Following the recent call by the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, for the legalisation of cannabis, there has been a barrage of reactions from different quarters, with most highlighting the dangerous outcomes and bad precedence such a development could set. Although the governor made it clear that his call was hinged on the need to explore cultivation of the plant for drug production, many critics believe that heeding this call would spell more harm than good to the populace, bearing in mind the health and social implications of doing so.
We understand why Akeredolu may be attracted to the economic potentials of cannabis. The global medicinal cannabis industry is projected to be worth $55.8 billion dollars by 2025. This underscores the fact that the cannabis market is a very huge and vibrant one and would continue to thrive, despite the many laws prohibiting it in different countries of the world.
In the case of Nigeria, many have argued that, with the high rate of unemployment in the country, legalising cannabis will provide certain job opportunities, as is the case in some other parts of the world. In the United States, for instance, the cannabis resource and marketplace, Leafly .com, recently reported that legal cannabis now supports a record-high 321,000 full-time American jobs across 37 states with legal medical or adult use markets. The same report stated that the cannabis industry added 77,300 jobs in 2020 alone, representing a record 32 per cent increase in year-over-year growth and creating jobs at a faster rate than any other American industry.
Yet there is need to exercise caution. One of the physiological effects of cannabis intake is that it causes euphoria, relaxes the muscles and leads to a spike in appetite. On the other hand, the drug can blight motor skills, create anxiety, paranoia and impair memory. Even now that it remains prohibited, many Nigerians are secretly using it. In fact, it has become common even on streets. According to a 2018 report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) marijuana is the most consumed drug in Nigeria, taken by an estimated 10.8 per cent of the population, which is equal to 10.6 million Nigerians.
Frequent marijuana use has been found to cause marijuana use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases. Marijuana use disorders are often associated with dependence—in which a person feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. This is, perhaps, why some have become so used to the drug that they now use it to bake bread and cake. The Nigerian National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has recently paraded persons who were found to make pastries with cannabis. Worse still, there are cases in which drugged pastries were found to have been sold to unsuspecting school children. This is perhaps one of the reasons many have faulted the call made by Akeredolu.
We must emphasise that regardless of the seeming economic benefits of cannabis, the potential health and social implications of its legalisation are too frightening to overlook. Many of the country’s psychiatric hospitals are today battling with different cases of mental illness caused by the abuse of substances such as cannabis. Unfortunately, most of the patients suffering from these mental disorders are young people of very productive age.
Government, indeed, should be worried that the rising cases of mental illness among its youthful population is not unconnected to substance abuse. Any nation which places a high premium on the development of its youth would do everything within its power to wage a serious war against the indiscriminate use of prohibited substances.
It is apparently in the light of the foregoing that the NDLEA has rightly opposed the call for the legalisation of cannabis. Its Chairman, retired Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, has warned of the consequences of such a move, while stating that the nexus between drug abuse and the current insecurity bedeviling the country remains incontrovertible. He also added that the number of Nigerians abusing cannabis is alarming.
We concur with the NDLEA in this regard. Legalising cannabis at this point would only exacerbate the burden of social maladies that the country is presently grappling with. This is especially true for its young population. The country must avoid escalating its plights in a bid to explore the economic gains of legalising a substance which has proven to cause more harm than good. We affirm that, for a nation in dire need of trusted leadership, national cohesion and sound institutions, the legalisation of cannabis should not be considered among salient issues of urgent national importance.