16, 2019 / 08:38AM / By Olusegun Adeniyi,
Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board / Additional Comments by Olufemi
Awoyemi / Header Image Credit: Proshare
Never mind, got to legalize it
--Peter Tosh, the late Jamaican reggae musician in his 1976 solo album after leaving The Wailers
When in the course of the 2019 presidential election campaigns, the publisher of Saharareporters and candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Mr Omoyele Sowore, said “we have to start taking care of our weed (Igbo), such that we can also contribute to the GDP of the world,” many Nigerians derided him. I felt at the time that Sowore had started a very important conversation we need to have if we must tap into what is fast becoming a global money spinner in which our country has a competitive advantage. In a Tweet from Thailand on Monday, Sowore got an endorsement to his idea from Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who said he was in the Southeast Asian country to “study how cannabis can be of more advantage to the state and Nigeria at large just the way Thai government has done”, adding, “Cannabis is used for medical purposes; how can it be cultivated for specific purposes and not be abused?”
Akeredolu, who was in Thailand with Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah, chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), said his state would derive economic benefits from tapping into the marijuana market: “We all know that Ondo State is the hot bed of cannabis cultivation in Nigeria. We know how to grow it and it thrives well in the sunshine state. With an estimated value of $145 billion in 2025, we would be short-changing ourselves if we failed to tap into the legal marijuana market. Our focus now is medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the NDLEA. I strongly implore the FG to take this seriously as it is a thriving industry that will create thousands of jobs for our youth and spur economic diversification.”
Before I make my point, let me state that I have never smoked cigarette or cannabis and I am quite aware that in a country where hypocrisy is a national ideology and majority are moral policemen (regardless of how they live their lives), the idea of legalizing cannabis will be hard to sell. But in the world we now live in, it makes perfect sense to tap into the economic benefit of an aspect of marijuana use that has been in a global issue for a while and I commend Akeredolu for his foresight. Besides, even in our country, as Peter Tosh sang in his controversial album, “Doctors smoke it, Nurses smoke it, Judges smoke it, Even lawyer, too”. But I am not advocating for anybody to ‘smoke it’.
Following the passage of a law in Canada legalising the recreational use of marijuana (which can now be grown, distributed, and sold anywhere in the country) last year, the UK authorities also pledged to review the use of medicinal cannabis which could lead to more prescriptions of drugs made from the plant although it would remain banned for recreational use. The Israeli parliament has also passed the medical cannabis exports law estimated to yield an annual $265m in tax income alone. In the United States, many states have since 2011 legalised its sale fuelling an industry that is now said to be worth $10 billion and employs 250,000 people in the country. “You’ve never seen anything quite like this,” says Jeffery Mascio, CEO of Cannabis One Holdings, a company that develops and markets cannabis products in Colorado, Washington and Nevada. “It’s a new industry that’s sprung up practically over-night.”
At the instance of Mr Ehi Braimoh, I was in Port Harcourt last Thursday as keynote speaker at the 2019 annual conference of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN). In the panel discussion that followed my presentation, Mr Olufemi Awoyemi, the founder of Proshare who is never afraid to ‘shake tables’, said it was time Nigeria tapped into the huge medical marijuana market. During lunch, I had a chat with Awoyemi who said there is so much ignorance in our country on what exactly marijuana is. “For me, it is an agricultural product that can be put to many uses and offers many by-products which collectively must be harnessed, regulated and exploited for the benefit of all”, said Awoyemi who added that “It is a leaf that grows wild and naturally in at least six states of Nigeria where scale and size offer a compelling case for an agricultural economic zone.”
The level of knowledge and awareness open to us today about marijuana, according to Awoyemi, were not available when the laws were made to criminalise it in many countries. But since then, research, information exchange and economic insights have shown that marijuana or cannabis has a myriad of health and beauty benefits if properly processed and applied, as we have also witnessed in Nigeria. “A common example which everyone can relate to, is found in the many female hair products in our shops and markets today, proudly advertising that they contain ‘Indian hemp’ to add strength and body to women’s hair. No one can recall any religious argument, stereotype or societal derision from such choices yet it represents the clearest irony and shift in thinking that was lost on us all”, Awoyemi said.
Our fears, Awoyemi argues, need not interfere with our promise and I completely agree with him. But if Nigeria is to benefit from the enormous medical and economic advantages the agricultural product offers, he believes we need to enact new legislations that cover the whole ecosystem: trademarks, patents, intellectual property, weed planting, harvesting and shipping, tax laws, accounting standards, customs & excise rates, tariffs, environmental impact assessments, etc., and “we should do away with value destroying actions like burning products and farms which is akin to printing money and burning it”, Awoyemi said.
With creative thinking, marijuana can earn for at least six states in the country more money than they currently receive from the federation account, generate a large number of direct and indirect jobs and create a competitive product value chain that is sustainable and profitable. The farms can easily be ring-fenced and confined to an export processing zone (EPZ) from which the product would be grown, harvested, processed into contract-determined specifications and packed for direct export abroad with supervision by officials of both the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and NDLEA. For that to happen, all the laws concerning cannabis use must be reviewed with the intention of modifying them to allow for the proper leveraging of what has become a key medical and economic resource.
The post Is It Time To Legalise Marijuana first appeared in Thisday on Thursday, 16 May 2019.
The Argument for Marijuana
Olufemi AWOYEMI, May 09, 2019, PortHarcourt
There is a natural tendency for human beings to engage in selective morality and establish baselines for what is “right” and what is “wrong”, which are, of course, ideologically biased concepts. The early adverse American attitude towards Marijuana (or Cannabis) and the imposition of a ban on the ‘agricultural product’ derived from the widespread use of the grass by black African slaves in America, who must have found solace in the product to relieve sorrow and reinvigorate themselves from the hard labour that was their perpetual grind and fate.
In furtherance of the stereotyping that went on then, the slaves realized that in a controlled context, Marijuana provided them with a sense of wellness, hence it became an identity or cultural ‘drug’ of choice.
The flip side of this however was the narrow lane it offered for meaningful research into the darker side, albeit, the hallucinogenic effect of the grinded leaf which was a problem of abuse rather than value of usage.
This society approach became elevated into mainstream thinking and invariably shaped the narrative and stereotype that has persisted till late; and explains why right up till modern times the larger number of people arrested for cannabis use globally were mostly ‘folks of colour’, rather than ‘non-coloured’, who tend to tickle their itches with synthetics and opioids such as cocaine and heroin and a number of other coca plant by-products (irony).
The Case for Medical Marijuana
To understand the subject of Marijuana and the self-evident case for its useage, economic value chain, and opportunity to better understand mental health and other issues, we must first situate the context and construct.
First, at the very base level must be the need to agree on what marijuana is and isn’t. For me, it is an agricultural product that can be put to many uses and offers many by-products which collectively must be harnessed, regulated and exploited for the benefit of the sovereign.
It is indeed trite knowledge that Cannabis is an agricultural product, a leaf that grows wild and naturally in at least six states of Nigeria where scale and size offers a compelling case for an agricultural economic zone.
Second, the legal onslaught against the drug appears to be a perpetuation of the thinking that created status quo in the first place – a product of ignorance, misinformation and a fear of what was misunderstood.
Third, there exists a two stage model of development that allows the development of an economic value chain around the product that is novel to us in Nigeria asw ell as leverage best practice thinking on business models around the cannabis business. At a minimum, we can actually use this product to deliver on the nexus between farmers, customs & excise, NAFDAC, dry ports and rail services.
Understanding the Context
The context of the ban on Marijuana or Cannabis, as it is sometimes called, relates to the psychotropic impact of the abuse of the product on society. The level of knowledge and awareness open to us today was not available then when the laws were made (in response to a growing problem few had any better option of addressing than to criminalize it. This has been a recurring pattern and response to subjects where the society is unable to achieve a consensus on what to do next.
Since then, and perhaps specifically for us in Nigeria, research, information exchange and economic insights have shown that Marijuana or Cannabis has a myriad of health and beauty benefits if properly processed and applied.
A common example which everyone can relate to, is found in the many female hair products in our shops and markets today, proudly advertising that they contain “Indian Hemp” or Cannabis to add strength and body to women’s hair. No one recalls religion, stereotype or societal derision from such choices yet it represents the clearest irony and shift in thinking that was lost on us all. On the one hand a ban criminalises the raw product while another government agency approves as “meeting standards” it use in another product.
The choice has been made and the next concern must be how to approach the changes needed in our laws. Yet, even without a major change; there are things that are happening and can be done to go and grow beyond the thinking that created the incongruence between the law and the reality.
Research has now shown that Cannabis, if applied in the right doses and method, is known to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among other ailments and disorders. This is not new in the field of medicine where ‘medical drugs’, now classified as hard drugs, were used in treatments under the guidance of professionals. With greater research, and deeper understanding of the properties of Cannabis there is now a global move towards allowing the use of the product for mental health treatment with the smart and sleek nom de guerre of “medical marijuana”.
The lack of understanding of context has resulted in Nigeria’s drug laws being wrong-headed in their approach to Cannabis broadly. Given recent findings in medical knowledge of the usefulness of Marijuana and advancements in its processing for both recreational and medical purposes, the adverse effects of the grass can be eliminated or significantly reduced. The abuse of Cannabis in Nigeria was just as bad as the abuse of old indigenous herbal remedies that have been equally poorly researched. The “Orin ata” chewing stick was once seen as a queer African voodoo remedy, but has since been proved by European scientists to be a significant medical intervention for sickle cell anemia.
Understanding the Construct
The issue of construct relates to the spirit of the law that imposes a restraint on the use of the product and the social stigmatization associated with Marijuana use. Both law and social perception has since moved on since our legislations were crafted.
If Nigeria is to benefit from the enormous medical and economic advantages the agricultural product offers; we need to discard with the old laws and draft new ones that covers the whole ecosystem from Trademarks, patents, intellectual property, data policy, AI in weed planting, harvesting and shipping; land ownership, tax laws, accounting standards, customs & excise rates, tariffs, rules and co-location, port rules, local farmers rights, environmental impact assessments, minimum qty for recreational use, sales and distribution rules, border control provisions, community and social responsibility of businesses, export limitation and active promotion of industries, investment incentives, labour laws, health and safety standards, medical regulation and minimum standards for NAFDAC and SON, mental health awareness and patients’ rights at a minimum.
We can do away with value destroying actions like burning products and farms; it is akin to printing money and burning it. Our fears need not interfere with our promise. It is time to do the heavy lift.
In a creative and constructive world, Nigeria would change the laws of the use of Cannabis. It would allow licensed and registered growers of the crop, process, pack and export the final good to a variety of international markets. This would enable at least six states of the federation generate an additional annual revenue of about $800m each. The Marijuana farms would be ring-fenced and confined to an export processing zone (EPZ) from which the product would be grown, harvested, processed into contract-determined specifications and packed for direct export abroad with supervision by NAFDAC and NDLEA officers. This would generate a large number of direct and indirect jobs and create a competitive product value chain that is sustainable and profitable. The NDLEA laws concerning Cannabis use must be reviewed with the intention of modifying it to allow for the proper leveraging of a key economic resource. Rather than deny use of Cannabis, it should be allowed but within the controlled context of products permissible by dosage and formulation.
This would likely reduce the cost of the product, de-criminalize its sale and allow people access to it at standardized formulations that would not jeopardize their health. This would mean a reduction in Cannabis-related patients at psychiatric hospitals and a pruning of the number of cases of youths that are hooked on myriad of illicit drugs. Nigeria (and other countries) must deal with its youth drug problem rather than deny it. The need to get people off opioids is understandable, even though put it context, opioids were once the drug of choice in handling pain suffered by soldiers undergoing medical operations during wars. Cannabis has a less deleterious effect on health and if produced within appropriate specification and used in prescribed dosages can actually offer major health benefits.
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