Anger as marijuana legalization march in Ghana blocked by police

rastaWhile there is a growing acceptance for the use of marijuana, a march to raise awareness on the need to decriminalize the substance in Ghana has been blocked by authorities.

The march, which is being organized by the group, the Rastafarian Council of Ghana, was slated for May 8, but the police on Monday pushed for an injunction to halt it.

“The reason for the march was to create awareness for the public to know that cannabis is a natural plant so incarcerating its users is human right abuse.

“The plant has a lot of uses both industrial and medicinal. It’s backward to put its users in our already congested prisons because they are not criminals,” Dennis Afram, a leading member of the group told Said in an interview.

Members of the group are planning to take the fight against the injunction to the country’s High Court on Tuesday.

“The police is pushing for a perpetual injunction on the march because the plant is illegal but the court said it’s our right but you should provide all our official documents concerning the legality of our group. We’ve been given 10 days to do so,” said Afram.

The group had earlier been forced to postpone the intended march in April following a notice from the police that they can’t provide the needed security due to the Easter celebrations.

African governments have, over the years, been considering ways to regulate the use of marijuana due to its medicinal and economic benefits.

While some scientists maintain that marijuana has immense medicinal benefits, critics say it contains harmful chemicals that are 20 per cent more likely to cause cancer to the user than tobacco.

Some even argue that marijuana contains ingredients that can potentially affect the formation of sperm cells and eventually deform them, thus causing temporary sterility.

Yet, some African countries are beginning to tap into the profitable industry following the global rise in the use of cannabis- roughly 16 per cent in the decade ending 2016, according to the recent United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) drug report.

Following the extent of legalization observed in Europe and the Americas, in May 2018, Zimbabwe legalized growing marijuana for medicinal and research purposes, becoming the second country after Lesotho to do so. Lesotho had, in 2017, become the continent’s first country to offer legal licenses to grow marijuana.

Marijuana users across South Africa were also full of smiles in September 2018, after a constitutional court ruled that private use of marijuana, locally referred to as dagga, is not a criminal offence.

However, in Ghana, anything having to do with cannabis in all of its forms is illegal without authorization. Ghana’s narcotic laws – Narcotic Drugs (Control, Enforcement and Sanction) Act, 1990, PNDC Law 236, criminalizes narcotic drugs such as cannabis and recommends an imprisonment term of not less than 10 years if found guilty.

A 2015 United Nations Report stated that Ghana was number three in the global ranking of consumers of marijuana, remaining number one in Africa.

The current state of the legality of marijuana in Ghana is strictly its application – the use marijuana for pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, Michael Sumaila Nlasia, a Research Analyst at the Centre for Data Processing and Geo-Spatial Analysis said.

The debate as to whether to legalise and decriminalize cannabis (marijuana) is still ongoing in Ghana. Some interest and civil society groups, including prominent people such as the late UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, had earlier urged the government to take a second look at the law criminalising marijuana due to its economic benefits.

The Rastafarian Council of Ghana, last month, served notice that it will head to the country’s Supreme Court to seek an interpretation of the law that bans the use of marijuana, as part of moves to pressurize parliament to decriminalise the herb.

However, critics, including the country’s Mental Health Authority, said that the banned substance remains a health hazard.

Others say Ghana lacks the capacity and the necessary resources to deal with the implications of legalizing cannabis.

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