Insight

Medical cannabis: Ondo still in search of FG’s nod for legalisation

Society regards anyone seen with Cannabis Sativa, popularly known as marijuana as irresponsible. However, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu had recently been changing the narrative by playing up the medical and economic benefits of the hard drug. ADEWALE MOMOH writes on how the governor has been making moves towards ensuring that cultivation of the plant is legalised in the country.

Marijuana, with different street names in Nigeria such as ‘igboo’, ‘eja’, ‘weed’ ‘hemp’, ‘ganja’, kpoli, and dope among others, according to the Nigerian law as well as the perception of the society, is regarded as forbidden plant. With the plant grown mostly in the Southern part of the country, particularly in Ondo, Delta, Edo, Osun, Oyo and Ogun states, Nigeria is ranked in the top ten of countries with the highest consumer of the illegal substance. Amongst the states where the plant is mostly cultivated, Ondo State has the largest plantation in Nigeria and second largest in the world.

The plant which can be taken in different forms is commonly smoked among its users while some preferred it to be soaked in liquor before drinking, and others loved to cook it with meal or boiled as tea, depending on the user’s choice. The seed of the plant has also been proven to be potent as some preferred chewing it, while for some, the oil extracted from the plant can be used in various ways and for various purposes. With the plant capable of causing anxiety and paranoia, its users believe that it brings a sort of soothing relief to any form of stress, as well as its capability to let ‘life-changing ideas’ flow in ones reasoning. Denting the nation’s image globally on drug abuse, 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.

This spurred the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) towards waging war against those involved in farming the plant. Subsequently, in 2014, the UNODC revealed that Nigeria had made the highest number of cannabis seizures from any African country. NDLEA launched series of anti-cannabis attacks, famous among them are “Operation Weed Eaters” and a domiciled one in Ondo State dubbed: “Operation Thunderstorm,” steered to extirpate marijuana from the Nigerian space. There have been mixed feelings about the legality of marijuana in the largest and most populous black man’s nation of the world, Nigeria.

These more often than not have raised a lot of questions that range from the moral, economic and legal points of view. Some describe the illegality in Nigeria as “throwing the baby away with the bath water,” in comparison with the benefits it brings to nations where it is legal. Over 26 countries in the world have legalised cannabis cultivation for health and business, such as: Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Portugal; and first legalised in the African continent by Lesotho in 2017.

NDLEA is saddled with the responsibility to curtail its cultivation, sales and consumption in Nigeria, as enshrined in Section 3 of the NDLEA Act by the promulgation of Decree Number 48 of 1989. A breach of this can earn the culprit a prison sentence ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment, sometimes, a harsh maximum sentence of death. As stipulated in Section 11 of the NDLEA Act, any person who, with-out 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.”

But changing the age-long narratives, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who hails from Owo in Owo Local Government of Ondo State which is known as the council area with the most marijuana cultivation on May 14, 2019 during a study tour to Thailand, revealed his intention to legally grow cannabis for medical purposes. According to Akeredolu who led the study tour to the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Cannabis Research Laboratory Naresuan University, Thailand, in company of immediate past Chairman of NDLEA, Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah rtd., Nigeria can save $145 billion within six years through legal cannabis cultivation.

During the tour, the governor warned that failure to utilise the legal marijuana market globally would cost Nigeria an estimated value of $145 Billion by 2025. While emphasising that Ondo State is the hot bed of cannabis cultivation in Nigeria, Akeredolu affirmed further that “We know how to grow it and it thrives well in the Sunshine State.” Akeredolu who had planned to utilise the vast expanse of land in Ondo State, appealed to the Federal Government to key into the vision by entering the cannabis industry as part of measures to expand the nation’s economy, expressed high hopes on medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantation under the full supervision of the NDLEA.

Noting that there must be moral and legal backing before such move can be embarked upon, Akeredolu has been making efforts towards ensuring that the Federal Government and relevant stakeholders key into the vision. According to findings, the move for the legalisation of the plant by the governor might not materialise any time soon due to some stumbling blocks over the issue. Speaking on the issue, a source disclosed that with the present Chairman of NDLEA, Mohammed Buba Marwa in the saddle, the push for the legalisation of marijuana will continue to suffer setback.

The source who crave anonymity maintained that the disposition of Marwa who was the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA) to legalisation of marijuana had been that of a “no go area.” He said “Before the stance of Gov Akeredolu on medical cannabis, no one had really looked into that direction.

“In fact, to some of us, what the governor is championing is a good one which we believe would be for the benefits of the country. “But, we don’t think the idea will get approval of the Presidency because of Marwa. His position on the issue has been emphatic.

When he was Chairman of PACEDA, we knew how he moved against the Thailand trip of Akeredolu and the former NDLEA Chairman, Abdallah. “What is important is that Akeredolu has created an enormous awareness about medical cannabis which countries are already getting involved, so in the nearest future, Nigeria will defi-nitely key into it.” However, a top source within the government of Akeredolu disclosed that the governor is not relenting on the move going by the series of round table discussions the governor has initiated on the issue. According to the top source who craved anonymity, the needed legislative backing of the National Assembly had been a hindrance for the state to embark on the programme. While stressing that the issue of medical cannabis is different from Amotekun and others which were championed by the governor, he stated that the cannabis issue needed the input of everyone.

“This is a different one. You know that Amotekun and the others that have been done can be legislated upon at the state level, but the issue of legalising cannabis is exclusively in the hands of the Federal Government. “The National Assembly will have to legislate on it first. That is why, this is a different one. But I’m sure the government is doing everything. “Already, there are two lawmakers trying to sponsor the bill now. What the governor is doing is mostly the advocacy, for people to see the benefits of medical use of cannabis. The CBD oil which is also called the green oil is used to cure almost everything. People do buy it from abroad, but at a very expensive rate. “We have these things here, why do we have to go out to get at the rate when we can simply just legislate on it.

“The governor has been stressing that if there is controlled cultivation of cannabis, its black market space will even drop” An aide to the Governor on Agriculture, Pastor Akin olotu, who was part of the delegation to Thailand justified the moves by the state government on the huge economic advantages available in the cultivation of marijuana for medical use and other value chain opportunities. Olotu, have been mounting series of campaign to change the ugly narratives against the $145 billion project in the state, lamenting that the current trend and disposition to cannabis drugs will continue to inflict capital flight outside the nation’s economy and subject millions of Nigerians to abject poverty. According to him, “I was in some of the foremost pharmaceutical companies in Lagos to check on the number of drugs on their shelves with cannabis contents.

I was amazed with the list and their prices. Not just that, they are all imported. “Our hard earned Forex expended on importation of cannabis extract based drugs. Hummmm. Nothing spoil. The foolish ones will remain as servants to the wise forever.” Speaking on the development, a farmer in Ogbese area of Akure North Local Government Area of the state where the illegal cultivation of Cannabis is very prominent, he revealed that he will not hesitate to venture into the trade if it is legalised.

The farmer who simply gave his name as Rabiu stated that he had once engaged in the business, but the constant destruction of the farm used for the cultivation of the plant alongside his friends’ by officials of the NDLEA, made him to quit. According to Rabiu who said that he had never smoked in his life, said that the buyers of the fresh Cannabis leaves from his farm were from eastern part of the country who uses extractors to extract oil from the leave. “I used to plant hemp.

I was involved for some years, but I decided to stop doing it. “Initially I don’t know anything about how to plant hemp. A friend of mine introduced me to it. Then we were actually being funded by some people outside the state. “We don’t smoke it at all. After the plant is ready for harvest, we notify the buyers who would come to pack and process it into oil “I became tired about it after constant siege by NDLEA.

They will destroy it and at times arrest some workers on the farm. “Even after we relocate to another part of the forest to cultivate another farm, they will always find it again and destroy. They always come as if they are in battle ground with heavy shooting. So, I just have to call it quit.

“But if it is legalized, I’ll be very happy because I already know so much about it. Honestly, not all those that are into the business are bad. Most of us were into it just for survival sake.” Also baring his mind on the situa-tion, one of the youth leaders in the axis who craved anonymity, maintained that legalising cannabis in the country will massively solve the unemployment issue of the country. The youth leader who berated the NDLEA over the constant arrest of youths in Ogbese and Uso area of the state emphasised that with legalisation of cannabis, the youths could be trained on the proper way of handling such venture. He maintained that any time the youths were released after been arrested on the cannabis farms, they always go back to cultivate the plant on another farm.

“There is nothing to lie about, in this community (Eleyowo) down to Ose area, most youths are involved in this trade. Even the NDLEA and government know this. “When I heard about the effort of Akeredolu about making the planting of marijuana to be legal, everyone gave him kudos because that is the right thing to do. “When this thing is fully legalised, you will be amazed how this boy will show real seriousness. All these boys are looking for is money. Just sensitise them on how they can make more money from it if the planting is for medical purposes.

“Even NDLEA is not helping matters at all. They will just come and storm the community in full force and begin to arrest those involved in the trade. But the question is, has the arrest yielded any result, simply no, because the boys after returning they go back into the business using another method without being caught.

“These boys can be fully remodeled into more responsible adults by giving them the necessary training and immediate legalisation of cannabis. “The mistake that most people do make is that they think Indian Hemp is only meant to be smoked by hoodlums. But that is a big no. “All kinds of people do come here to buy hemp in different quantities from these people. They do come from outside the state. It is said that Indian Hemp from Ondo State is very potent and rich.

That is the reason I think they rush it. We see all these things. “I even understand that Indian Hemp, when used in the right ways cures a lot of diseases. Even some ladies do buy it and mix it with their hair cream to make their hair healthy.

“So, why are we pretending as if everything about Indian Hemp is bad. Let us do the needful and the continued destruction of Indian Hemp farm should be stopped, because Ondo State has one of the best of it in the world.” On his part, a drug expert and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Pharmacist Samuel Adekola urged stakeholders to have a rethink on the urgent need to adopt cannabis for medicinal use. While stressing the need for NDLEA to activate laws for medicinal use of cannabis in the interest of the nation and the people, Adekola kicked against recreational use of cannabis.

The former ACPN Chairman said, “We are not talking of recreational use of cannabis, we still believe that smoking cannabis is prohibited, that is the message that must be made clear, the message is that cannabis has medicinal benefits. “I have said it over and over that let us say it right, even the current law, all the three laws that control drugs in Nigeria make provisions for medical use of cannabis. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to activate them (the laws) and that’s another thing we talked about leadership.

“NDLEA has not been able to activate that point and that is the message Ondo State Government is giving out, which is in tandem with the message of my own body, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria and International Pharmaceutical Federation, the world body of pharmacists, that has its headquarters in The Netherlands.

“Therefore, Nigeria should activate the laws, if we take that law to court and challenge it, we will win and that’s the truth, that’s if we want to go by legal route, because the law allows for medicinal use, it gave exceptional use of cannabis. “But, we are saying that instead of going by that route, why don’t we do advocacy, why do we not make it clear to them that what we are saying is that cannabis has a lot of medical benefits which the people must not be denied of.”

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