Legalise marijuana for health, economic benefits

Thursday, December 10th, 2020 00:00 |

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Mong’are Okong’o  

The mention of Cannabis Sativa, known as bhang and marijuana, elicits condemnation, guilt, and even anxiety.

It is a paradoxical, if not a hypocritical reaction and attitude to the crop whose consumption, demand, and supply is ever on an exponential rise.

However, this is understandable for the widely accepted and consumed herb, which was, for instance, in Kenya outlawed by the British colonialists close to 70 years ago.

Why its cultivation and consumption was banned has never been critically debated and appreciated.

The colonial wisdom- or lack of it- that criminalised bhang was unilateral and never appreciated that it had been consumed for centuries without known dire effects.

This criminalisation did not deter its consumption, but drove it underground where it has continued to thrive with traffickers, dealers, and cartels making billions from its trade across the world.

And nowhere is this more pervasive and destructive than in Latin America where drug lords, who have diversified and enhanced production to other forms, have targeted a ready US market.

The US government, realising the futility of using the gun and barrel to stop the lucrative trade, has changed tact and embraced the medical and recreational benefits of marijuana and reviewed its legal status.

Its decriminalisation in several US states has engineered a paradigm shift with investments flowing in tap its benefits—medical, recreational and economic.

Already 10 countries led by the US and Canada have reviewed the legal status of marijuana or legalised its use for all purposes with others allowing its medical use.

Closer home, for instance, Malawi has, to a large extent, legalised use. Others, including South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Uganda have taken bold baby steps to harness the new “green gold”, which according to Barclays Bank study has a global market estimated at $150b and tipped to hit $270b by 2028.

This is the progressive approach Kenya needs to take before it is overwhelmed by global wave to review the legal status of cannabis Sativa to especially harness its medical benefits with the growing cancer burden in the country. 

The government should take advantage of the private members’ bill, I championed in my time as Nyamira senator.

I was condemned by many without letting the health debate run its course. Then though, I tried to get the reasoning of the naysayers, which, I believe, was largely informed by the colonial myths and negative narratives, I did a tactical retreat.

However, the issue cannot be tossed under the carpet. It has again resurfaced in the House, and hopefully, legislators and country’s leaders need to accept its reality now that there is a feverish push to reboot the country’s socio-economic and political software through the Building Bridges Initiative.

It is ill-informed and unfortunate to continue behaving like the proverbial ostrich and keep burying our heads in the sand.

We must as a society, embrace the benefits of decriminalising bhang and treat it as one of our God-bestowed natural resources and tap for it.

We must as a matter of urgency, legalise it to contribute to economic growth as it will contribute to the diversification of the economy and boost the country’s exports, especially at this time when the fortunes of tea, coffee, tourism, and other sectors have been damped by the global economic dynamics and the vile coronavirus pandemic.

I am ready to join hands with other progressive voices to lobby for the establishment of a cannabis regulatory authority to kick-start the journey to harnessing its  benefits. — The writer is a director, Carewell Society and former Nyamira Senator

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