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Ondo Govt: The plan to produce, legalise and boost employment with Marijuana.





The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has opposed the Ondo State Government’s plan to produce marijuana as medicines, boost employment and earn Nigeria a share of the $344 billion global cannabis market. ROBERT EGBE examines the pros and cons of producing medical marijuana locally.



There are no fewer than 10.6 million Nigerian marijuana users, according to the results of a nationwide drug survey released in 2019, and Imelda (pseudonym) is one of them.


She buys her marijuana from retailers on street corners in Lagos. One wrap is N50. A bigger wrap is N100. She gets home, boils weed in water and drinks.



“It helps to suppress period pains, especially when regular medications don’t work,” Imelda told The Nation.


Many studies have noted that apart from helping to cope with pain, women often use marijuana to try to control their weight, treat eye problems, among other (sometimes risky and medically uncertified) self-medication hacks.



Of course, Imelda is aware the drug is illegal and can be harmful, but its medicinal effects are soothing, so she buys it nevertheless.




Ondo’s plan


One of the source states for much of the marijuana circulating in the Southwest is Ondo. The state is generally recognised as perhaps the country’s marijuana cultivation hotbed. It was not surprising therefore when, on May 20, 2019, Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu disclosed his plan for the state to promote the cultivation of marijuana, also known as cannabis, Indian hemp, Igbo or weed, for economic reasons.


Akeredolu spoke following a trip to Thailand for a Medical Cannabis Expo, in the company of the then Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Colonel Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah.

“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 youth and spur economic diversification,” the governor said.


Apart from employment generation, Akeredolu argued that it would be a mistake for Nigeria to miss out on the global cannabis market with estimated potential earnings of $145 billion by the year 2025.


He said: “We are here to study how cannabis can be more advantageous to the (Ondo) State and Nigeria at large, just the way the Thai Government has done.


“Cannabis used for medical purposes; how can it be cultivated for specific purposes and not be abused.


“The programme is centred on exploiting the possibility of medicinal cannabis extract development and aimed at building capacity and researching the modality of licensing for planting and extracting cannabis oil in Nigeria as well as exploiting its commercial potential with a focus on Ondo State.


“We know how to grow it, and it thrives well in the Sunshine State. How to grow cannabis is never a problem in Ondo State.”


The governor, at a recent stakeholders’ roundtable on the ‘benefits and opportunities of the cannabis plant in Nigeria’ recently, urged the federal government to give legal backing to cannabis to enable its use in the country, saying that “cannabis is a multi-billion naira industry that can help diversify the Nigerian economy if judiciously utilised.”


The National Assembly has also been making moves for legalisation of the illicit substance as a result of its economic value.



NDLEA’s counter


But National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) chairman Buba Marwa disagreed with Akeredolu and some House of Representatives members over the legalisation of cannabis.


Marwa, who spoke last Monday at a press briefing to unveil the week-long programme of activities to commemorate the United Nations (UN) International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking in Abuja, said it was a matter of life and money.


He likened Akeredolu’s proposal to seeing fire and plunging into the flame. Marwa said the agency would rather choose life.


“The NDLEA will continue to burn any farm that we find the substance and arrest the perpetrators. It is dangerous. It is bad for our health,” he added.






Marwa’s war against marijuana abuse


Since Marwa’s appointment to the job early this year, the NDLEA has been praised for its vigorous campaign to rid Nigeria of the menace of drug abuse.


Speaking last Saturday during the launch of War Against Drug Abuse (WADA), an NDLEA initiative, Marwa said the agency had seized over N90 billion worth of illegal drugs in the past five months that he has been in charge.


He lamented the pervasive abuse of (cannabis) substance in the country, revealing that about 10.6 million Nigerians are actively abusing the psychotropic substance.


He said over 2,180 drug traffickers had been arrested, including five drug barons controlling different cartels across the country.


The NDLEA boss added that a record 2.05 million kilogrammes of drugs have been intercepted and 2,100 drug offenders prosecuted, out of which 500 have been jailed.




“While the statistics are impressive, we wouldn’t deceive ourselves that we have succeeded in cleaning the Augean Stable in five months,” Marwa said.


Like many other experts before him have observed, the NDLEA Chairman linked drug abuse to other serious crimes.


Marwa said: “It is not difficult to conclude that drugs have been catalysts of terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery and various violent conflicts that are currently Nigeria’s albatross.”








Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica or Cannabis Ruderalis plant.




It has an estimated 483 known compounds, 65 of which are essentially cannabinoids and their psychoactive properties, together with its mental and physical effects, make it a substance of choice for medicinal, recreational or religious use.


The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC (which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol) and other similar compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant.


Another chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD).


Marijuana is the most commonly used addictive drug after tobacco and alcohol and it is typically used for smoking, cooking or extracting its juices.




According to an April 10, 2020 publication by Harvard Health Publishing of the Harvard Medical School, titled ‘Medical marijuana’, CBD is the least controversial extract from the plant “because this component of marijuana has little, if any, intoxicating properties.


“Patients…report many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy. One particular form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome is almost impossible to control but responds dramatically to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web. The videos of this are dramatic,” the report said.






Medical marijuana


There are many questions about medical marijuana. Is it safe? Should it be legal? What conditions is it useful for? Is it addictive? How can it be kept out of the hands of teenagers?


A July 2020 Marijuana Research Report by the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that the potential medicinal properties of marijuana and its components have been the subject of research and heated debate for decades.


“THC itself has proven medical benefits in particular formulations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved THC-based medications, dronabinol (Marinol®) and nabilone (Cesamet®), prescribed in pill form for the treatment of nausea in patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting syndrome due to AIDS.


Countries where medical marijuana is legal

Argentina •Australia •Barbados •Brazil •Canada •Chile •Colombia •Croatia •Cyprus •Czech •Republic •Denmark •Ecuador •Finland •Germany •Greece •Ireland •Israel •Italy •Jamaica •Lebanon •Lithuania •Luxembourg •Malawi •Malta •the Netherlands •New Zealand •North Macedonia •Norway •Peru •Poland •Portugal •Saint Vincent and the •Grenadines •San Marino •Sri Lanka •Switzerland •Thailand the United Kingdom •Uruguay •Vanuatu •Zambia and •Zimbabwe.




“Nabiximols (Sativex®), a mouth spray that is currently available in the United Kingdom, Canada, and several European countries for treating the spasticity and neuropathic pain that may accompany multiple sclerosis, combines THC with another chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD).


“The FDA also approved a CBD-based liquid medication called Epidiolex® for the treatment of two forms of severe childhood epilepsy, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.”






Current state of the law on marijuana


Two lawyers, Bidemi Olumide and Ifureuwem Udofa in ‘Nigeria’s cannabis question: balancing the tripod of law, commerce and politics’ noted that the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1935 (DDA) is the first notable legislation against the cultivation, trafficking and abuse of cannabis in Nigeria.


It was followed by the Indian Hemp Act (IHA) 1966, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Act, 1989, and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Act, 1993, among others.


They said: “While the other laws, DDA, NDLEA Act and NAFDAC Act, admit the possibility of obtaining some authorisation for lawful cannabis cultivation, sale, possession, importation and exportation in Nigeria, the IHA expressly prohibits these commercial activities save for the importation, possession and or sale of any medical preparation of cannabis, provided no offence against the DDA is committed in the process.


“It is also noteworthy that the possible authorisation under each of the DDA, NDLEA Act and NAFDAC Act relate to the cultivation, sale, possession, importation and exportation of cannabis for medicinal purposes as none of the laws contemplates the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.”






Hurdles before Ondo’s plan


It is situations such as the above that make Akeredolu’s proposal a risky one that requires careful implementation.


There may also be other legal hurdles the state must surmount, before its plan, which has yet to kick off, can succeed.


Olumide and Udofa, who noted that regulated cannabis cultivation in Nigeria may hold great possibilities, summarised the hurdles before the Ondo State government, in the form of questions.


They said: “Can Ondo State, being desirous of exploiting the commercial benefits of cannabis cultivation for medical purposes, decide to enact its agricultural development laws which permit regulated cannabis cultivation and exportation in alignment with the DDA, NDLEA and NAFDAC Acts?


“Is cannabis a plant which may be concurrently legislated upon by the Federal and States’ legislatures or a drug within the exclusive legislative list of the federal legislature?


“Where the resolution is that it is both, is it then not arguable that since a plant requires cultivation then the cultivation of cannabis should be a matter for state governments while its use, either for medicinal or recreational purposes be left to the Federal Government?


“Is the Nigerian socio-cultural context mature enough for a policy consideration of legalising cannabis for regulated recreational use in order to participate in the global cannabis trade boom?


“What measures may be instituted by the federal government to avert abuse if a framework for regulated cannabis cultivation is adopted?


“The answers to these posers, we believe, would shape policy direction for Nigeria to determine whether to explore this blossoming market. We may, like Lesotho, find that a ganja revolution was all we needed to take Nigeria to the next level.”








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