By Isaac Asabor
It is not an exaggeration to say that since Peter Tosh died, many years ago, after he was murdered in 1987 during a home invasion that the ‘Legalise Marijuana’ drumbeat he was beating has continued to reverberate.
It is now more than 33 years ago when the reggae singer was globally admonished for singing “Legalize It”, a song that called for the legalization of marijuana. Paradoxically, in Nigeria today, where the smoking of the substance that is reprehensively called “Igbo” or “Wee-wee” is widely seen as a taboo, some of the people who might have being involved in its condemnation have continued from where Tosh stopped in his demand by singing the same tune.
For instance, exactly 2 years ago, precisely in the month of May, 2019, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu said Ondo State is ready to tap into the estimated $145bn medical marijuana market, and warned that since Ondo is “the hotbed of cannabis cultivation,” the state would be short-changing itself if it doesn’t tap into the “legal marijuana market” whose estimated value has been projected to be $145bn by 2025.
The governor added that there was the need for the Federal Government to encourage the cultivation of medicinal Indian hemp in the country. The governor made this known through his verified Twitter handle @RotimiAkeredolu.
He argued that the Federal Government needed to weigh in, saying the industry is capable of creating thousands of jobs for youths and spur the economic diversification of the country.
“Our focus now is medical marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency
“I strongly implore the FG to take this seriously, as it is a thriving industry that will create 1000’s of jobs for our youths and spur economic diversification,” the governor said.
The governor said he was in Thailand in company of Col. Muhammad Mustapha (rtd.) who was then the Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), for a programme tagged, ‘Medicinal Cannabis Extract Development.’
He added that he was in the Asian country to assess the materials and best practices of medicinal cannabis planting and growing, with the possibility of replicating the technology in Nigeria, and explained that “We are here to study how cannabis can be more advantageous to the (Ondo) State and Nigeria at large, just the way Thai Government has done.
He enthused that “Cannabis is used for medical purposes, and queried “How can it be cultivated for specific purposes and not be abused?”
“The programme is centred around exploiting the possibility of medicinal cannabis extract development and it is aimed at building capacity and researching the modality of licensing for planting and extracting cannabis oil in Nigeria as well as exploiting its commercial potential with focus on Ondo State.”
In a similar vein, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) recently warned that legalizing Cannabis for medical use would worsen drug and substance abuse, and urged the Federal Government to disregard the calls to do so in the country.
The society noted that the country has a weak and chaotic drug distribution system, and called for research of Cannabis that is free from commercial interest, and strongly warned that Cannabis; irrespective of the use it would be put into is destructive to the brain.
It would be recalled in this context that Dr. Samuel Adekola, the national president of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN) had on Friday May 21, 2021 at a media parley on “Sunrise Daily” of Channels Television claimed that Nigerian pharmacists support legalization of Indian hemp for medical use.
He had allegedly urged the relevant authority in the country to legalize the use of Indian hemp for medical treatment in Nigeria.
However, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, PSN President in a swift reaction in a statement signed by its’ National Publicity Secretary, Pharm. Ijeoma Okey-Ewurum, has distanced PSN from Dr. Adekola’s claims.
Ohuabunwa who said it is dangerous, capable of leading to the abuse of the substance, urged the Nigerian media and the general public to disregard his claim, as he lacks the authority to speak on behalf of the PSN.
He said, “With our weak drug laws and chaotic drug distribution system, legalizing Cannabis for medical use now will only increase items in the bouquet of substances of abuse and will be like letting loose a hand grenade.
“We support robust research of Cannabis, devoid of pecuniary interest, given its harmful effect to the brain, especially the young developing brain (the most vulnerable group of Substance Abuse) and its strong association with psychosis and reports of fast tracking the age of onset of psychotic illnesses.”
“The PSN is conscious of the huge burden of Drug and substance Abuse and the alarming rate of suicide in our country, and is working very hard with the National Assembly to see that the Pharmacy Bill is passed into law to provide legal basis for commensurate sanctions on Pharmacists who fall short of ethical standards and handling of poisons and psychotropic substances.”
He noted that PSN is already working with the National Assembly to see that the Pharmacy Bill is passed into law to provide legal basis for commensurate sanctions on Pharmacists who fall short of ethical standards and handling of poisons and psychotropic substances.
As the umbrella body of all Registered Pharmacists in Nigeria, Ohuabunwa said, “PSN noted, ‘The Pharmaco-therapeutics, Pharmacodynamics and Pharmacokinetics of cannabis (marijuana, Indian hemp, etc.) and its derivatives have been known to us, right from the schools of Pharmacy.
“And there is no doubt of some scientific evidence that medicinal cannabis (not regular street cannabis) has some benefits in treating terminally ill patients with cancer and some other chronic painful conditions,” the statement also reads.
It added, “The December 2, 2020, meeting of the UN, severally, referred to at that TV interaction, was for rescheduling of cannabis, from the dangerous drug list, and not for immediate impact on loosening international control, as countries will still have jurisdiction over how to classify Cannabis, based on research and political will for effective regulation.”
The PSN boss further said, “Pharmacists share the concern of most Nigerian public who expressed worries over this claim, as it is premature and assaults Public Health and societal sanity.”
“Finally, the PSN President, Pharm (Mazi) Sam. Ohuabunwa, OFR, FPSN remains the spokesman of Nigerian Pharmacists.The media and Nigerian Public should disregard Dr. Adekola’s claim, as he lacks the authority to speak on our behalf.
“We promise Nigerians that pharmaceutical care under our watch will balance science and economic gains with protection and preservation of public health and sanity.”
In addition to the foregoing, Mr. Philip Olorunyomi, a social commentator, and a friend of this writer said “Legalizing the substance at this point where Nigeria is experiencing spiraling rise in crime rate would be suicidal, and would not in any way augur well for the country”. The reason for his view cannot be farfetched as Indian hemp is unarguably a stimulant and fuels upsurge in crime that cut across banditry, terrorism and kidnapping.
Isaac Asabor is a Public Affairs Analyst.