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Opinions of Friday, 21 September 2018

Columnist: Rees Hakeem Oduro

Marijuana (wee) legalization (To be or not to be)

The advocacy or debate for the legalization of marijuana (wee) continues to linger around the necks of Ghanaians and just when the matter seemed to have gone down, on Wednesday, September 19th, 2018, news broke out that the supreme court of South Africa has ruled for the legal use of ‘dagga’ (Marijuana/wee) by adults in private places, which simply means recreational use of marijuana has been legalized.

This news however has awaken the call for the legalization of marijuana (wee) use in Ghana.

Previously prominent people like the late Kofi Annan as well as the former Executive Secretary of Narcotics Control Board, Mr. Yaw Akrasi Sarpong had made a similar call though theirs were jeered towards the decriminalization of marijuana use.

Ace journalist Mr. Kwesi Pratt, maverick radio reggae entertainment program host Blakk Rasta, Abeiku Santana (OK FM) and now Mr. Kwame Sefa Kayi of Kokroko fame (Peace FM morning show host) are among the known people advocating for the legalization of Marijuana, though they all want government to put up measures in regulating it after the legalization.

But just before you join the debate in calling for the legalization of marijuana, think first! Marijuana popularly called wee, Ganja, bonsam tawa among others is the leaves and flowering tops of the Cannabis plant which produces psychoactive effects when used (smoking, eating…).

It is the most commonly used illicit drug or narcotic in the country. The main psychoactive substance in Marijuana (cannabis) is the Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Aside THC, there are other chemicals like Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol, Cannabigerol among others.

Countries like The Netherlands, Spain, Uruguay, and Portugal among others have legalized the use cannabis (marijuana). However places like Mexico, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, and Israel have only legalized medicinal use of cannabis but recreational use remains illegal.

Switzerland recently decriminalized possession of cannabis so long as it is in small amount and contains less than 1% of THC. In The United States of America, recreational use as well as medicinal use is legal in some states like Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and District of Columbia.

The main driving force behind the legalization of Cannabis (Marijuana) in most of these countries especially US is money- the economic gains in terms of taxes. It must also be noted, in most of these countries (for instance Switzerland, Israel…) where the use of the drug is legal, there is extensive research work on how to reduce and cultivate species of the cannabis with no or less amount of THC in it.

But the big question is: how do you know the amount of THC in what someone is smoking or using?

Remember, the fact that something is legal does not mean it is safe or good. The legalization of cannabis (marijuana) in some parts of the world does not in any way reduce or take away the adverse effects of it. The truth is you will not die if you smoke or use cannabis, but you will hallucinate and can result in accidents and other risky behaviors which can lead to lifetime injuries or even death.

Cannabis intoxication can affect attention, psychomotor tasks and even short-term memory loss.

Using Cannabis will not cause cancer however, smokes are known to have carcinogenic agents which causes cancer therefore smoking cannabis for a long time may result in cancers of the lungs or throat.

Research also shows that most users of cannabis show signs of dependence leading to Cannabis Use Disorder which can later results in Addiction (a complex brain disease).

The possible connection between Psychosis (mental disorder) and Cannabis use has been long debated, but recent medical evidence strongly shows that long-term use by people who begin at an early age (teenage) display a higher tendency of developing mental disorders.

Although there have been several confirmation by users of cannabis that it enhances sexual drive, research also shows that intoxicating in high doses of cannabis (marijuana) can cause “Weed Dick” (a temporal erectile dysfunction which can ruin your sex live) So now the question is; is Ghana ready for the legalization of Cannabis (marijuana)?

Are we as a country ready to deal with the cases of Marijuana Addiction when they come forth as a result of legalization?

Let’s ask ourselves the number of rehab centers we have in our country to treat addiction. There are less than ten (10) privately owned rehab centers in the entire country all clustered in the southern part (Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast to be specific).

Even with that, how many clients can they take at a go and also how affordable are they? What are the conditions of the only three (3) Psychiatry Hospitals in the country as well as their staff strength?

What extensive research have we done on the cannabis plants in our country? Do we know the potency or level of THC in the species of Cannabis we have in Ghana?

How are we as a country going to know and regulate the type of Cannabis (marijuana) people use?

How effective is our addressing system to know the various farms where this plant will be cultivated to help know the quantity that will be produced at a particular time?

How equipped and ready are our institutions and organizations to monitor and regulate this substance once it is legalized? How effective are our institutions even regulating legal substances like alcohol, herbal medicines, and prescription drugs like Tramadol among others?

How safe are our roads even without the legalization of Cannabis in terms of road accidents? What has been the injury and death toll resulting from road accidents in this year alone?

Do we want to add to the carnage on our roads the legalization of cannabis and its hallucinating effects or we just calling for legalization because other countries are doing it?

Again let’s think about this, what are the diseases that cannabis (marijuana) cures?

Usually we hear those calling for legalization of Cannabis (Marijuana) say; it cures asthma, rheumatism, Parkinson disease, severe body pains, and depression among others.

But the question is, are there no other medical substitutes for these diseases? If there are, then why legalize the so called medicinal Cannabis which will later be difficult to be regulated by our dear nation.

One main argument these advocators put forward is that Cannabis legalization will bring economic gains through revenues that will be generated from taxes and exportation to help develop the nation.

This may be true to some extent, however if the revenues generated from our Cocoa, Timber, Gold, Bauxite, Diamond, Crude oil and all these foreign aides couldn’t help develop the country, what makes us think that the revenues from Cannabis legalization can do something?

Also remember that the so called revenues that will be generated from Cannabis will be used to cure the nation after some years of legalization.

If indeed we all want good for mother Ghana, then legalization of Cannabis (Marijuana) is surely not the way to go.

We can’t just call for legalization of cannabis just because America or South Africa has done it. So before you join the legalization train, just pause for a while and ask yourself WHY?

However, I advocate for the recognition of Drug Use Disorder (Addiction) as a mental health problem rather than a moral issue.

So we should empathize with people living with Drug Use Disorder and help them seek treatment rather than punishing or casting them out.

Imprisonment of these people is not the way forward. What they need is love, care and treatment. Therefore I will call on the government, private institutions and other philanthropists to help establish rehab centers in at least every region to help treat these people.