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Opinions Mon, 26 Nov 2018

Legalize medical marijuana for health and economic gains

For decades, cannabis, popularly known as “wee” in Ghana has sparked debates of its use.

Its acceptance into the Ghanaian society has been met with stiff resistance. It’s a forbidden plant and must not be countenanced in any way by anyone living within the boundaries of Ghana.

Amidst the strong resistance to the use of marijuana in Ghana, its use is pervasive. It is consumed by various age groups for different purposes. A missing piece in the marijuana debate in Ghana is the separation of marijuana use for medical purpose from recreational.

Groups that oppose the use of marijuana have often lumped recreational marijuana use with medicinal marijuana. Globally, there is a growing acceptance for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes which has not been so for decades, thus igniting very important debate on why medicinal marijuana should be accepted in Ghana.

Broadly speaking, medicinal or medical marijuana is cannabis prescribed to relieve the symptoms of a medical condition. When people talk about medical marijuana, they’re referring to any part of a marijuana plant used to alleviate any health problem.

That is, people don’t use this to get high, but rather to ease their medical symptoms. The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine.

What are the health benefits of medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana is used to treat a number of different conditions.

Benefits are seen in immune function, neuroplasticity, emotional and mood regulation, vascular health and digestive function.The benefits of medical marijuana can be attributed to binding to the endocannabinoid system.

This has many effects including; modulating the immune system, promoting neuroplasticity, emotional and cognitive modulation including learning and motivation, appetite, vascular function, and digestive function.

One of the most well-established medical uses for cannabis is in increasing appetite for AIDS and cancer patients. The use of THC in medical marijuana has been shown to stimulate the appetite and reduce nausea and vomiting in these patients.

Beyond medical marijuana being able to stimulate appetite, it reduces pain, inflammation and improves problems in muscle control.

CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, has been effective in treating neuroprotection from conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, anti-psychotic effects for schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and anti-anxiety effects.

Economic gains of legal medical marijuana

The coming into force of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes will create an industry of legal cannabis. There would be companies specializing in the legal cultivation of marijuana, distribution and refinery of the plant for medicinal use.

Similar to any other industry, there will be economic activities adding up to the value chain in the process. This would create jobs in the economy and ease the unemployment burden on the government.

Although no scientific research has been conducted in Ghana on the revenue forecast to government from medical marijuana, the results from countries with legal medicinal marijuana are good references.

In 2015, Colorado state collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational marijuana. Should medicinal marijuana become legal in Ghana, the benefits to the economy could be exceptional.

Taxes will be raised from companies within the legal marijuana industry, labour in the industry will contribute to income tax revenue. Additionally, the government through instituting licensure in the industry will generate revenue from the license fees. These revenues will go a long way, to help solve the chronic deficit problem faced by the country.

Given the global rise in legalization of medicinal marijuana, Ghana can position herself to take advantage of the international market.

A UN survey shows that more than 10,000 tons of marijuana are produced on the African continent each year which could be worth billions of dollars in a rapidly expanding global market for legal marijuana.

Certainly, Ghana is losing out in this booming industry. The country can produce and export the plant to other countries where the plant is in high demand. This would rake in hard-earned foreign exchange for the country.

Marijuana prohibition is expensive. Currently, the state spends scarce resources to combat the use of marijuana. If medicinal marijuana is legalized, the state can effectively regulate the production and distribution of marijuana.

This is made possible from the fact that companies in the industry will be licensed and monitored; this will help reduce the pressure on resources needed to fight the illegal distribution of marijuana.

Illicit marijuana business is a wildly lucrative and untaxed business. Legalizing and regulating medical cannabis will take revenue away from criminal groups and transfer it to licensed and regulated businesses. This revenue that is regained from the “illegal market” will now be collected by the government to fund state expenditures.

The clock is ticking, and the wave towards the acceptance of legal medical marijuana is fast approaching. Just like the industrial revolution, the countries that mustered the courage to embrace this change saw tremendous improvements in their economies.

Ghana must and should not be late to join the list of countries that have legalized medical marijuana. The vociferous critics of the use of the marijuana plant should disentangle medicinal marijuana from recreational use.

If this is done, there will be a national convergence of the health and economic benefits of medicinal marijuana.

Columnist: Felix Ankrah
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