Udora Orizu in Abuja
Members of the House of Representatives at the plenary Thursday were divided over a Bill seeking to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, 2004 to confer additional responsibility of the power to grant and revoke licences for the cultivation of Cannabis for medicinal purposes.
The proposed legislation, which was stepped down at the plenary Wednesday in order to consolidate it with similar bill, was sponsored by Hon. Benjamin Kalu and Hon. Olumide Osoba.
On Thursday, the Bill was presented for second reading after it was consolidated with Hon. Miriam Onuoha’s bill, tilted: ‘Bill for an Act to Decriminalize the Growth and Use of Cannabis, to Establish a System for the Registration and licensing of Cannabis Growers.’
The co-sponsor, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, leading the debate on its general principles, informed his colleagues on the plethora of medicinal benefits attributed to Cannabis such as pain control, weight loss, cancer treatment etc.
He said the Bill seeks to establish and regulate the safe use of Cannabis as a source of medicinal treatment in medical centres, adding that Nigerians shouldn’t live in denial on the benefits while they go outside and import it, in medical form, from Germany, Australia etc.
On the financial implication, Kalu, who is also the House spokesman, said that NDLEA is an existing agency of government and if the bill is passed into law, it will not bring additional cost to the government.
Speaking against the bill, Hon. Nicholas Ossai noted that Nigeria is a signatory to the international treaty of nations on the ban on Cannabis.
He queried the authenticity of the statement that Cannabis can cure cancer, or that it can be efficiently regulated when allowed to be legally administered.
Countering Ossai’s view, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, reminded Ossai that where exists conflicts of laws and treaties, laws always take preeminence, especially when the treaties are not fully domesticated.
Gbajabiamila stated that the bill did not repeal any existing law, adding that it will allow experts to contribute at the public hearing if Cannabis can treat the mentioned illnesses.
On his part, Hon. Nkem Abonta called for balance in the passage of the bill as the motive of the sponsors of the bill is just, but the practical application can be harmful to society, especially if not effectively regulated and then abused.
He therefore advised on a rigorous debate at a public hearing where the relevant experts can shed more light on the matter.
Opposing the bill, the Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Idris Wase, expressed worry that if legislation is used to legalize Cannabis it can be exploited to abuse the drug, especially among the youths.
Wase, while reminding his colleagues of the increasing rate of drug abuse and why the parliament should not be in the place to contribute to it in any way, advised that the proposed legislation should be stepped down.
But Gbajabiamila in his reaction to Wase’s statement was of the view that the very fact that these drugs are being abused necessitates the need for regulation.
Disagreeing, the Deputy Speaker warned that if Cannabis is legalized, Nigeria will be turned to a drug baron country, and Nigeria shouldn’t be turned to Columbia.
Wase said: “Alcohol and arms are already regulated. But till today, that’s why there’s a prolonged fight of insecurity in Nigeria and we have not been able to solve it. Those that have these licences still sell to these people. If cannabis is legalized, Nigeria will be turned to a drug baron country. Nigeria shouldn’t be turned to Columbia. It will compound our issues.”
Also opposing the bill, the Chief Whip, Hon. Mohammed Monguno, stated that it seems vague and ambiguous and at such can make it highly manipulated by abusers of cannabis.
The co-sponsor, Kalu, in exercising his right of reply, stated that the consolidation of the different bills has distorted the intention of his original bill.
Judging by the mood of the House, Kalu called for the stepping down of the bill for further consultations.
In a related development, the lawmakers at the plenary passed through second reading a Bill for an Act to Provide for Establishment of Traditional Complementary and Alternative
Medicine Council of Nigeria.
The proposed legislation was sponsored by Hon. Alex Egbona.