4/20: The Marijuana Landscape in Nigeria

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Today, on Twitter, 4:20 is trending and yes, even in Nigeria. For those not familiar with the term 4:20, it’s slang used by marijuana smokers to refer to marijuana-related activities, and also to smoking at 4:20. It also refers to the annual April 20th (4/20) celebration of all things cannabis, which happens to be today. The catch is marijuana is illegal in Nigeria. Therefore, all such activities take place underground, away from the eyes of the law. However, can Nigerians hope for a future in which 4/20 can be celebrated openly?

Over the course of many years, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has put up a fight against the production, distribution, and use of cannabis in the country. The consequences for being caught with marijuana range from 12 years imprisonment to a life sentence. Despite their efforts, Nigeria remains in the top ten cannabis consumption hotspots in the world today.

The current laws around marijuana in Nigeria came about as a result of abuse by individuals, psychiatric patient and military personnel, who used it to embolden themselves. As a result, the consumption of marijuana became a great societal evil, of which the average Nigerian parent is a crusader. Anyone who grew up here must have been warned by their parents or an adult, to not indulge in smoking “ganja/igbo.” They probably laced their warnings with stories of people going mad from cannabis consumption, which probably frightened you more than the thought of going to prison.

However, it seems that marijuana might be getting another chance from the Nigerian government. It began with the current governor of Ondo State, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who proposed in 2019, that medical marijuana should be legalized in Ondo State. He pleaded with President Buhari, early in 2020, that marijuana is made legal in the country. Governor Akeredolu came with his receipts back then and urged the country to invest in the multi-billion dollar business of marijuana.

Perhaps, he was able to weaken governmental resolve against cannabis because a bill was presented before the House of Representatives in January 2020, to legalize marijuana for medical practices and research. The bill, presented by House of Representatives Member, Princess Miriam Onuoha, passed second reading in October 2020. Although, not much has been said or done after that, hope remains.

Besides legalizing marijuana, a sociocultural reeducation has to take place if it is ever to be accepted by conservative Nigerians. We can’t deny the hold of morality on the decision-making of both state actors and non-state actors. The illegality and defamation of marijuana have been mostly rooted in colonialism and racism. It is, therefore, necessary to correct the idea that access to marijuana equals being of criminal character. This reeducation can be achieved by putting emphasis on the health and economic benefits of marijuana.

Who knows, maybe in the near future, cannabis production and use may be legalized in Nigeria, and 4:20 can be celebrated without qualms. Till then, marijuana is illegal in Nigeria.

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