recorded with validated efficacy. It was reported that cannabis has shown huge therapeutic value for about 1.2 billion people suffering from various medical conditions. Its use is effective in acute pain management, suppressing arthritis and other anxiety. Intriguingly, I happened on a documentary not long ago which proved revelatory on the impact of cannabis in dealing with autism with users talking impressively on the outcome.
The delisting of cannabis from the group of dangerous drugs, which included heroin and synthetic opioids, by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs had changed the narrative on cannabis considerably with many countries racing towards instituting laws in accommodating the ‘green gold’ and Africa is intriguingly not left out in the rush. Lesotho is the first African country to do so for medical and scientific purposes with the requisite license coming at a steep cost.
The legalisation of the psychotropic substance has made a transition from the question of morality to commerce/business, though the staggering statistics of victims of the use of cannabis, the impact on society (notably youth) and its place as a part of the paraphernalia of crimes and conduit into the addiction to other hard drugs make the war a serious undertaking. This forms the argument against legalisation, which can hardly be faulted—the base of junkies is bound to ramp up.
However, the revelation on cannabis and the global hurry to get a slice of the opportunity it presents is huge enough to recalibrate our thinking and impression. Prohibition Partners, a research consulting firm in a 2019 report, estimated that Africa’s cannabis business could earn as much as $7.1bn annually by 2023.
No doubt, this is an assurance that a vista of opportunities will proceed from a regulated cannabis industry—job and wealth creation, economic diversification and improved foreign exchange earnings. Like cannabis, the proscription of alcohol in America had social and health issues as the driving force. Also, singularly important was the need for more tax revenue especially during the great depression when legalising alcohol sales was seen as a veritable source. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt promised to lift the alcohol ban which he fulfilled.
The approach to leveraging the opportunity should be tailored toward medical purposes, which will encourage the establishing of industries in the processing and exports of cannabis-based products or raw materials underpinned by a strict regulatory and legal framework. So, the country has no shortage of entrepreneurs inclined in taking the plunge. Huge revenue would be racked up from the issuance of licenses and taxes from the industry.
This will in no way obviate the place of the NDLEA instead it will be streamlined to reflect the new reality and further strengthen its arms in playing supervisory, monitoring and regulatory role better in the industry. Again, the entire argument for cannabis remains primarily for its medical and scientific uses.
As earlier adverted, many African countries have jumped on the bandwagon with many also tying up loose ends preparatory to taking a shot at the business angle while Nigeria remains non-committal despite the loud calls for a change of attitude toward cannabis
It is still a budding industry which may have been informed the indifference by authorities. At any rate, lively debates need to be sustained for rich knowledge on the subject in actuating a rethink. With the abundant land, experienced farmers and decent growing conditions Nigeria can be on its way to becoming a major player with rich economic harvest.
• Abachi Ungbo writes via [email protected]