Perhaps an Arákùnrin, fully aware of the legal landmines, leading the exploration of the forest of Sọgbódòwò, irrespective of the darts coming his way, offers us an opportunity to further stretch or redefine our federalism so we can get high on ideas that have remained unmined, over the years.
Again, marijuana has made its way to the front burner of public discourse, courtesy of the Ondo State governor, Arákùnrin Rotimi Akeredolu. He made a case for the cultivation of medical marijuana “in controlled plantations under the full supervision of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency” to take advantage of a market projected to be worth $145 billion by 2025, according to The PUNCH newspaper.
Not many commentators appear to have read the report, possibly running away with opinion on the basis of newspaper headlines. As to be expected, the preponderance of opinion has been in disfavour of his proposition, anchored more on religious, moral and cultural assumptions, without a consideration of the facts of the matter or the suggested path by the governor.
It is not that the proposition does not have inherent contradictions, with possible legal, cultural and unintended social blow-backs, but what we should not continue to do is throw back ideas at people without the sober and studied consideration of these ideas. I think we are always too much in haste, in the public space, to attack any idea that does not conform with our understanding, to make jest of an idea or repudiate it, whereas what we should do is to first pause, consider it, meditate upon and engage with it, no matter how silly and laughable it might sound, until we have established it as empty.
When this matter was thrown into the fore last year by then presidential aspirant, Omoyele Sowore, I made an intervention in support of it, which I have reproduced here, in part. Obviously, many of the commentators appear to be caught up in the old smoke which only sees marijuana through the squinted eyes of drug abuse. Marjiuana has moved beyond that narrow confine of recreational use/abuse. As controversial as the legalisation of its use, especially for medical and recreational purposes, is, even in the West there has been little dispute about the many uses to which the plant can be put. There is little doubt that Marijuana is a ‘resource’ that can be explored for a variety of purposes. Some claim the plant has over 50,000 uses. It has been found useful in the production of a long list of things, including some clothing, hard materials for bags, ropes, food and beverages, fibreboards, plastics, cases, fuel, chemical clean-up, not to talk of medicine.
Even then, I am not for the idea of simply bagging raw materials and exporting these for cash. Instead we should be refining and putting them to secondary and tertiary uses, possibly exporting them as finished products, having taken care of the under-explored local market. Approaching the marijuana business with an industrial mind-set, while not barring small-holders, is what we should consider. We must first agree to which of its uses we seek to explore, build value chains around these, then construct a cultivation table, ensuring that the purchase of marijuana for the purpose of refining it will be more profitable for the farmer than fuelling the abuse market. It is the possible industrial use of marijuana that should be of interest to us. Where we see a comparative advantage or opportunity to be first movers, we should seize this.
While I do not make a case for a laissez-faire approach to this issue, yet I keep struggling to understand the argument by some that the legalisation of the product will aid its abuse. I have not seen any conclusive evidence or research quoted to have argued that legalisation of cultivation or possession of marijuana tend to proliferate the use of it.
There are many non-prohibited products – gum, codeine-based drugs, etc. – being subjected to wanton abuse. The argument cannot simply be about the possibility of abuse of a product. The issue of drug abuse is one with wider dimensions, way beyond the legalisation or non-legalisation of the use of marijuana, and it ought to be tackled at that point. The point I am making is that the availability and distribution of marijuana has hardly ever been constrained by the illegality of its possession, and there is a robust underground distribution system in place for that.
While I do not make a case for a laissez-faire approach to this issue, yet I keep struggling to understand the argument by some that the legalisation of the product will aid its abuse. I have not seen any conclusive evidence or research quoted to have argued that legalisation of cultivation or possession of marijuana tend to proliferate the use of it. I doubt that many countries will be moving in the direction of democratising access and legalisation of use, as we are witnessing, should that be the case.
As some stand against legalisation, should we not ask, in the first place, who made it illegal? Here is a plant which, possibly, has been in use in our land for centuries, until declared illegal by laws inherited from a people with a different history, culture and value system. Now that the same people who prohibited its use, in the first place, are moving in the direction of walking away from that law, we are still insisting that the law is sacrosanct and not open to discussion. How can the man who set up a system of chains be seeking to remove these chains, while the victim is insisting on staying cuffed? While marijuana was prohibited, tobacco was refined and exported to us as cigarettes. Decades later, they have come to the firm realisation that the consumption of cigarettes comes with huge health implications and have steadily discouraged its use. In the same vein, marijuana, despised and prohibited yesterday, has made a full turn, and is now available for recreational use in some countries.
A quick search reveals how speedily countries around the world have been moving in this direction, especially in the last two years. There is a possible cue for what the governor seems to be canvassing from Lesotho, a country with some bit of experience on that in Africa. For years, even though it was not legal in the country, export of the product was one of the top three foreign earnings for the country, it has been a major cash crop and source of earning for the rural people. In 2017, Lesotho licensed a firm to grow the product for medical and scientific purposes. Shortly after, it followed up by licensing five companies to produce medical marijuana. Three of those companies have now either been partially or entirely acquired by established, licensed Canadian producers. This year, Canada legalised the use of marijuana as a recreational drug. That might explain the link.
It cannot be that we are so high on our product that we are only seeing things through the eyes of Ọ̀ṣẹ́ùnbẹ̀lẹ̀! It is time for our federalism to lend itself to a fuller expression which might lead to Ondo getting high in peace, as some erroneously assume is the objective here, as long as the smoke does not get into the eyes of other parts of the federation.
There is nothing conclusive yet. But it will be foolhardy to simply dismiss this or reduce it to some pedestrian engagement – some saying we have not finished growing cassava but we are now talking about marijuana. Can we not do the two things at the same time? Have people not been growing the two all the while? Can we not study how Lesotho has keyed into this through a licencing regime?
Some argue that anyone HIGH on the idea of legalisation of marijuana has to be HIGH on something. But If I understand the governor, he has not canvassed for the legalisation of the recreational use of the product, which some countries have already embraced, which we might not be prepared for or encourage. What he has called for, to my mind, is the legalisation of the production value chain in a regulated manner. That, I subscribe to. I struggle to see how the legalisation and regulation of the cultivation process will worsen the recreational use which is already there.
It is interesting that quite a few of the voices on this side of the debate are Ondo boys. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Ondo is one of the largest producers of the product. It cannot be that we are so high on our product that we are only seeing things through the eyes of Ọ̀ṣẹ́ùnbẹ̀lẹ̀! It is time for our federalism to lend itself to a fuller expression which might lead to Ondo getting high in peace, as some erroneously assume is the objective here, as long as the smoke does not get into the eyes of other parts of the federation.
It took Dr Tai Solarin, a teetotaller, standing up to the absurdity of the colonial law which made the production/consumption of the local gin, Ogogoro illicit, while imported gin sold freely, with its consumption deemed legal. It was simply economics – crippling local entrepreneurship for the benefit of foreign enterprise, but it took us ages to see it. Perhaps an Arákùnrin, fully aware of the legal landmines, leading the exploration of the forest of Sọgbódòwò, irrespective of the darts coming his way, offers us an opportunity to further stretch or redefine our federalism so we can get high on ideas that have remained unmined, over the years.
Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publisher of Africa Enterprise. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi