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House of Representatives steps down bill to legalise cannabis



The House of Representatives, on Thursday, stepped down a bill seeking to legalise the cultivation, sale and use of cannabis, also known as marijuana, for commercial purposes.

Apart from the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, and the sponsors, all those who spoke at the second reading criticised the bill.

The criticisms against the proposal forced the sponsors to demand that it should be stepped down for review, a prayer that the lawmakers unanimously granted.

The sponsors had clashed on Wednesday over the proposed legislation.

Two members of the House, Benjamin Kalu and Olumide Osoba, had sponsored separate bills seeking to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, to expand the scope of the anti-narcotics agency to issue licences for the cultivation, sale and use of weed.

The proposed pieces of legislation were harmonised and titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, Cap. N30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to Confer Additional Responsibility of the Power to Grant and Revoke Licences for the Cultivation of Cannabis (or Any of Its Three Species, Namely Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indicia and Cannabis Ruderalis) Plant for Medicinal Purposes; and for Related Matters.’

However, when the bill was up for second reading at the plenary on Wednesday, another member of the House, Miriam Onuoha, protested that the content of the bill was the same as hers.

The Cannabis Control Bill, 2020, sponsored by Onuoha, is titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Regulate the Cultivation, Possession, Availability and Trade of Cannabis for Medical and Research Use, and Related Purposes.’

The Speaker had in his ruling asked both sides to liaise with the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, to identify the differences and similarities between the bills ahead of sitting on Thursday.

On Thursday, the two bills, which had different titles, were first harmonised.

While Kalu and Osoba’s maintained the same title, Onuoha’s was titled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Decriminalise the Growth and Use of Cannabis, to Establish a System for the Registration and licensing of Cannabis Growers, Users, Control to legalise the Growth, Sale and use of Cannabis and set out a Legal Framework for the Registration and Licensing of Cannabis Growers and Producers in Nigeria; and for Related Matters.’

Those who spoke against it, especially the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, and Majority Whip, Mohammed Monguno, condemned the proposed decriminalisation of cannabis.

Gbajabiamila, who presided over the session and had defended the proposal, noted that it must have been opposed due to the word ‘decriminalise’ in the title of the bill, which he said was not there earlier on Wednesday.

While Kalu and Onuoha were unanimous on the call for the bill’s withdrawal, the former noted blamed the rejection on the harmonisation of the bills, noting that they would be represented separately after a review.

Reacting to the Bill, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) commended the House of Representatives members and leadership for rejecting yet another attempt to push through a bill to decriminalise cannabis cultivation, sale, and use in Nigeria.

NDLEA Chairman,  retired Brig. Gen. Buba Marwa, gave the commendation in a statement issued by the agency’s Director, Media and Advocacy, Mr Femi Babafemi on Friday in Abuja.

Responding to the development, the NDLEA boss said the decision of the lawmakers to reject the bill would further strengthen the gains so far made in the renewed war against drug abuse and trafficking in the country.

Marwa said the 2018 drug survey figure of 10.6million Nigerians abusing cannabis alone was enough to sound the alarm bell.

He said that the strong nexus between drug abuse and the security challenges across the country was incontrovertible.

According to him , insecurity,as manifested in banditry, insurgency ,kidnapping and others, is today a full-blown malady.

“Yet there has never been a government that is more committed to ending this spate of insecurity than the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, “he said.

According to him, the President has matched political willpower with resources, but the scope and frequency of these acts of destabilisation and the audacity displayed by the perpetrators call for a second, critical look at the malaise.

He said, “the persistence of the problem has forced on us the necessity to start to look at likely extraneous factors that might be sustaining the resistance from the criminal elements and in doing so, try to connect the dots.

“The permutations will lead to a list of probable causes, which will not exclude the use and abuse of illicit substances. In the final analysis, drug abuse is indeed one of the factors fueling insecurity.

“As such, Nigeria cannot afford to permit the cultivation, sale and use of the most abused illicit drug under whatever guise.

“This is why the decision by the honourable members of the House of Representatives to reject the reintroduction of the cannabis bill is a welcome and cheering news to us in NDLEA.

“It is a big thing also to the Nigerian public ,especially parents who daily and silently contend with the pains of seeing millions of their kids and wards go down under the devastating effects of cannabis abuse, “he said.

Marwa said history would never forget those who stand with parents to protect them and their children against the dangers of drug abuse.

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