Marijuana: To legalise or not

BY: Rees Hakeem Oduro
•Wee leaves
•Wee leaves

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

This news, however, has awakened the call for the legalisation of marijuana (wee) in Ghana.

 Previously, prominent people such as  Kofi Annan, as well as the former Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board, Mr Yaw Akrasi Sarpong, made similar calls, though theirs were geared towards the decriminalisation of its use.

Journalist  Kwesi Pratt, radio host, Blakk Rasta, Abeiku Santana (OK FM) and now Mr Kwame Sefa Kayi of Peace FM, are among the people advocating for the legalisation of marijuana, though they all want the government to put up measures in regulating it after the legalisation.

Wee uses

But just before you join the debate in calling for the legalisation of marijuana, think first! Marijuana, popularly called wee, ganja, bonsam tawa, etc, are the leaves and flowering tops of the cannabis plant which produce psychoactive effects when used either by smoking or 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 from THC, there are other chemicals such as Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabinol, Cannabigerol, etc.

Countries such as The Netherlands, Spain, Uruguay and Portugal have legalised its use, however in  places such as Mexico, Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany and Israel, they have only legalised the medicinal use of cannabis, but its recreational use remains illegal.  

Switzerland recently decriminalised the possession of cannabis so long as it is in small amounts and contains less than one per cent of THC.

In The United States of America (USA), its recreational use, as well as medicinal use is legal in some states such as Alaska, California, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

The driving force behind the legalisation in most of these countries, especially the US, is money - the economic gains in terms of taxes.

 It must also be noted that 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.  

THC

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 legalisation in some parts of the world does not in any way reduce or take away the adverse effects of it.

 The truth is that you will not die if you smoke or use cannabis, but you will hallucinate and that can result in accidents and other risky behaviours 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, smokers are known to have carcinogenic agents which cause 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 result 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 being intoxicated in high doses of cannabis (marijuana) can cause  “Weed Dick”, a temporary erectile dysfunction which can ruin your sex life.

Ready?

 So now the question is: is Ghana ready for the legalisation of wee?  Are we as a country ready to deal with the cases of marijuana addiction when they come forth as a result of legalisation? Let’s ask ourselves the number of rehab centres we have in our country to treat addiction. There are less than 10 privately owned rehab centres in the entire country all clustered in the southern part (Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast).

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 psychiatry hospitals in the country and 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 wee 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 organisations to monitor and regulate this substance once it is legalised? How effective are our institutions even regulating legal substances such as alcohol, herbal medicines and prescription drugs such as tramadol among others?

So before you join the legalisation 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 empathise 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,  the government, private institutions and other philanthropists should help establish rehab centres in at least every region to help treat these people.          
 
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 Cape Coast