By Kayode Ajulo
In the recent times, there have been calls from different quarters on the need to legalize the use of Marijuana in Nigeria. This legal opinion considers the mischief behind the laws proscribing the production, possession, sale and use of Marijuana and thereafter considers the benefits of legalizing Marijuana in Nigeria.
Classified as an illicit drug in many countries, marijuana is outlawed by many governments. In Nigeria, it is often referred to as ‘Indian hemp’, in the country, Cannabis Sativa, which has enjoyed use as fibre, seed and seed oils, medicinal purposes, and as a recreational drug traces its origin to Central and South Asia. The drug also has many other aliases igbo, dope, ganja, sensi, kuma, morocco, eja, kpoli, weed, trees, etc. Though usually smoked, the plant can be soaked in alcoholic drinks dubbed ‘monkey-tail’. Some people cook food with it, some boil it to drink as tea, while others just chew the plant and seeds.
Physiologically, cannabis causes euphoria, relaxes the muscles and increases appetite. On the downside, the drug can impair motor skills, cause anxiety and paranoia and decrease short-term memory.
Deemed an illicit drug by the law, it had always been an offence in Nigeria to smoke marijuana, and it has largely been frowned upon by society. However, paradoxically, despite increased hounding of growers, sellers, and users, marijuana appears to be consumed in ever greater quantities.
The agency saddled with the enforcement of drug laws in Nigeria is the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The agency has the job of curtailing the consumption of drugs in Nigeria. The general powers of the Agency is contained in Section 3 of the NDLEA Act.
Under the NDLEA Act, which came about by the promulgation of Decree Number 48 of 1989, the possession or smoking of cannabis, or even allowing one’s premises to be used for dealing in cannabis, can result in a prison sentence from 15 years to life. Its precursor, the Indian Hemp Act, was even harsher, carrying a maximum sentence of death.
Marijuana in Nigeria
Statistics show that cultivation to transportation and to sales, the marijuana industry connects different cities throughout Nigeria. At many outdoor markets and public motor garages, it is not strange to see marijuana smokers puffing away.
The 2011 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report stated that cannabis use was prevalent among 14.3 per cent of 15 to 64 year olds in Nigeria. The same report in 2014 revealed that Nigeria had made the highest number of cannabis seizures of any African country. Following this report, the NDLEA launched a programme dubbed ‘Operation Weed Eaters’ that aimed to rid the country of cannabis.
While marijuana can be grown in all parts of the country, according to the NDLEA, the states that are notorious for cultivating the plant are Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta. The NDLEA is known to have destroyed cannabis farms in Ute and Ose local government areas in Ondo State and arrested 30 suspects, seizing 31 kilograms of dried weed suspected to be marijuana in the Suleja area.
Between January and June 2014, NDLEA arrested 4,511 suspected drug traffickers and seized 47,423 kilograms of drugs. Of that number, cannabis accounted for 45,875 kilograms. Though these seizure figures are high, large quantities of marijuana still find their way to the market baffling the law enforcement system.
Legalizing Marijuana in Nigeria
While it is important to note that many countries including Nigeria have enacted harsh laws against the cultivation, possession or sale of cannabis. In fact, dealing or using marijuana in countries such as Singapore, China, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia could land one from four years in jail to public beheadings.
But in recent years, some nations have adopted a different strategy, of decriminalizing marijuana usage as a way of combating it. These societies have also often reduced the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation or a fine rather than by imprisonment. The idea has been to focus more resources on those who traffic the drug.
Uruguay made history by becoming the first country to legalize cultivation, trade and usage of marijuana in December 2013. In countries as varied as the Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Peru, and Canada, the emphasis has shifted towards the decriminalization of marijuana. Jamaica, a country where marijuana smoking has long been popular, is set to decriminalize it too.
In 2018, Thailand’s military government unanimously approved medical marijuana use, which would make it the first country to legalize cannabis use in any form in Southeast Asia.
There are several laws in Nigeria which prohibit cultivating, possessing and using Marijuana.
Section of 11 of the NDLEA Act provides that:
Any person who, without lawful authority;
(a) imports, manufactures, produces, processes, plants or grows the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life; or
(b) exports, transports or otherwise traffics in the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life;
(c) sells, buys, exposes or offers for sale or otherwise deals in or with the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to be sentenced to imprisonment for life; or
(d) knowingly possesses or uses the drugs popularly known as cocaine, LSD, heroine or any other similar drugs by smoking, inhaling or injecting the said drugs shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not less than fifteen years but not exceeding 25 years.
See also Okewu v FRN (2012) LPELR-7834(SC); Nwadiem v. FRN (2018) LPELR-9845 (CA)
Similarly, section 7 of the Indian Hemp Act prohibits the use of Indian hemp.
From the above provisions, the law proscribes the illegal cultivation, use, sell and possession of narcotics. The poser from the above is “whether there could be instances of legal cultivation, use, sell and possession of narcotics?”
A careful perusal of the NDLEA Act will reveal that there was no mention of legal use of narcotics. What could appear to seem as a provision for legal use is provided for under Section 3 of the NDLEA Act. The section provides that:
(1) Subject to this Act and in addition to any other functions expressly conferred on it by other provisions of this Act, the Agency shall have responsibility for-
(h) the facilitation of rapid exchange of scientific and technical information and the conduct of research geared towards eradication of illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances;
It is on the heels of this provision that the NDLEA had given a letter of “No Objection” to Medis Oil Company Limited and two others to import seeds of industrial cannabis for research purposes.
Similarly, Under Article 3 paragraph 5 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to which Nigeria is signatory to, it is envisaged that as a result of research, a drug may be deleted from schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention if researches reveal its therapeutic advantages. At the risk of repetition but for the sake of emphasis the Paragraph provides:
A Party shall, if in its opinion the prevailing conditions in its country render it the most appropriate means of protecting the public health and welfare, prohibit the production, manufacture, export and import of, trade in, possession or use of any such drug except for amounts which may be necessary for medical and scientific research only, including clinical trials therewith to be conducted under or subject to the direct supervision and control of the party.
A careful reading of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs reveal that narcotics may be used by signatory states for research and medical purposes. Cannabis plant or its resin or extract with THC content lower than 1% is considered as CBD (medical) cannabis and not psychoactive.
Economic benefits of Marijuana: Thailand as a Case Study
Despite the facts that the mischief which several stringent laws against narcotics seek to prevent is the harm they do to human health, recent medical studies have also indicated that marijuana can also be beneficial to health.
Thailand’s military government unanimously approved medical marijuana use, which would make it the first country to legalize cannabis use in any form in South-east Asia.
It is apropos to note that Thailand was once infamous for its harsh penalties on drug users, including the death penalty. Cannabis was also once extensively used in Thailand for medicinal purposes as well as clothing, where fibers from both Marijuana and hemp plants were used in creating fabrics. Thailand’s cannabis is one of the country’s largest exports.
Globally, the medicinal cannabis industry is projected to be worth $55.8 billion dollars by 2025.
Considering the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria, legalizing Marijuana will provide job opportunities for many Nigerian youths.
Health Benefits of Cannabis
One of the first big medical issue that cannabis was shown to effectively treat is glaucoma. Ingesting cannabis helps lower the pressure in the eyeball, giving patients at least temporary relief.
It can improve lung health. Some conditions like lung cancer and emphysema have been shown to regress when cannabis is thrown to the mix.
Cannabis can also offer serious relief for arthritis, especially when using quality cannabis creams and balms. It’s helpful for those with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It could help regulate metabolism: as it helps your body process and deal with food and obesity, it also helps maintain and regulate metabolism.
It also helps people with AIDS/HIV in the sense that cannabis helps those living with it cope by helping them maintain their diets and handle associated pains and aches.
It proved effective for treating nausea: chemical compounds in cannabis react with brain receptors to regulate feelings of nausea.
Cannabis could potentially treat headache naturally and won’t chew through your stomach lining or take its toll on one’s body.
It has also been found to be at least somewhat effective in the treatment of a handful of sexually transmitted diseases, including herpes and chlamydia.
It could help with speech problems: if anyone has an issue with stuttering, cannabis can help in the same way that it helps calm spasms and twitches.
It can improve skin conditions and treat skin conditions like eczema vide cannabis topical.
Recreational Benefits of Marijuana
Apart from the argument for the legalization of cannabis for medical and medicinal purposes, there is the argument that its possession and use for recreational purposes should be decriminalized. As would be seen, some countries have passed legislation that decriminalizes possession up to certain amounts and allows recreational use and cultivation up to certain amounts too.
Notwithstanding, there remain ethical questions to its widespread use. At the core of this ethical debate is the question: Is it morally wrong to be high? I am certain that we will agree that we might not have a winner in that debate.
If we are to go by the fact that it impairs cognitive abilities, then it might be morally wrong to ingest anything that impairs our sense of judgment in any way.
Taking clue from the Utilitarian theory that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness,” from the facts and benefits highlighted above, there is really a need to legalize the use of Marijuana in the country.
It is succinct to point out that war on drugs is often far costlier than the drugs themselves. Thus if the money pumped against the use of drugs could be redirected in cultivating Marijuana for economic use, there will be a great boast in the economy of the country.
Finally, one of the greatest problems in policing the illegal use of cannabis is the enforcement of the laws governing its illegality. This in itself has been one of the big drivers for the calls for its legalization across many countries of the world. Most of the proponents of the legalization of its use for both medical and recreational purposes have stated that its criminalization has not stopped its increasingly widespread use but instead, has helped deny people of its ‘wonder working powers’, as a drug, especially in treating chronic pain as earlier mentioned.
Having considered the benefits accruable to the production, sale and use of Marijuana, it is hereby recommended that the National Assembly should be lobbied to amend the provisions of the NDLEA Act and other relevant laws in order to make room for the legal production, manufacturing, sale and use of Marijuana in Nigeria which in turn boast the economy of the nation as a whole.
The NDLEA should also enforce the provisions of 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and allow the use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes.
*Ajulo, an Abuja-based lawyer is former National Secretary of the Labour Party