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Opinions of Sunday, 28 February 2016

Columnist: Anum, Tony

To legalise marijuana or not; my take.

The issue of the legalisation of marijuana is almost like one of those “doomed-to-fail” debates in Ghana. Intermittently, when there is a call by someone for the legalisation of the drug, that call is usually met with stiff opposition. The same was the reaction when Kofi Annan recently advocated for its legalisation.

People have taken entrenched positions on the issue without ever devoting a second to think of it. As soon as someone declares “legalise marijuana”, people, most of whom have not even seen the substance before, just say “No!” The only reason such people usually have for opposing the legalisation of marijuana is the belief that “marijuana makes people go mad”; and probably because they were warned by their parent never to dare know what marijuana is.

If you ask me, I am for the legalisation of the substance, not because I smoke it. As a matter of fact, I do not smoke marijuana, never have, and probably never will; but I do use it once a while. You, the reader, also probably use it, maybe unknowingly. I know you might disagree with me; or even be angered by my position on this issue but indulge me for a minute.
First off, it has to be strongly stated that whether we legalise it or not, people will still smoke marijuana. Aside the ghetto boys, I also know respectable members of society such as medical doctors, police officers, soldiers, teachers, professors, politicians, lawyers and so many more who use this drug. So I ask: why don’t we accept this reality and find a more sensible way of dealing with it rather than just saying it is illegal? Instead of putting in place proper legislation that would control the use of such substances, we continue to claim they are illegal, even though we know Ghanaians use them. The peak of hypocrisy! Let us put all the rhetoric aside and let me give you very tangible reasons why marijuana has to be legalised.

First, let me address the first and major concern: the (mental) health of users. Let us assume it is actually true marijuana use makes people go crazy. When the drug is legalised, people will not secretly smoke or use it anymore; or even flatly deny using it. And therefore, if the use of the drug is affecting them mentally, their friends and relatives can easily notice it and tell them. Professional help could then be offered them to make sure they do not get out of hand; unlike the current situation where the person necessarily has to find himself/herself in a mental facility before we try to help the person.
We all know sicknesses are better managed when they are discovered early. Users of the drug could even be registered under the NHIS programme so they can go for periodic medical screening to see if their consumption of the drug is negatively affecting their brains, lungs, kidneys, or any other vital human organ. Think about it, don’t just condemn it; because, I will repeat it: whether we legalise it or not, people will smoke it.
Secondly, the drug and its usage can be taxed heavily to generate revenue for the government. As was revealed recently by our own Kofi Annan, the state of Colorado in the USA generated over US$ 130 million in 2015 from taxes on marijuana use, sale and licensing. Think of what that money can do for Ghana. The heavy taxes may even serve as a means of discouraging people from smoking it. If the drug is very costly to obtain due to heavy government taxes, people will naturally cannot afford it; and would thus not indulge in it. Cigarettes and alcohol are cheap to come by and that is why so many people patronise them. If cocaine and other drugs were as cheap as alcohol and cigarettes, we would have had as many cocaine addicts as we have alcohol addicts in this country. Because cocaine for instance, is very costly, – the reason it gets missing even from police strong rooms –, only a few people in the country patronise it.

Thirdly, the revenue generated from the taxes on the drug could be used to take medical care of users who might get out of hand as a result of its abuse; probably due to their refusal to go for periodic medical screening. Part of the revenue could be used to set up rehabilitation centres for users and addicts who wish to quit. And part could be channelled into intensive public education on the dangers of abusing the substance. This does not make sense to you?
Fourthly, with its legalisation, the cultivation and refining of the herb could become a source of employment for people, just like how running drinking spots and brewing all types of alcohol is the business some people engage in. Or you do not think so?

I would not try to delve into the health benefits of marijuana. But it is a fact that marijuana use has a number of health benefits. The most shocking fact about Ghana’s lawmakers is that they believe alcohol and cigarettes, which both have no or very few health benefits, needed to be legal but marijuana, which has many health benefits needed to be illegal. It’s amazing the kind of lawmakers we have in this country. I wasn’t surprised when one of them threatened to leak the nude pictures of a media personality who criticised him. Maybe that should be the way we respond to people who criticise us. Leak their naked pictures! The joke that Ghana’s parliament is!

Before I say goodbye, let me say that, as a country, we need to discuss issues objectively instead of sentimentally. Unless we learn to face realities, our country is going to be undeveloped for a very long time. Reminds me of some so-called astute politician, an MP or a former MP, who alleged that the sad fatal accident at Kintampo which claimed about 70 lives was the handiwork of “blood thirsty” politicians. It is 2016 and even our lawmakers are still stuck in the stone age. What a pity!! LEGALISE MARIJUANA NOW!!!

Tony Anum,
Adenta, Accra
February 27, 2016.