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Ondo State: The Frontier For Nigeria’s Cannabis Legalization? – Jibril Bala

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Nigerians love Cannabis. Based on a survey from the Global Cannabis report, over 20 million people consume cannabis in Nigeria every year. It is hard to point to the exact period when marijuana became a thing in the country, but – just like in so many other African countries – smoking weed has always been a cultural thing significant to its ambiance.

Africa, as a whole, is the world’s largest consumer and producer of Marijuana. And Nigeria has a significant impact on these numbers. So how does it add up that African countries are the largest producers and consumers of cannabis when it is practically illegal in all the states except a few like Lesotho, South Africa, and Zimbabwe?

The answer is the Black market.

A consumer market has always been around in African countries for decades; it just isn’t legal. The consequence of this? A multi-million-dollar industry has been operating in the African region for so many years with little government intervention, no regulation, and, ultimately, no rules. Additionally, since cannabis isn’t legal, there’s a large amount of untapped potential lying around waiting for exploration.

It is no surprise that many African countries are reconsidering their stance on the illegal status of marijuana. South Africa legalized the medicinal use of cannabis in 2019, joining Lesotho and Zimbabwe as the only African countries to do so. The other countries that are expected to participate in this trend sooner rather than later are Swaziland, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Malawi, and, of course, Nigeria.

One of the states in Nigeria that boasts an abundance of cannabis cultivation is the Ondo State. Now that legalization of marijuana is at the doorstep of Nigeria, it is the western state of Ondo that is championing the advancement.

The question still exists: Is Nigeria, as a nation, equipped for legalization?

The governor of Ondo state says it depends on the Federal Government of Nigeria
“Our focus now is Medical Marijuana cultivation in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the NDLEA. I strongly implore the FG to take this seriously as it is a thriving industry that will create 1000’s of Jobs for our youth & spur Economic Diversification,”
The governor has already begun contingency plans on how to tap into the multi-billion dollar marijuana market successfully. He recently traveled to Thailand for a Medical Cannabis Expo with Law enforcement agents from the state
“We are here to study how cannabis can be more advantageous to the (Ondo) State and Nigeria at large, just the way the Thai Government has done.
“Cannabis used for medical purposes; how can it be cultivated for specific purposes and not be abused.
“The program is centered around exploiting the possibility of medicinal cannabis extract development, and 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 a focus on Ondo State.”
“We know how to grow it, and it thrives well in the Sunshine State. How to grow cannabis is never a problem in Ondo State,”

Even though the legalization of Cannabis for medical use is the trend across many countries in the world, legalizing it in Nigeria could come with a heap load of issues.

I’ve grouped them into three major problems and used Ondo state as a case study

The Issues with Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana as a Criminal Justice Problem: The drug law agency in Nigeria, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), records a large number of arrests and destruction of cannabis plantation in Ondo state. In 2019, the agency intercepted – in a single raid – over 180 tonnes of cannabis from a warehouse in the state capital of Akure.

Since the legalization of cannabis proposed in the state is for medicinal and research purposes, the enforcement of existing laws on recreational use of the substance will only get harder.

For the government, it will pose a problem to define the fine line between medicinal and recreational use of the substance to local inhabitants. The usage of cannabis, recreationally, will spike up after medicinal legalization – that is almost certain. Clear guidelines and rules should stand on the use of medicinal cannabis and also new policies on the management of cannabis offenders.

Marijuana as a health Problem: Already, millions of Nigerians take pot for its intoxicating effect to cure depression, pain, and emotional distress. The feeling of high is a popular concept amongst the people in the country. Legalizing Marijuana in the state will increase substance abuse, and the rate of addiction might rise significantly.

Marijuana as an Economic Problem: By implementing new cannabis laws and regulations that do not cover the existing black market in Ondo state, the government will, unwittingly, be rendering thousands of people jobless. Consequently, there will be increasing poverty in local communities, which might see many people turn to crime.

The issue with the legalization of marijuana in the country has always been a case of getting it right.

The following are some solutions to the problems that it might pose.

• Legalize an individual ounce of marijuana for recreational use: This is practiced already around many countries in the world like Jamaica, for example. The purpose is to reduce the impact on criminal justice that the legalization of medicinal cannabis will inevitably have.

• Promote Local and Existing businesses: To fully explore the magnitude of medicinal cannabis, established firms and companies from abroad must come into the state with advanced technical know-how. However, it shouldn’t spell disaster for existing and local communities in the countries that deal with illicit cannabis in the black market. A small level of equity can be created through laws and regulations to ensure that local businesses are involved.

• Invest in Research: Extensive research will expand the reach of medicinal cannabis in the health sector and improve its quality

What will Legalization Ultimately Bring?

Quality control is one. Businesses manufacturing cannabis in the state will be required by law to ensure that all cannabis products are tested and decontaminated during production. Quality assurance will make sure people trust the product that they are buying.

An Economic boom is another benefit of the legalization of cannabis. With more companies and businesses settling in the state, there will be increased employment opportunities for the citizens and tax revenues for the government.

Legalization is here, and Nigeria has a chance to tap into a thriving cannabis industry and become a significant player. But – just like in every other aspect of change and development – it must be done right, or the problems will spring up and stare the government right in the face.

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