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Opinions of Friday, 31 July 2015

Columnist: Mohammed, Inusah

The hypocrisy of “ganjaphobia” (the fear of marijuana)

The scary inscription of health warning on a pack of cigarette plus the “advice” on a bottle of alcohol reminds me of the story of Satan and Man in the Holy book of Islam specifically (14:22) which reads: “And I promised you, but I betrayed you. But I had no authority over you except that I invited you, and you responded to me. So do not blame me; but blame yourselves. I cannot be called to your aid, nor can you be called to my aid”. This is a perfect disclaimer to the consequences of disobeying God.
Like Satan, manufacturers of these harmful products give similar disclaimers to consumers by putting these symbols and health warnings on their products. They come up with innovative concepts and ideas to promote their products as medicinal and recreational. When these enticing concepts and ideas catch up with consumers, you cannot blame them for the social, economic and health havoc their products (alcohol and tobacco) cause. Yet, stern measures have been put in place to criminalize and prosecute anyone found to be associated with any other “hard” drug such as cocaine, marijuana and heroin among others.
Mind you, Cigarette is the single-most traded item on the planet with approximately 1 trillion being sold from country to country each year. At a global intake of more than $400 billion, it is one of the world’s largest industries. Carefully studying the health warning on a tobacco product should deter any one of sound mind and conscience from smoking for life.
However, these messages do not appeal to the conscience of an addict. All the brain sees is the content in the pack; sticks of cigarette filled with nicotine which reaches the brain within 10 seconds after smoke is inhaled. It has been found in every part of the body even in breast milk.
According to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Health Department, the nicotine content in several major brands is reportedly on the rise. It was revealed that between 1997 and 2005 the amount of nicotine in Camel, Newport, and Doral cigarettes may have increased by as much as 11 percent.
Cigarette is said to contain more than 4,000 ingredients, which when burned can also produce over 200 ‘compound’ chemicals. Many of these ‘compounds’ have been linked to lung damage and other diseases. It is very sad to note that this is a product that has been legalized in Ghana with ban on use in public places in order to protect second hand smokers.
Taking a look at Alcohol, I can say it has been part of the Ghanaian society for ages. The naming ceremonies, marriage rites, festivals and even funerals can give attestation to the unending affiliation Ghanaians have with alcohol except with the committed few who have religiously vowed not to associate themselves with it. We have the strong “Akpeteshie” (local gin) which can be lethal if not well prepared. We also have the refined gins which we normally refer to as “bitters” .Some of these so called bitters are purported to solve other health related problems such as sexual weakness and loss of appetite. Then we can talk of the well branded imported alcoholic beverages which keep flowing into our country like the way African immigrants enter Europe.
The reality is that, the harm from this substance far outweighs its benefit. Our country has embarked on numerous Road accidents’ campaign against drunk driving which has taken not just the lives of irresponsible drivers but also innocent pedestrians and passengers. We have lot of Ghanaians suffering from kidney and other heart related diseases due to the intake of alcohol yet we have legalized the drinking of Alcohol with few restrictions on the kind of advertising methods.
It is funny and ironical when you see advertisement for an alcoholic product with the inscription “drink responsibly” at the bottom corner of the screen or the bill board. I ask myself, how can I drink responsibly when what I am drinking is making me irresponsible? I would rather suggest something like “drink at your own risk”.
Marijuana on the other hand, is a substance or drug strictly controlled in Ghana. It resonates with the “ghetto” (slums) youth who attribute it to the culture of their role models who are mostly reggae/dancehall music icons. It is rumored to be patronized by some elite in the Ghanaian society and even some men of the security forces. A radio presenter was summoned recently before the privileges committee of parliament for making a wild allegation that “almost eighty percent of parliamentarians have at some point smoked marijuana”. That notwithstanding, marijuana can be abusive just like cigarette and alcohol. It is likely to cause cancer and other health related problems just as cigarette and alcohol do. It has other uses that cigarette and alcohol don’t. For instance, marijuana can be a good substitute for pain killers. It is also known to regulate blood pressure. Hemp fibers and oil can be utilized for rope-moorings, parachutes and lubrication as it was the case during World War II. We can have a hemp gasoline which can be a good substitute for petroleum gasoline. Plastics can be produced from hemp seed oil which is biodegradable and environmentally friendly. I can tell you that the hemp is more beneficial to mankind than tobacco and alcohol. The question is, why has hemp remained clandestine and sacrilegious in Africa and some parts of the world?
History has it that, the big pharmaceutical, tobacco and oil companies mostly of American origin realized the huge threat hemp cultivation posed to their existences. They therefore embarked on a rigorous worldwide campaign of lobbying to promote hemp as poisonous and danger to health. They reiterated the need for its abolishment and prosecution of anyone involved in its cultivation.
In the 1930s, tobacco was advertised as healthy by ‘physicians’ (actors playing the role of physicians) in America. This continued till the 1950’s. Adolph Hitler was quoted to have said “All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach”. The world has been suffering from “illusion of truth” a situation where Adolph Hitler once again said “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed”. I can say making marijuana illegal is serving the interest of our ‘foreign partners’. But making Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana illegal will mean serving the interest of Ghanaians. But the question still remains. How feasible is this?
I propounded a theory of why it is likely to be impossible. An outright ban on alcohol, tobacco products and marijuana will mean a huge loss of revenue in the form of import taxes, tax after profits and income tax among others to the state. It will mean a huge job cut for Ghanaians as most Ghanaians are engaged in these sectors. It will mean a drastic reduction in health related problems arising from consumption of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana and that implies less demand for medical services and pharmaceutical products in treating illness relating to the consumption of alcohol, tobacco products and marijuana. This will make it highly unfavorable for our infant economy. Finally, it is likely to get Ghana into the books of our ‘foreign partners’ as one of the most hostile places to live in the world. I honestly doubt if Ghana is ready all that attention. On the other hand, we are likely to have a health-conscious nation with bigger hope and aspiration for our youth and the future.
The question of choice or preference should not come up at all in this debate. Neither should the matter of age limit be thought of. The staggering effect of these ‘drugs’ to our nation surmounts personal parochial interests. To set the records straight, I am not a fan of Marijuana neither am I a fan of tobacco or alcohol. but If we have been this accommodating towards Alcohol and Tobacco, we can accommodate marijuana too. If not, let’s do it right by doing away with all.
Written by:
Issah Mohammed