Despite a subtle but unrelenting campaign by interest groups and civil society organisations for cannabis to be legalised in Ghana, the Mental Health Authority says the banned substance poses health hazards.
Chief Executive of the Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei, says cannabis — also called Marijuana, weed, wee and host of other names — especially poses severe threat to the mental health of people who use it.
Dr Osei was speaking to Joy News’ Latif Iddrisu on Sunday as the world marked Day Against Drug Abuse.
“If you take Marijuana in your teens when the brain is actively developing, you interfere with your ability to be motivated adequately, to judge adequately,” he said.
Dr Akwasi Osei
The Narcotics Drug Law prohibits any person from cultivating, using, importing or exporting any narcotic drug without a licence from the Health Ministry. Offenders are liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten years.
These provisions notwithstanding, weed cultivation in remote parts of the country remain a big business.
The market for the banned herbal plant still thrives and has become a major livelihood for many farmers. In some communities, cultivation of cannabis is big business.
Latif Iddrisu, who visited some locations in the country where wee farms are thriving reports that some regular farmers do mix-cropping of food crops with Marijuana.
Some users of the herb also justify the need for its legalisation with testimonies of cure for their asthmatic and other health conditions.
One cannabis user recounted his experience, “I never thought I would dare smoke. But I am an asthmatic patient. I have been an asthmatic patient from infancy. I started hearing that it [Marijuana] is good for asthma, epilepsy and other ailments,” he said.
“So I said, let me experiment it on myself, after all, I am already dying, then I will give my own judgement on what it does to me. So I decided to test it and surprisingly after smoking it the whole day I was excited,” the elated user said.
Some interest groups say addressing the use of Marijuana also called ‘wee’ through criminal justice institutions ultimately infringes on various fundamental rights of people who use drugs, including the rights to health, information, personal autonomy and self-determination.
The Rastafari Council of Ghana for some time, have led the campaign for the decriminalisation of cannabis in Ghana.
Meanwhile, the 2015 report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) on Ghana says 1 out of 18 people who use drugs have access to treatment. Some say this figure is worrying as prevention and treatment of drug abuse are parts of the main provisions of the international drug control conventions.
The Report also highlights cannabis use in Ghana as the highest and in Africa as a whole, while heroin comes second, with annual prevalence use remaining as high as 7.5 percent of the population 15-64 years. The figure is particularly high in West and Central Africa, recording 12.4 percent.
Some have interpreted these figures to mean that laws and punishment against cannabis use are not working, hence the need to adopt approaches that are evidence-based, more humane, and have been proven to work over the years.
As the campaign to decriminalise Marijuana in Ghana continues, it remains to be seen where Ghana will be when the world marks another Day Against Drug Abuse in 2017.