By Oladapo Kayode
This topic is volatile (even emotive!) as it can get because of the sensitivity surrounding the subject of the essay within the Nigerian socio-economic and politico-religious climate.
It’s sensitive because Cannabis (more commonly known as Marijuana) be it of the medical or recreational variant, remains an illegal substance in Nigeria based on the provisions of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) Act a creation of legislative powers of the Nigerian Parliament.
Because of the illegality of the substance imposed by the Nigerian Law, it is almost a taboo for anyone to advance a robust and critical discourse on the beneficial side of the leaf without seeming to appear to be an outlaw or running a foul of the law, especially, in a highly conservative society like Nigeria where only few want to be identified as contrarians or radicals. Yet, it’s a discourse that the country can no longer run away from.
Nevertheless, and at the risk of being mislabeled an agent provocateur of what’s illegal, it is pertinent to ask this fundamental question: for how long shall we continue to dance around the fact that the unquantifiable benefit of Cannabis far outweighs its bad side when its production is controlled and its consumption conforms to international best practices and rules of it’s usage?
A bit of digression here: it is a glaring fact that in spite of being a banned substance in the country, Marijuana, also known as Indian Hemp, still finds its way into Nigerian communities, both rural and urban, bearing assorted names wherever it’s found. Has anyone bothered to ask why this is so?
Digression over; it’s quite interesting to note that some public figures in the country have been making a strong case for the commercialization of the substance in the country for both economic and medical reasons. Two of such persons are Omoyele Sowore, Publisher of Sahara Reporters who made a very fascinating argument for the leaf during his campaign as the 2019 presidential candidate of African Action Congress (AAC). He was booed then by a cross section of his listeners who could not fathom the import of what he was saying regarding the substance. He has not relented since then.
Another of such notable personalities is the Governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, who in spite of the initial jibes and criticisms hurled at him by obviously ill-informed commentators, has continued to make a strong case for the commercialization of the substance for the purpose of generating revenue for the country and also for its health-related benefits as supported by many proven publications in renowned medical journals.
In fact, Governor Akeredolu, who is serving his second term as the chief helmsman of the Sunshine State, is so undeterred by naysayers and the constitutional hurdles on his way, that he has been making frantic efforts to see how the leaf could be commercially explored for its huge revenue generating capacity and for its medicinal purposes in a controlled and structured manner.
To the extent of the above, the Governor once travelled to Thailand in conjunction with the leadership of the NDLEA to have an on-the-spot assessment of medical Cannabis planting technology. He is also believed to be in talks with some critical stakeholders to see how such could be replicated in Ondo State and Nigeria, at large, once the legal hurdles are out of the way.
Why do we need to commercialize the production of cannabis in the country and in the present scenario, Ondo State? According to some figures, the global medical marijuana market alone will be worth $145 billion by 2025. Countries who know their worth are already tapping into this huge market to generate reasonable Gross Domestic Products(GDPs). Can Nigeria afford to be an exception? Not even with the parlous state of its economy.
It’s needless deliberating the need to diversify the Nigerian economy away from its over-reliance on crude oil sale, which has been the mainstay of the country for nearly half-a-century now. In these periods of economic uncertainties, especially with regards to the dwindling price of crude oil within the global oil market, it is a no brainer that Nigerian leaders should be considering operating maximally where the country seems to have some comparative advantage in terms of the optimal utilization of other resources it is endowed with.
As analysts have argued, one of the ways to actualize the much-talked about economic diversification is to examine other economically viable areas that constitute the non-oil sectors with a view to generating revenue from them in addition to creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youth population. One bold way by which this can be achieved is through the cannabis value chain as observed in some countries where its usage, though controlled, is legal.
The health benefits of medical cannabis, have been tested and proven to be valid by reputable medical experts. The controlled usage of cannabis has been implicated in the treatment of anxiety, diabetes, and relief of chronic pain. Its usage is also believed to help improve lung capacity, weight loss, fight cancer, help treat depression, shows promise in autism treatment, regulate seizures, mend bones, slow development of Alzheimer’s disease, among other numerous positive reasons. Should all these be jettisoned on the altar of some unfounded fears and faux morality? It’s high time to reconsider this and there is no better time to do that than now.
A couple of countries where medical cannabis is legally allowed include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Zambia, Zimbabwe, some states in the U.S, among others, while for recreational cannabis, countries such as Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Australian Capital Territory in Australia, 17 states , two territories and the District of Columbia of the United States of America, and others one cannot immediately recall have completely legalized it.
Yet, in all of the above, the commercialization of medical and recreational cannabis production in Nigeria won’t be realised soon except the enabling law criminalizing it is amended to make way for its controlled production and usage. This is where the National Assembly should come in as a matter of urgency to help kickstart legislative processes that will allow the cultivation of cannabis in the country and by consequence, production of other numerous by-products that can be gotten from it.
Or alternatively, if the present National Assembly is not ready to toe the aforementioned path for certain primordial reasons, states who are interested, through restructuring or some other quasi-federal-state arrangement, should be allowed to determine what’s best for their citizenry as those who want to move forward are no longer willing to wait behind for those who are not ready. There’s no doubt that Ondo State, coincidentally, my home state, is willing to tap into the huge potential inherent in the commercial production of cannabis, especially the medical variant.
*Oladapo Kayode, a Legal Practitioner, writes from Ikeja, Lagos