An article written by the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Authority, and published by the Daily Graphic in its Tuesday, June 28, 2016 edition. The article was on why hard drugs such as cannabis should not be legalized by the nation.
By Dr. Akwasi Osei | Daily Graphic | Tuesday, June 28, 2016.
The arguments for and against the legalization of cannabis in Ghana has been raging on for some time now. We as an Authority see for see interesting times ahead as discerning individuals, statesmen and the intelligentsia of our society pitch camps on which side of the divide will be of most benefit to our nation.
Sunday 26th June was World Day Against Drug Trafficking and Illicit Drug Use. Ghana, led by Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), commemorated it. Some people are, however, campaigning for legalization of cannabis. Mr. Kofi Annan raised the call a few months ago and the Rastafarian Council of Ghana has supported the call.
Arguments for legalization
The proponents of legalization argue on seven premises: that as a society we have lost the drug war so let us liberalize it; that there are economic benefits to be derived; that there is no proven harm in its use; that there are some medical benefits; that when one is dependent on it he uses it compulsorily so do not jail him but rehabilitate him; that those countries which have legalized it are not experiencing any adverse effects and legalization will reduce its use so regulate it rather than criminalize it; that alcohol which is legal is more dangerous than cannabis so why criminalize cannabis?
Let us analyze the claims: That since we have lost the war, let us legalize it. The truth is, we have not waged the war sufficiently so we cannot claim that we have lost it. NACOB, the statutory body responsible for the drug war, has not been resourced enough. They do not have enough personnel in all the districts; not enough vehicles, no scanners to detect drugs at the ports of entry or exit, no sniffer dogs to sniff drugs; budget has always been very scanty; our narcotics law is not stringent enough and easily allows culprits to sneak through. We have been concentrating too much on law enforcement without adequate attention to rehabilitation or public education for prevention. In US, for every one dollar one spends on drug war, one gets eight dollars back. So we here have not fought it enough.
No harm associated with cannabis use?
That is false. Cannabis causes mental and behavioral disorders amply documented in the literature. Both DSM and ICD (diagnostic manuals) have it. Every nursing or medical student knows it. The effect ranges from psychosis to amotivational syndrome in which the chronic user feels demotivated to pursue schooling or any ambition. Thus even if one does not get frank madness, he may drop out of school or quit his job leading to streetism. 30 percent of our outpatient cases at the psychiatric hospitals are cannabis related while 10 percent of inpatients is from cannabis. School teachers know how adversely it is affecting students.
Other users develop aggressive and violent behaviors and come into brush with the law, engage in reckless behaviors including motor crashes, armed robbery and unnecessary fights leading to jail.
Some users will progress to other hard drugs like cocaine and heroin so cannabis then becomes a gateway drug. Physical health problems include lung cancers and chest infections. Family disruption is high amongst cannabis users. Cannabis can reduce fertility and increase incidence of miscarriage and fetal cannabis syndrome, much like fetal alcohol or tobacco syndrome.
The countries which have legalized cannabis are beginning to experience high rates of behavior disorders from cannabis and earlier onset of schizophrenia and other psychosis.
Economic and medical benefits?
Proponents of legalization have argued that Ghana can massively grow cannabis for export, that this would provide job for growers and distributors. The truth is that there would be spill-over unto the Ghanaian market; one cannot control its use and adverse effects. The dangers of cannabis use far outweigh any potential benefits.
Yes, there could be some economic benefits. The fiber of cannabis plant can be processed into textiles for clothing. Medical benefits include producing medicines from cannabis for glaucoma and to boost appetite in terminal cancers and HIV/AIDS. A component of cannabis called Cannabidiol is known to be medically beneficial. In all these it is extracts that are used not the raw open market cannabis. We have no qualms with medical uses of processed cannabis or even medically allowed use of cannabis. The law already provides for that [Narcotics Drugs Law, 1990 (PNDCL 236, S.(4) and (5)] but that neither justifies, nor is it the same as, cannabis liberalization or decriminalization.
Alcohol is more dangerous but legal
In some sense alcohol is more dangerous damaging practically every part of the mind and body, so why worry about cannabis? The truth is that alcohol was legalized when its dangers were not so much known. Now we know for cannabis and other drugs so why legalize them only to regret later?
Call to decriminalize addiction
There is the argument that many people who abuse cannabis are compulsory users because they are addicted and therefore should be rehabilitated rather than jailed. That argument is valid. Many of such people in jail need not be there. Once somebody is addicted he is a slave to the drug. Such a person has a disease and not criminal intent. That, however, is not to say that cannabis should be liberalized or legalized. One can smoke even when he is not addicted. When somebody is found with personal quantities of cannabis he should be sent for medical or psychiatric assessment. If found to be addicted he should be sent for mandatory treatment and rehabilitation. If found not to be addicted then the law should take its course.
Let us redirect our argument and ask government to resource NACOB if we are to win the drug war. Government should reconstitute the governing Board of NACOB; parliament should pass the narcotic law before it, raise NACOB to an independent Commission and confiscate all properties of convicted traffickers irrespective of how one acquired it. NACOB should be provided with adequate budget, its own scanners and adequate numbers of sniffer dogs. It should be able to conduct aerial surveys. We need to implement alternative cropping for cannabis growers and establish more rehab centers. Then we shall win the war. Addicts should be sent for mandatory treatment but do not legalize cannabis.