Will Africa le­galise mar­i­juana or are we just get­ting ‘high’?

Nairobi Law Monthly - - Analysis - LANJI OUKO

Who would have imag­ined, a few years ago, how rapidly the cul­ti­va­tion and use of mar­i­juana would rise across Africa? The US set the ball rolling when it spear­headed the le­gal­i­sa­tion of the herb in a num­ber of states. Over a decade later, African states have grad­u­ally suc­cumbed to the pres­sure and be­gan to ta­ble the pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal­is­ing it as well, not only for medic­i­nal use but eco­nomic ben­e­fits as well.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2009 re­port by United Na­tions Of­fice on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the “high­est lev­els of cannabis pro­duc­tion in the world take place on the African con­ti­nent.” The UNODC’S “World Drug Re­port 2015” es­ti­mated Africa’s rate of an­nual Mar­i­juana con­sump­tion by peo­ple aged 15-64 at 7.5 per cent, al­most dou­ble the global av­er­age of 3.9pc. Africa’s con­ti­nen­tal rate is third be­hind Ocea­nia at 10.7pc and North Amer­ica at 11.6 per­cent.

UNODC’S “Cannabis in Africa” re­port shows Le­sotho pro­duces 70pc of the Mar­i­juana that en­ters South Africa and is cur­rently the coun­try’s third largest source of in­come. Mozam­bique in 2011 a recorded 900pc in­crease in seized mar­i­juana, com­pared to 2010; it con­tin­ues to grad­u­ally rise. The Nige­rian Na­tional Drug Law En­force­ment Agency re­ported in 2014, that a large num­ber of Nige­rian farm­ers had aban­doned cul­ti­vat­ing food and cash crops to con­cen­trate on mar­i­juana; it ar­rested over 8,000 mar­i­juana farm­ers.

Use­ful cannabis found in mar­i­juana is re­ported to treat ail­ments. The med­i­cal mar­i­juana rev­o­lu­tion dates back to an­cient Egypt, 1550 BCE, where it was used to treat Glau­coma, en­ema and in­flam­ma­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, in an­cient In­dia it was used to treat in­som­nia, headaches and la­bor pains. The an­cient Greeks used cannabis for tape­worms, nose­bleeds and ear in­fec­tions.

Gov­ern­ments through­out Africa op­pose the leg­is­la­tion of Mar­i­juana be­cause the ap­proach runs counter to pub­lic health ap­proaches of drug pol­icy. Le­gal­is­ing the drug would in­crease its avail­abil­ity, lead­ing to a sig­nif­i­cant strain on our health sys­tems. Over the years, global pro­po­nents of med­i­cal cannabis have used the CBD and THC to treat a num­ber of ill­nesses such as Hepap­ti­tis C, HIV/AIDS, can­cer, Parkin­son’s, arthri­tis, epilepsy, glau­coma and even in­som­nia. Vo­lu­mi­nous re­search con­firms the ben­e­fits of the treat­ment in man­ag­ing pain, nau­sea and vom­it­ing, par­tic­u­larly when caused by chemo­ther­apy in can­cer pa­tients.

How­ever, de­spite all the ad­van­tages of smok­ing mar­i­juana, the fact re­mains that it is ad­dic­tive, causes res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases, cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment, di­min­ishes mo­ti­va­tion, causes anx­i­ety dis­or­ders, can­cer of the lungs and mouth and it can bring schizophre­nia to those pre­dis­posed to it.

What then would it take for a govern­ment to le­gal­ize the medic­i­nal Mar­i­juana? Doc­u­mented proof ? Clin­i­cal tri­als of large pa­tient pop­u­la­tions? Ques­tions would rise on the dosage in­for­ma­tion. How about the long-term im­pacts on pa­tients? Prac­tice guide­lines? Does our econ­omy have th­ese re­sources?

The Med­i­cal In­no­va­tion Bill 2014, a bill to le­galise Cannabis in South Africa for med­i­cal, eco­nomic and in­dus­trial pur­poses, was tabled in Par­lia­ment. The Bill was sub­mit­ted by Mario Ori­ani-am­brosini, a mem­ber of the South African Par­lia­ment from the Inkatha Free­dom Party; he later passed on. The Bill in­tended to seek pro­vi­sion for in­no­va­tions in med­i­cal treat­ments by le­gal­is­ing the use of mar­i­juana for med­i­cal, eco­nomic and in­dus­trial pur­poses. The MP, had been di­ag­nosed with stage four, in­op­er­a­ble lung can­cer.

The Demo­cratic Al­liance party sup­ported the med­i­cal-only bill, but the health min­is­ter, in his op­po­si­tion, said “the cur­rent bill is over-reach­ing. Leave emo­tion aside and con­sider the bill ra­tio­nally.”

The South African Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil also weighed in on the bill, say­ing that “the is­sue of med­i­cal cannabis should be sep­a­rated from le­gal­i­sa­tion of cannabis.”

Just like the political ef­fects of politi­cians tabling de­bates on abor­tion or same-sex mar­riage, the le­gal­i­sa­tion of mar­i­juana is a sen­si­tive topic. African politi­cians are un­will­ing to go whole hog when it comes to the de­bate of le­gal­is­ing mar­i­juana while oth­ers choose to be the more vo­cal pro­po­nents of le­gal­is­ing it for med­i­cal uses. In or­der to en­sure political sup­port, a few go fur­ther to dis­cuss broadly the need for drug pol­icy re­form and how it would im­prove seller ac­count­abil­ity.

Ad­di­tion­ally, if mar­i­juana were le­galised, drug en­force­ment agen­cies and ad­min­is­tra­tion would lose a lot of their clout and le­git­i­macy. The law en­force­ment agen­cies that don’t want to re­lin­quish any of their pow­ers and con­trol fear such a pos­si­bil­ity. If you round up the po­si­tion of political par­ties on drug poli­cies, a lot of vested in­ter­est is ev­i­dent and no doubt the is­sue of de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion will be more

The phe­nom­e­non of African na­tions com­ing out to speak on the pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal­is­ing mar­i­juana speaks to a grow­ing need for de­bate”

preva­lent over time with political par­ties in­clud­ing mar­i­juana in their man­i­festos as seen across the United States of Amer­ica.

“Al­low­ing doc­tors to pro­vide re­lief to pa­tients through the use of ap­pro­pri­ately reg­u­lated and dis­pensed med­i­cal mar­i­juana is the com­pas­sion­ate and right pol­icy for the State of New Hamp­shire, and this leg­is­la­tion en­sures that we ap­proach this pol­icy in the right way with mea­sures to pre­vent abuse” said New Hamp­shire gov­er­nor Mag­gie Has­san in 2013, on the de­ci­sion to le­galise med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

On the other hand, a num­ber of politi­cians fear that their in­cre­men­tal sup­port for the herb may cost them their seats be­cause their con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers may not tol­er­ate the de­bate on le­gal­i­sa­tion. To be­gin with, they ar­gue that by le­gal­is­ing the drug, it erodes the rule of law es­pe­cially be­cause the govern­ment will have no ef­fec­tive man­ner of en­forc­ing its drugs laws.

Ear­lier this year, Gary John­son an­nounced he would be run­ning for US pres­i­dent. John­son, in 2012, an ad­vo­cate for the le­gal­i­sa­tion of mar­i­juana, would later say: “I un­der­stand that the en­tire ba­sis of his cam­paign can­not be rooted in se­cur­ing votes from the ‘stoner na­tion’ be­cause the av­er­age pot­head does not turn up at the polls.

“When you go back four years ago when I was run­ning for pres­i­dent on the Repub­li­can side,” John­son ex­plained, “I made the state­ment that if ev­ery­one that smoked mar­i­juana gave me a dol­lar, I’d have $150 mil­lion dol­lars in my cof­fer. None of that hap­pened. It is a big zero when it comes to the bal­lot box. Is it the right thing to be ad­vo­cat­ing? Ab­so­lutely. But does it re­sult in political ben­e­fits? I haven’t seen it.”

Kenyans were stunned when first time MP of Ki­bra Con­stituency Ken Okoth, ap­pear­ing on Ci­ti­zen TV’S Opin­ion Court, urged law­mak­ers to le­galise mar­i­juana and im­ple­ment ef­fec­tive and re­spon­si­ble poli­cies to fa­cil­i­tate its regulation.

“Let us eman­ci­pate our­selves from men­tal slav­ery and start plant­ing mar­i­juana, le­galise and tax it. We should re­place sug­ar­cane with med­i­cal mar­i­juana, which has a ready mar­ket in the USA”, he said.

In Kenya, mar­i­juana is il­le­gal un­der the Nar­cotic Drugs and Psy­chotropic Sub­stances Con­trol Act No.4 of 1994.

Cit­ing Kenya’s rich and favourable grow­ing con­di­tions – rich volcanic soils and ad­e­quate rain­fall – ide­al­is­tic mar­i­juana ad­vo­cates con­tinue to de­bate on the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of mar­i­juana, go­ing against the ar­gu­ment by the Na­tional Au­thor­ity on the Cam­paign Against Drug Abuse (Na­cada) chair John Mu­tutho that the rea­son mar­i­juana is le­gal in the US and Western coun­tries is be­cause the med­i­cal schemes and health care sys­tems there are ad­vanced and have more ef­fec­tive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres to deal with the con­se­quences of drug abuse.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ki­bra MP, by le­gal­iz­ing the herb, it re­duces the ac­tual prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with its be­ing il­licit be­cause many be­lieve the prob­lems based on mar­i­juana is in fact a con­se­quence of its pro­hi­bi­tion. In sup­port of his sen­ti­ments, na­tions with strong sys­tems of con­trol, law en­force­ment agen­cies and mon­i­tor­ing and regulation of drugs are able to sus­tain and man­age its le­gal­iza­tion bet­ter than Kenya, where it is il­le­gal.

Os­car Mwan­gale, a phar­ma­cist based in West­lands, weighs in: “Our sit­u­a­tion is one of near hope­less­ness; damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. The medic­i­nal as­pect of mar­i­juana is the sole rea­son law­mak­ers uni­ver­sally are at cross­roads over the il­le­gal herb.”

At the end of the day, drug pol­icy should be based only on sci­ence and data and not on political agen­das. De­spite the stigma of us­ing il­le­gal drugs for medic­i­nal pur­poses, is it pos­si­ble for Africa to in­te­grate the use of mar­i­juana into its health sys­tem?

The phe­nom­e­non of African na­tions com­ing out to speak on the pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal­is­ing mar­i­juana speaks to a grow­ing need to de­bate the is­sue; how­ever, political party lines and cul­tural at­ti­tudes in­flu­ence the views. Of course, Africa is at the grass root level of th­ese de­bates. What we must be­gin to con­sider is what risks are in­volved once politi­cians be­gin to lobby leg­is­la­tion and in­flu­ence vot­ers, most of who would ex­pressly de­pend on the herb, were it to be le­galised?

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