Recently, the spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Okezie Kalu, told Nigerians that the House was set to legalize the use of marijuana popularly known as Indian hemp, for its economic benefit.
Already, the lawmakers have slated June 7 and 8 as date for public hearing and stakeholders’ engagement to deliberate on Dangerous Drugs Act (Amendment) Bill.
We recall that in 2019, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, hinted his administration’s resolve to explore the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes in its quest to create employment and engender growth in the state.
Of course his suggestion generated heated debate in some quarters. Then, this newspaper condemned the plan and urged Akeredolu to perish the thought immediately. We believe then as we do now, that Legalising marijuana is a bad idea.
In Nigeria, the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) and indeed, the Indian Hemp Act (IHA), criminalize planting, harvesting and consumption of cannabis.
The Indian Hemp Act for instance, provides for stiffer penalties to anyone convicted of dealing in marijuana. The Act provides that any person who knowingly plants or cultivates marijuana shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced either to death or to imprisonment for a term of not less than 21 years.
According to the law, anyone found guilty of the unlawful importation or sale of Indian hemp shall be liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not less than 21 years.
Of course the law exempts anyone who imports or sells marijuana for medical reasons.
We are well aware of the fact that the campaign to legalize marijuana has continued to gain traction across the globe. For instance, Canada legalized its recreational use hence it can be grown, distributed and sold anywhere in the country; UK also pledged to review the use of medicinal cannabis, and the Israeli parliament passed the medical cannabis exports law estimated to yield an annual $265m in tax income.
Many states in the United States have since legalized the sale of marijuana. But in Nigeria, the provisions of DDA and IHA still subsist and in our considered opinion, the time is not ripe to jettison such provisions.
Clearly, this is not the right time to contemplate legalizing marijuana as the nation is passing through social trauma in the midst of high crime rate induced by drugs. For a nation with an alarming rate of suicide with many cases traced to drugs, legalizing marijuana as being advocated is certainly not the route to take.
In spite of the stringent provisions of the DDA and IHA, there are unverified reports of Nigeria being a major consumer of the product globally. If under a restriction, the substance is being abused on a sustained basis with all the implications, what the atmosphere will look like if the substance is legalized can only be imagined.
We are not oblivious of the fact that the plant has enormous economic potential ranging from medicinal properties to fabric, rope and paper which can be a major source of employment opportunities and foreign exchange for the country.
Hon Kalu based his reasons for advocating the legalization of marijuana solely on the economic benefits. But what have the politicians done with the billions of dollars from oil all these years? Would Kalu and his cohort prefer the nation make billions of dollars from cannabis but destroy the country?
Even without legalizing cannabis, the nation already has a large number of youths whose lives have been ruined by smoking marijuana.
Therefore, we believe that legalizing Indian hemp as being advocated will have negative implications in a nation with a growing population of unemployed youths who tend towards substance abuse.
We are worried that in spite of the restriction placed on cultivation, sell and use of Indian hemp in the country, the substance is being abused. Evidently, legalizing it will further exacerbate the abuse with all its social implications.
Without a doubt, the concern largely is on striking a balance between the negative implications and the benefits derivable from Indian hemp like its potential to generate the much needed foreign exchange earnings, create employment opportunities and contribute significantly to economic growth.
Nigeria has abundant natural resources that are left untapped. Perhaps, those making a case to legalize Indian hemp citing its economic benefits needs to be told that there are a thousand and one sources of generating revenue.
All things considered, this newspaper is against the call to decriminalize the use of Indian hemp or legalize its sale as the adverse effects will far outweigh the economic benefit. It is from this standpoint that we urge Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state to focus on massive investment in agriculture and human capital rather than advocating for the legalization of cannabis.