Culture and Lifestyle

Economic Diversification: Considering the Marijuana Option

The legalisation of industrial hemp and medical cannabis for economic and medical benefits is gradually coming close to reality in Nigeria. Recently, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu stated in a press conference in Akure, Ondo State that the House of Representatives is set to legalise the use of Indian hemp for economic benefits. This legalisation will start to take shape with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020, presented before the House of Representatives. It will become law if the Senate concurs and the President signs it into law.

Hon. Kalu noted at the press conference that there will be a stakeholders conference on 7 and 8 June 2021. The core of the discussion will be on the economic and medical benefits of the plant; the licensing and regulation of the production; as well as the distribution channels for the plant.

According to him, the meeting would require the attention of medical and pharmaceutical professionals, farmers, researchers, investors, as well as representatives of government agencies. He ended by saying that he expects that the exchanges that will ensue at the roundtable on the slated date will greatly optimise the deliberations of the National Assembly on the bill, as well as prepare the executive arm of the government on the best way to regulate the sector.

Before now, respected Nigerians like the former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu; Omoyele Sowore, as well as musicians such as Daddy Showkey, have pushed for the legalisation of cannabis.

While the society and the Nigerian government have over the years turned a blind eye to the medical and commercial benefits of the cannabis plant, other African countries like Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho are tapping fully into the economic benefits.

Recent studies reveal that the plant has been used over the last 3000 years to tackle a couple of ailments like chronic pains, symptoms of cancer, and various types of seizures.

While some countries like Uruguay have legalised cannabis fully, it is illegal in others. Positive and productive uses of the plant in the medical and industrial sector have, in recent years, given the plant a more legal outlook. This is particularly with the United Nations (UN) moving cannabis from the list of narcotic drugs and re-classifying it under medicinal products and therapeutics.

Industrial hemp is the non-psychoactive variety of the cannabis plant basically grown for its seeds and stalks. It is currently grown in over 40 countries in the world including the US, Canada, China, Chile, and North Korea.

Industrial hemp and marijuana are both different varieties of the cannabis plant. The major difference is their THC levels (psychoactive contents and their uses). While marijuana is grown for recreational, spiritual, and medical purposes, industrial hemp is cultivated for food and industrial applications. The seeds and flowers are very medicinal and nutritious, especially with the seed rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. The stalk of the hemp produces strong fibre that can be used for military-grade fabrics.

Even in the absence of industries to process the hemp plant, other countries in Africa have been able to achieve huge economic benefits from growing the plant. In April 2018, a Ugandan producer exported $160 million worth of cannabis to pharmaceutical companies in Canada and Germany. Countries are signing annual supply contracts with cannabis producers running into millions of dollars.

Simultaneously, the topic of diversification of the Nigerian economy has been a recurring one. The country is looking towards diversification in the area of agriculture. Legalising and licensing the growth of cannabis for economical benefits can really be a profitable step in the right direction, and could generate quality attention to the agricultural sector.

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The global cannabis cultivation market size was valued at USD 123.9 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.3% from 2020 to 2027. The increasing legalisation and the adoption of cannabis for the treatment of chronic diseases are the key factors driving the growth of the market.

The utilisation of industrial hemp, however, depends on the amount of research and investment put into the processing of the various parts of the plant (seeds, flowers, stalks). Hence, while measures are put in place to legalise the growing of the cannabis plant which has proven to be economically viable, the cooperative effort of researchers, medical professionals, farmers, and investors is expedient if the desired maximum impact and result must be achieved.

Without available industries for the processing of industrial hemp and marijuana for medicines, Nigeria can benefit economically from the export of the raw materials which have already been seen to flourish well in states like Ondo, Osun, Oyo, and Delta.

Like other African countries, Nigeria can supply the product to international pharmaceutical organisations. Recent findings show that the demand for cannabis and its further proceeds have not been met in countries such as Canada. This is an indication that the market is still very much open for Nigeria to exploit.

The economic benefits of growing cannabis in Nigeria are enormous as the size of the global cannabis market continues to grow. It will, however, have some negative social impacts considering the fact that Nigeria is already the 8th largest consumer of marijuana, despite its illegal status. Legalising the plant would make the drug more available and open to abuse.

In light of this, there will be the need for proper licensing and regulations of the production. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other security agencies would need to be more proactive in controlling illegal possession and use of the drug since the plant is not legal for recreational uses yet. On the brighter side, the job of drug law enforcement agencies would be made a little easier since only licensed organisations or farms would be allowed to produce the plant.