'How legalising marijuana can create $5bn industry, 200k jobs in Nigeria'By Tosin Ashafa

“The strain of marijuana that grows in Ogbese, Ondo State is the best in the world.” This declaration is attributed to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), the current governor of Ondo State. According to him, “Ours is to seek a pathway for growing marijuana for medical purposes and not for anyone to smoke. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Quite frankly, I do not see anything wrong with it either. What I see is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity that is being jettisoned for parochial and conservative ideals that have left the majority of our people poor and unemployed. What is even more frustrating is perhaps the inability of states, like Ondo, to determine their economic pathway by exploring the resources in their state without recourse to the federal government. This is typical of the pseudo-federal system that we practice: one that stifles growth and has encouraged weak and insolvent states.

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But I digress.

In the last three decades, the poverty gap in Nigeria has continuously widened. To make matters worse, between 1991 and 2006 alone, there has also been an increase in the number of unemployed Nigerians by 74.8 per cent.

Every day, it keeps getting worse. Yet, rather than deal with such existential issues staring us in the face, we are neck-deep in our hypocrisy – one that makes us reject anything that contradicts our false sense of religiosity.

A recent report by Grand View Research suggests that the global marijuana market size will hit $66.3 billion by 2025. Initially resisted by several religious and lobby groups in the United States, laws legalising the use of marijuana for recreational purposes have been passed in 10 states and the use of marijuana for medical purposes has been passed in 33 states. The industry now employs about 250,000 people in the US.

My argument, like that of the governor of Ondo State, is not to legalise the use of marijuana for recreational purposes (even though we see police, military, customs and NDLEA officials “easing stress” with it) but to extract the oil which has significant value in the pharmaceutical industry. It has proven effective in the treatment of medical conditions like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and several other neurological conditions.

It would be ridiculous to lose out on this huge market opportunity especially when thousands of Nigerians will spend billions of naira over several years purchasing drugs that contain a by-product of marijuana.  The barriers of entry in the cannabis growing and processing industry are low at the moment. More so, there are willing investors with billions of dollars who are willing to gain market share or any other kind of advantage in the industry.

It is okay for the federal government to resist the urge to legalise marijuana (for whatever purpose) but it would be disingenuous to deny a sub-national government like Ondo the opportunity to create tremendous wealth for the state and thousands of jobs for its residents.

The federal government’s sentiment against marijuana is also understandable, given the fact that substance abuse is the leading cause of mental illness in Nigeria.

But while substance abuse is a huge problem, poverty and unemployment are much bigger problems. And of course, this is not about smoking hemp but about creating an industry that would support multinational pharmaceutical companies.

Let’s make hay while the sun shines.

Basheer Tosin Ashafa is an entrepreneur and real estate investor

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