PHILIP NYAM reports on the bill to legalise the use and sale of cannabis in the country, which is presently before the House of Representatives
There is a proposed legislation before the House of Representatives to give legal backing to the cultivation, use and sale of cannabis sativa, which for now, is a banned product in the country.
Cannabis is known by several names such as Marijuana and Indian hemp, among others, is held with a lot of disdain by not a few Nigerians. It is believed to have created socio- psychiatric problems, especially among the youth. Cannabis is however not indigenous to Nigeria and evidences indicate that it was introduced to the country during and after the World War II by soldiers returning from the Middle and Far East, North Africa and also by sailors.
The only purpose for which it was grown in Nigeria is for smoking as it is not used for fiber. It’s neither chewed nor brewed. It is also not used in the herbal concoctions of traditional healers or in home remedies. A newsmagazine said of it: “Indian hemp became notorious with the introduction of thuggery in Nigerian politics.
The thugs stand side by side with the politicians during campaign meetings and it is believed that in order to produce the indefatigable type of men required these thugs are fed with Indian hemp.”
The thugs and criminals who use cannabis believe that it increases their prowess and courage. The users belong mostly to those of the fringe of the society who have drifted from the restraining influence of their families into the urban communities.
The local users are usually found amongst the lower class-mostly in towns. In 1989, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was established pursuant to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, 1989, as amended and currently compiled as Cap.N30 Laws of the Federation 2004 (the “NDLEA Act”) to enforce laws against the cultivation, processing, sale, trafficking and use of hard drugs and to empower the NDLEwA to investigate persons suspected to have dealings in drugs and other related matters.
By the NDLEA Act, a person who, without lawful authority, manufactures, processes, plants, grows or exports cannabis is liable upon conviction to a sentence of imprisonment for life.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Act, 1993, as amended and currently compiled as Cap N1 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004 (the NAFDAC Act) was enacted to create a National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control responsible, inter alia, to ensure that the use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are limited to medical and scientific purposes and to grant authorisation for the import and export of narcotic drugs.
These acts, notwithstanding, a bill to legalise the use and sale of cannabis in the country is presently before the House of Representatives.
The bill, which has already been read the first time and was slated for second reading before the House proceeded on Christmas and New Year break, is sponsored by Hon. Miriam Onuoha (APC, Imo).
It is titled: “A bill for an act to decriminalise the growth and use of cannabis, to establish a system for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers, users and control, to legalise the growth, sale and use of cannabis and set out a legal framework for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers and producers in Nigeria; and for related matters (HB. 837).”
Onuoha, who represents Isiala Mbano/Onuimo/Okigwe federal constituency of Imo State, is a firsttimer in the lower chamber after defeating her closest rival, Obinna Onwubuariri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the rerun election that was held in 18 polling units in the constituency in January 2019.
Although the bill was listed on the order paper on December 21, 2020, it could not be debated due to the absence of the sponsors on the floor of the House. However, the proposed legislation is expected to be considered when the House reconvenes on February 9.
A synopsis of the bill shows that it is meant to regulate the cultivation, possession, availability and trade in cannabis for medical and research purposes.
The objectives of the bill include to “provide for a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers and processors; establish a registration and licensing system for cannabis famers and processors; regulate the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medical purposes and promote public awareness about the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes and its use in relation to medical or health purpose.”
The bill, however, prohibits issuance of cannabis license for medical use if such a person is without a proof that “he is either a medical doctor and intends to use it for medical purposes or a pharmaceutical company which intends to use an amount of cannabis, which may be determined as required, in producing a medicine for the cure of a certain disease or an epidemic.”
When the bill is passed, Nigeria will join the league of 30 other countries that have legalised the use of cannabis.
They include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark and Finland. Others are Germany, Greece, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Italy, Poland, Jamaica, Lesotho, Romania, San Marino, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Macedonia, Tury, Malta, Mexico, Uruguay and Zimbabwe.
Whether this bill see will see the light of the day, only the next few months will determine.