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Reps step down cannabis cultivation licensing bill

Reps step down cannabis cultivation licensing bill

The House of Representatives on Thursday stepped down a bill to grant and revoke licenses for the cultivation of cannabis, popularly known as marijuana, for future consideration.

The bill intends to amend section 3(1) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, 2004 to confer additional responsibility of the power to grant and revoke licence(s) for the cultivation of cannabis plant (or any of its three species namely Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis) for medicinal purposes.

The steeping down was sequel to the objections during the debate on the general principles of the bill sponsored by Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia), Olumide Osoba (APC, Ogun) and Miriam Onuoha (APC, Imo) at plenary on Thursday.

The bill as sponsored by Kalu and Osoba was slated for second reading on Wednesday but it was deferred to Thursday after Onuoha raised a point of order that she had sponsored a similar bill and it should also be consolidated and recognised with the new one.

In a lead debate on the consolidated bill, Kalu said there were plethora of medicinal benefits attributed to cannabis as it is primarily, used for pain control, chronic pain; the kind of pain for which opioids are prescribed.

He said cannabis is believed to be a tremendous muscle relaxant and with the ability to lessen the tremors from Parkinson’s disease and can be used to manage nausea and weight loss, as well as treat glaucoma.

The lawmaker said: “There are progressive efforts towards decriminalising and legalising its cultivation and use for medicinal purposes. It is legalised in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus for use in management of cancer patients.

“In Czech Republic, Denmark and Estonia, it is used with a special permit) and in Finland it is used under license. Furthermore it is used with prescription in Georgia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Netherlands and Norway.

“As reported in Guardian Newspapers of May 20, 2021, public health specialist, consultant clinical pharmacist and Chairman, Association of Hospital and Administrative Pharmacists of Nigeria (AHAPN), Dr. Kingsley Chiedu Amibor, said: ‘Cannabis has over 500 active ingredients known as cannabinoids. One of the ingredients, Cannabidiol (CBD), is very useful in reducing pain and inflammation.

“Cannabis is very effective for chronic pain, which is a leading cause of disability. Cannabis has the advantage of having almost no side effects as compared with the side effects of liver damage from prolonged paracetamol use, respiratory problems, stomach ulcers arising from use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and several others.”

The lawmaker said most of the proponents of the legalisation of its use for medical purposes have stated that its criminalisation has not stopped its increasingly widespread use.

“That instead has helped deny people of its (cannabi) ‘wonder working powers’, as a drug, especially in treating chronic pain.
Given its prevalence and relative overt use and sale, it is clear that the enforcement of the laws need to be taken seriously.

“It is therefore needful to provide more powers to the NDLEA to intensify efforts at enforcement while regulating cultivation for purely medicinal purposes,” he said.

The House spokesperson said NDLEA is an existing agency of the government and the implementation of the bill, if passed into law, will not bring additional cost to the Government.

He said:”More so, the benefit expected from the implementation of this bill, if passed, is enormous. Mr. Speaker, Honourable Colleagues, while thanking you for listening, I appeal that you graciously support the speedy passage of this very important bill.”

Nkem Abonta (PDP, Abia) supported the bill but called for balance in its passage as the motive of the sponsors is harmful to society, especially if not effectively regulated and then abused.

Abonta called for a rigorous debate at a public hearing where the relevant experts can shed more light of knowledge on the matter.

Opposing that the bill should not be read for the second time, Ahmed Idris-Wase, deputy speaker of the House, said there was already a prevalence of drug abuse, especially amongst the youths in the country and legalising the cultivation of marijuana would worsen the situation.

He said: “One of the duties of Federal Government is protection of lives and good health of the citizens, putting them in a sound mind matters a lot. The frustration the youths are going through leads them to a lot of things that normally should have been controlled. And one of the causes is drug abuse.

“We should be guided, and not try to legalize this just because we are seeking cure to certain diseases. Nigeria is not ready yet legalize cannabis, no matter the benefit we should be careful.

“In FCT, Wuse axis behind SARS division, some of the youths going there is to buy drugs. Today drugs abuse is on a rise and legalising this will compound the situation by Nigerians.”

But Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House asked his deputy if the fact that drugs is being abused is the very reason why it should be regulated and licenses issued like in arms proliferation and alcohol.

“Don’t you think that the fact that drugs are being abused is the very reason why it should be regulated and licenses issued. It’s like arms proliferation, we give licences so that it’s not abuse, same goes for alcohol. It’s either you ban or regulate,” Gbajabimila said.

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Again, Wase insisted that if cannabis is legalise in the country, Nigeria will be turned to a drug baron country like Columbia.

He said: “Alcohol and arms are already regulated. But till today that’s why there’s a prolonged fight of insecurity in Nigeria and we have not been able to solve it.

“Those that have these licences still sell to these people. If cannabis is legalise Nigeria will be turned to a drug baron country. Nigeria shouldn’t be turned to Columbia. It will compound our issues.”

Also opposing the bill, Tahir Monguno, the House chief whip said the bill should not be read for second time as it appears vague and ambiguous and can be highly manipulated by abusers of cannabis.

“From one angle, this bill is seeking to decriminalise the use of cannabis, and regulate the use of cannabis for medical purposes and also issuance of licensing.

“This bill is contradictory and which aspect are we passing? It shouldn’t go for second reading until the fundamental issues are sorted out,”
Monguno said.

On her part, Onuoha who is also a co-sponsor of the bill said world health medicine has achieved a lot in the use of cannabis but she understands the mood and concerns of the House to forestall the abuse of cannabis and moved that it should be stepped down.

Kalu while exercising his right of reply as a lead sponsor of the bill said the consolidation of the different the pieces of legislation has distorted the intention of his original bill.

He called for the stepping down of the bill for further consultations and it was done by leave of the House.