Abuja, Nigeria: Recently, I read an article on Forbes that stated that in 2017 alone, over five hundred million dollars was invested in the cannabis industry in the United States. Being a player (albeit smalltime) in the startup scene myself, I was not overly wowed by this sum. In reality, the investment was quite small compared to what is tenable in other industries like Fintech which attracted $31 billion worth of US investment in 2017 and Pharmaceuticals which attracted $7.1 billion in 2016. What struck me the most though, was what these investments represented; simply put marijuana has gone mainstream. If equity firms are investing in marijuana, there is no greater acceptance then left to be had. These investments are not baseless, they are strongly riding on the existence of a huge market for marijuana.
According to Growers Network, an estimated five million pounds of marijuana is grown in the US alone, annually. Most of these are sold for recreational purposes. The use of this marijuana has also spread to medical use. As at 2017, the US was the number one consumer of marijuana in the world.
In Nigeria, as in most African Nations, the use and sale of marijuana is still considered highly illegal and outrightly banned by law. A punishment of twelve years minimum imprisonment is statutorily provided for the possession of this substance but beyond the laws, it is regarded as the height of irresponsibility, rebellion and indiscipline to use marijuana. Growing up, our parents referred to marijuana as “guuf”. For reasons I and my contemporaries could not really explain at the time, this made smoking marijuana all the more grievous. And with good reason. Most of the peoples who indulged were vagrants and generally irresponsible.
By the time I got to University, “guuf” was renamed “weed” and suddenly became cool. I believe this remains a hallmark of universities and colleges the world over; the tendency to indulge in smoking joints and drinking alcohol as in some cases, a cry of rebellion order and in other cases, a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. The element of mischief makes it all the more fun to try. In the media, celebrities and musicians extolled the virtues of weed and we verily agreed with them. Despite all of this, smoking, inhaling and eating the stuff though remained something to be done in secret, in dorm rooms and secluded spots and in some cases in the neighboring bushes after the night falls.
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Our parents, the police and the government after all these years remain staunch and strong in their fight against the use of “guuf”. Recently, a sitting governor in Nigeria urged people to report anyone who they believe sells or smokes weed; he went ahead to say that weed sellers were the worst kind of deviants because they were destroying the future. Now we might not completely agree with his position but at least you get his drift. Personally, I believe this aversion to marijuana is not without good reason.
As a lawyer (and a young person who had quite the colorful rite of passage back in the day), a good number of the offences committed by young people were committed under the influence of the available illicit substance. From assaults to rape, from breaking and entering to arson down to reckless driving to mention but a few, all inhibitions seem to waft away in the face of this seemingly innocent plant. Thus, I understand the actions of my government in limiting to the barest minimum, legal access to marijuana. Most governments and countries were of this same view, until recently.
The question then becomes; has marijuana or cannabis suddenly become the wonder drug of our generation? How has cannabis come to become the magical plant that can do no wrong? Have we so quickly forgotten all the side effects and adverse social impacts of a proliferation of the use of this plant?
The most common answer seems to be that many governments have suddenly awoken to the benefits of marijuana. From serving as “non-addictive painkillers” to the “cure for cancer” it seems the golden qualities of marijuana have finally begun to nudge the substance to take its rightful place in history.
I think the real answers just might be a little less noble and a lot more difficult to confront.
In my opinion, many governments have finally come to understand and accept the huge financial benefits that could flow from the legalization of cannabis and its sister substances. In the face of this, it has become easier to swallow and squint away from the negative effects and impacts that cannabis may have on the society and youths in particular.
I think too that the governments are not just the culprits, they are also the victims (albeit unwittingly). You see, the most prominent selling point for cannabis seems to be its medicinal qualities. It appears to me though, that this fact is adopted more as a justification and a ready answer to posterity. Beneath the layers of this response are uglies such as; “People are going to use it anyway, why not tax it and make money off it?”, “If we don’t make money off of it, someone else will”; “If they are going to get high anyway, marijuana should be the safest bet right?”, and so on. It is then concluded that a failure to legalize marijuana would almost certainly result in people using even more dangerous substances. In the face of these seemingly flawlessly logical arguments, it isn’t difficult to see why governments are succumbing more often than not.
As far as I can see, this argument in favor of legalization in this context is predicated on the premise that the freedom to use cannabis freely and openly is what people want anyway. This assumption has become an additional ammo for the pro-cannabis establishment. An ammo that the government cannot defend against. In the face of this, it becomes easy to take the “What do we have to lose?” stand on the issue. Now while it is understandably difficult for a government to make regulations against the wishes of the people, isn’t it an inalienable quality of good governance to weigh these wishes of the affected class against the safety of the majority?
It has become easier to see cannabis use as a victimless issue, but are there really no victims? People may not die from marijuana overdoses, but have they stopped killing or harming others from actions taken while under the influence and “high”? Given my profession, I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences in this light, and because of this, I am wary and highly reluctant to jump on the marijuana train just yet.
So, I understand the arguments for the legalization of marijuana but I still have to ask; must we really get high?