Opinions Tue, 25 Sep 2018

Let’s stop the pretence; position Ghana to take advantage of the emerging cannabis market

It goes by several names depending on the demographics and geographical location of a person and is one of mother nature’s numerous gifts to the earth and mankind.

Cannabis popularly known as ‘wee” in our part of the world evokes strong emotions and reactions among various players in the national strata.

Globally, there is a growing acceptance for the use of cannabis which has not been so for decades thus raising important public health concerns relative to its accessibility and acceptance.

The United Nations office of drugs and crime (UNODC) in 2015 estimated that about 181.8 million people aged 15-64 years used cannabis for nonmedical purposes globally whiles highlighting it as the most commonly used psychoactive substance under international control and the ever-increasing demand for treatment for cannabis – use disorders and associated health conditions in both high and middle-income countries.

As a nation, evaluating the potential medical utility of cannabis and its constituent compounds of cannabinoid’s within key areas such as pharmacology, toxicology and therapeutic applications is worth embracing since gradually the momentum is gathering worldwide for the need to have a broader and comprehensive discussion devoid of all biases and prejudices on the subject matter of cannabis usage be it for recreational or medical purposes.

For decades a deep chasm resulting from the use of cannabis by individuals or groups hinged or unhinged on scientific study and religion/cultural beliefs as made issues of intellectual discourse relative to cannabis a societal and national sacrilege.

Rapid advancements in areas of science and technology have negated some of our worst fears on the use of cannabis. Although in Ghana; there is not enough research or literature of the illegal sale and use of cannabis; a glance at other countries/states who have boldly confronted this sensitive topic as shown in a 2018 report by euro monitor international estimate the U.S market for legal marijuana sales will total $10.2 billion this year.

A second report worth quoting is BDS analytics and Arcviews market research; both of which are cannabis industry research groups; projected in a study that illegal sales of cannabis in the U.S will top $53 billion this year (2018). In the face of empirical research and the quantum of money exchanging hands both legally and illegally, it just right that more states in the US are now legalizing the cannabis market to rake in additional revenue for various socio-economic projects. When giant firms in the world of business begin pumping billions of dollars to grab a piece of the cannabis pie, we as a third world nation with such plants growing carelessly around must wake up from our pretensions and start mapping out strategies to make some money from it.

Two key examples come to mind readily; beer brewing giant Constellations Brands Inc. known for its popular Corona beer recently took a $4 billion stake in Canadian marijuana grower Canopy Growth Corp, which makes cannabis-infused drinks and other products according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) of 23 August 2018.

Also, Coca-Cola Company is in talks with another Canadian firm; Aurora cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages with the aim of not intoxicating consumers but to relieve pain. “Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth on non-psychoactive cannabis dual as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” Coca-Cola said in a statement. These are just two examples of the sudden surge to jump into the cannabis bandwagon and by the way lest I forget the South African Supreme Court just recently legalized marijuana joining other countries/states which have already done so.

Now to the question of regulation, supervision and enforcement to which critics or non-advocates will point to. Yes we cannot expect not to have challenges with the three variables of regulation, supervision and enforcement but like the U.S state of California has shown; you can try.

Lawmakers in the state of California design and enacted a legal regime in which the state legalized distributors, the middle link in the supply chain, takes possession of the goods (cannabis) before selling them to retailers who will, in turn, sell it to consumers.

What such approach will do is that it will bring actors in the whole value chain in the cultivation and production of cannabis i.e. growers, distributors and sellers of the drug out of the shadows under one big umbrella for effective regulation and supervision with its domino effect on our revenue base. In essence, such an approach can be likened to the beer industry/distributor.

As we push on as a nation, there will come a time where some hard decisions and discussions will have to be made and one of such is cannabis legalisation and regulation, due to its wider impact on our socio-economic movement/advancement.

Columnist: Benjamin Ansah Acquaye