Cannabis Bill: Dissecting the sweet and bitter sides of Indian hemp
The philosophical saying in some cultures that whatever is sweet is also bitter seems to capture the hardline positions taken by those agitating for the legitimization of cannabis cultivation and use in the country and those against the campaign. While the protagonists of the idea are looking at the economic and other benefits that would accrue from giving legal backing to the cultivation, sale, and use of the plant, those opposed to it are concerned with the damage which toeing that path might do to the Nigerian society.
In October 2020, the House of Representatives proposed a bill seeking to legalize the cultivation, sale, and use of cannabis, also known as marijuana or Indian hemp.
The bill, which has passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives, was sponsored by Miriam Onuoha, the lawmaker representing Isiala Mbano/Onuimo/ Okigwe federal constituency of Imo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is titled “A bill for an act to decriminalize the growth and use of cannabis, to establish a system for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers, users, and control, to legalize 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.”
Essentially, the bill is seeking “to regulate the cultivation, possession, availability and trade in cannabis for medical and research purposes.”
Among the objectives of the proposed law is to: “Provide for a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers 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 in cannabis for medicinal and research purposes and its use in relation to medical or health purpose.”
However, the bill prohibits the issuance of a cannabis license for medical use if such a person is without proof that “he is either a medical doctor and intends to use it for medical purposes or a pharmaceutical company who 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 legalized the use of cannabis. They include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech, Denmark and Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Italy, Poland, and Jamaica. The rest are Luxemburg, Switzerland, Macedonia, Turkey, Malta, Mexico, Uruguay, Lesotho, Romania, Dan Marino and Zimbabwe.
As legislative works continue on the bill, Nigerians have been arguing for and against it. In fact, more than a year before the presentation of the bill, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State had kick-started the move for the legalization of cannabis cultivation and use in Nigeria.
He began his advocacy after attending a program in Thailand in May 2019 tagged ‘Medicinal Cannabis Extract Development’ with then Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Col. Muhammad Mustapha (rtd).
Shortly after he returned from the program, Akeredolu took to his official Twitter handle to announce that Ondo was ready to tap into the estimated $145 billion medical marijuana market.
He warned that since Ondo was “the hotbed” of cannabis cultivation, the state would be short-changing itself if it did not tap into the “legal marijuana market” with a projected value of $145 billion by 2025.
Akeredolu admonished the Federal Government to encourage the cultivation of medicinal Indian hemp in the country, arguing that the industry was capable of creating thousands of jobs for youths and spurring the economic diversification of the country.
“Our focus now is medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the NDLEA. I strongly implore the Federal Government to take this seriously, as it is a thriving industry that will create thousands of jobs for our youths and spur economic diversification,” the governor said.
He revealed that he visited the Asian country to assess the materials and best practices of medicinal cannabis planting and growing, with the possibility of replicating the technology in Nigeria.