WIt takes quite a lot for a man to alter his opinion and views no matter how compellingly superior the argument. Pride, ego and our prejudices are stubborn conspirators that make us not yield grounds that easily. When I recall what Thomas Hobbes said those many years ago that “the condition of man is a condition of war; everyone against everyone”, I try to understand why we find it hard t surrender our positions. We do not want to feel dominated.
But believe me, it took only the sight of the headline of a story I stumbled upon while poring through the Social Media to change my views on an issue I never thought would really bother me.
It goes by a number of aliases in Nigeria, some of them frightening and others, woke, depending on your social and religious persuasion. But I am one of those that wouldn’t mind adding a new and fancy nickname to this plant, if only its auriferous economic potentials are harnessed rather.
The report I read; a research material from a firm known as New Frontier Data stated that Nigerians spend a dizzying $15 billion annually on marijuana! This translates to N5.4 trillion in local currency. Fr full effect, this sum four times more than the budget of Nigeria’s richest state, Lagos, whose budget for 2020 was N1.168 trillion and more than 25 times bigger than the budget of Enugu State, which stood at approximately N170 billion.
It was no wonder Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State found himself making a desperate pitch for the legalization of the banned crop. Ondo State is reputed to be the largest producer of cannabis in Nigeria and one can imagine what this could add to the economy of this state whose budget for 2020 was a [relatively speaking] mere N187 billion.
Many us sanctimonious Nigerians doubled down on Governor Akereolu on this. I actually wondered how a state governor would push for the legalization of a plant with such harmful effect on its consumers. But “Aketi”, as the governor is more popularly called, was seeing the numbers most of us could never have seen, beclouded as we were, by emotions and prejudices.
Speaking of prejudices, I detest Indian Hemp and that was chiefly because it nearly destroyed me as a much younger person. In 1996, while I was writing my final year examinations at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I had taken the substance, along with a few friends a few minutes before entering the exam hall. Not that I was a heavy user of the substance before then. But it just happened that these friends had it with them and I joined, like I had, a few times in the past, to smoke.
What happened to me inside the exam hall was stuff miracles are made of. I just knew that I was writing and tearing my answer scripts, apparently convinced in my hallucinating mind that I was not writing the “right” things. I remember I had torn the third script when the invigilator screamed, “30 minutes more!” with such a thunderously louring finality that told me I either get things done or I was snookered.
Thousands of multi-coloured images of failure flashed through my mind in that instant that I found myself dripping in my own sweat. I became normal in an instant and once my fourth answer script was handed to me, I wrote as briskly as fast as my shaking hands could allow. I was lucky the invigilator strangely understood my predicament because he allowed me some extra 10 minutes or so; enough for me to answer the three compulsory questions required.
That was the very last time I tasted marijuana. It also made me despise everything about the plant. I have a few friends who still take it and I do my best to tolerate them, always keeping them at arm’s length.
Although recent literature has ben replete with strong messages in favour of the legalisation of cannabis and thus the democratization of its consumption, I have been reluctant to even read any of those material. My close shave with repeating my final year, no thanks to my one-off indulgence in 1996, was still hunting me. But the headline I encountered above changed everything and actually encouraged me to read a lot more.
Available statistics indicate that the black-market worth of cannabis worldwide is estimated at over $60 billion (Actually $46 billion as at 2005). This is such a dizzying number and if you factor that Nigerians (documents claim more than 20 million Nigerians smoke cannabis) puff away $15 billion annually, it should bring you closer to what the opportunity would be if this crop becomes major agricultural business of Nigerian farmers, especially in those parts of the country like Ondo State where it flourishes quite well.
I know moralists would come down hard on my perspective on this issue there has not been any conflict between real economics (as against greed and lustful acquisition) and morality that the tide didn’t swing in favour of the former. In the words of Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer, Babasaheb Ambedkar, “… where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.”
I am convinced that the vested interests that have made legal cannabis difficult or even impossible will, in the coming years, experience increasingly weakening resistance against the economic force legal cannabis will unleash and the earlier Nigeria takes position to profit from what in many places, has been called the “green gold”, the better.
In hindsight, one will recall the era of the bootlegging and rum-running in the United States. Alcoholic drinks were once illegal in these areas and until as recently as 1933. Criminals such as Alphonso “Al” Capone made billions of naira exploiting the Mafia cells to control the underground distribution labyrinths. Although those who prohibited he sale of alcoholic beverages may have had their genuine intentions, they also placed huge sums of money in the hands of the underworld. And n any case, they couldn’t control the consumption of alcohol. Morality caved in for economics here and the Mafia that the American government chased and hunted for years quietly shriveled for want of “business.”
Besides the economics of marijuana, there has also been strong conversations around what has become known as “medical marijuana” as research unraveled tremendous medical remedies of this “special” plant. A particular document published by lifehack.org, listed 20 “medical benefits” among which are: slowing of stop cancer cells; preventing Alzheimer’s; treatment of Glaucoma; relieving Arthritis; controlling epileptic seizures; easing the pain of multiple sclerosis; reversing the carcinogen effects of tobacco and improve lung health and protecting brain after a stroke, among a number of others.
These are very compelling facts.
What I think we should be taking about in Nigeria is how to harness the economic and medical potentials of this crop to improve our society. Looking back, I am even beginning to think that the biggest challenge cannabis has in a country like Nigeria is not so much about the hallucinatory effects it has on those who consume (smoke) it as it is about stigma society brings to bear on those who indulge in the habit.
With billions of naira being made in that industry, I expect pipelines of opportunities to be created by Nigeria. Government can incubate controlled production, harvest and exportation of the plant in such a way as to minimize its spread among the people. We read in newspapers about confiscation of truck-loads of cannabis by the National Drug law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); there are also regular burning of whole farms by the same agency, all in a failed bid to minimize consumption. In fact, cannabis is classified as a narcotic drug in Nigeria. But rather than slow consumption, what we have seen is growing adoption of the habit, especially among the young.
This article is not, by any means, pushing for recreational marijuana. On the contrary, I am trying to evaluate the relationship between economic (including medical) marijuana with the recreational aspect and it is clear the economic side far outweighs the recreational side.
It is my belief that once government begins to play a role in the propagation f economic marijuana, recreational marijuana would reduce, especially because it would make more sense for farmers to sell their produce in bulk and make more money than pay the huge prices they currently pay smuggling their ways around the country with all the extra security and retail costs of selling in tiny bits, wraps and Rizzla.