Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MUST READ: It may be time to accept Marijuana

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The spectre of decriminalising various things that we have become used to viewing as abnormal may finally be upon us. In many Western nations, there is a raging debate over the pros and cons of uplifting such a ban on this particular substance. For one, there is no objective evidence that its use contributes significantly to an upswing in crime. There is no evidence either that it is always subject to abuse. In many local farming and mining communities in Latin America, the plants are grown as normally as we grow the bitter-leaf plant here at home, and leaves are abundant in the countryside. As a result, the product is consumed openly in its raw form in those places. The same happens for coca leaves from which cocaine is derived. But let us limit the arguments to Marijuana and agree about its effects on our social relationships. In many places, marijuana is called different names. Some call it ‘weed.’ Others call it ‘gbana.’ Yet others call it ‘grass’ and some still call it ‘hashish.’ Among the youths, ‘igbo’ is the preferred name while in urbane circles; the name is properly called cannabis or Indian hemp.

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The botanical name is Cannabis sativa and its active agent is Tetrahydrocannabinol, an extract that is in use as a psychoactive substance and is also believed to expand the mind. It is not for nothing that this particular substance has, therefore, not met with the necessary approval in many circles. It is believed that its consumption would lead to an increase in various criminal acts and so is by its nature, an antisocial object. The evidence does not bear this out. In the Netherlands, where there has long being a programme like this where there are recreational bars in which marijuana is a part of the menu, there has been no spike in crime from 1978, when the experiment began, till date. In fact, there was an increase in tourism as a result of this liberalisation with many young people seeking to experience the opportunity to legally smoke hashish.

Now of course, there is talk of recreational marijuana, not any different from the drinking of beer and stout. Not to mention the routine consumption of brandy, vodka and other spirits with far more profound effects on the society.

The main producers of marijuana come from several different continents. It is a flowering plant produced in Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Thailand, Lebanon, Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain, Jamaica, Colombia, Mexico, the US, Canada, and Morocco. It is likely also, that Nigeria would be a significant producer of this commodity.
Decriminalising it ensures a transparent trade in it thus positioning it to become yet a significant foreign exchange earner for the nation. Different variants of the plant are also processed to make ropes and hashish oil which are used in various industries. Ropes are often processed from an abundance of fibre known to be produced by other variants of the cannabis plant. Its fibre was one of the first recorded natural suture materials used in surgery. Without the knowledge gained from that early use, much of modern surgery would not have been the way it is today.

Cannabis is often used to produce certain physical and mental effects. It is known to heighten the mood as has been mentioned before. It is used also for relaxation and an improvement in the appetite. The women use it to grow their hair after they have cut it short, often in an attempt to grow a new hair style. Some noted side effects of this drug are dry mouth, impaired motor skills, red eyes, feelings of paranoia and panic attacks, as well as anxiety. When it is smoked, the onset of action begins within minutes and about half an hour when it is eaten. The effects last for between two and six hours depending on how frequently it is used by that individual.

It may also be used as part of religious and spiritual rites and that is probably why its use is so commonplace in the Indian subcontinent and in Latin America. It is used medically to treat muscle spasms. It is used also to improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS and to treat chronic pain. It is also used to treat nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and also for certain intractable cases of epilepsy.

From many different places have been allegations of the use of marijuana among the high and mighty. There is no evidence that as a result of the use of marijuana, they were particularly more inclined to commit criminal acts.

In the US, there have been allegations at various levels concerning the use of marijuana. Former President Bill Clinton famously said he took puffs of the substance but did not inhale the smoke. George W. Bush pointedly refused to confirm or deny whether he experimented with the drug while President Barack Obama agreed that he had experimented with it. But then, that is even in an open society. In our own country, allegations such as that one are left in the confines of beer parlours and motor-parks. No one has the courage to ask the person involved to deny or confirm the allegation. All of that is possible because of the cloak of criminality and even mysticism, which surrounds its use. Among our various communities, the overwhelmed police force is unable to curb the use of the commodity because the users are too many.

Very often, they confine their efforts at enforcement to the occasional raid in the hideouts of known miscreants designed to put some weekend money into their pockets rather than a genuine desire to enforce the law. And the youngsters probably only take the stuff to elevate their moods from the chronic poverty that suppresses them.

The use of cannabis has been increasing dramatically in recent years across the world. As at 2015, about half the people in the United States have tried marijuana. The earliest recorded use of cannabis dates back to the third millennium BC. The possession, use and sale of cannabis is deemed illegal in most nations of the world but the United Nations still classifies it as the most frequently used illicit drug in the world. The use of medical marijuana is a subject gaining currency in Canada, Australia, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium and 23 US states. The demand and subsequent use are certain to grow from the twin headwinds seeking now to make its usage more visible. These are recreation and medical uses.

Only recently, an artisan working for me was found hidden in a room sniffing the substance shortly before he started his assignment for the day. The use seemed only to energise him and he was able to carry on with his physically-demanding work from about 10 in the morning till five in the evening. On previous occasions, he would abandon the unfinished work as early as 2 pm. When I asked him why he found it necessary to take what he was consuming, he told me the use was commonplace in their industry. It is bought and sold openly in many parts of Nigeria and most people look the other way or pinch their nostrils to avoid smelling the pungent smoke until they are clear of the vicinity.

The question then is that if the use is so openly engaged in and the buying and selling of the substance goes on unregulated, what is the point in making it a crime to have it in one’s possession? In the last fortnight have also come revelations suggesting that traces of cannabis have been detected in the waist pipe attached to the home used by William Shakespeare. Perhaps, the use of the substance, if proven, may have had a hand in the writing of some of his many seminal works. Did he also recognise the efficacy of the drug in expanding the mind? Only time will make us wiser in that regard but we will do well to note that he was not a criminal.

- Sylvester Ikhisemojie/ Punch

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