Every day our “illustrious” Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) pounces on villagers growing dagga, hauls them to court and some are sentenced to lengthy prison terms for the offence.
Go to any prison in Zambia and you will find convicts serving time for offences related to dagga and yet if you go further in the community dagga is used for recreation.
Its use is firmly imbedded in the culture of the communities.
Our own Green Party president Peter Sinkamba has been treated with disdain for his insistence that dagga can benefit the country. Few people want to discuss the matter let alone countenance the possibility of legalization it.
As if responding to Sinkamba the DEC has mounted a more vigorous campaign around the country and in some cases ranking members of the community including chiefs have been prosecuted for the offence. This is intended to send a message that Government will not tolerate the drug.
Most “prohibition” advocates including the DEC cite danger to health as the main ground for justifying the criminalization of the growing and use of dagga.
In contrast in Colorado, United States, marijuana was legalized in 2012. Instead of buying from the black-market marijuana or dagga users are now able to buy legally and pay taxes.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of San Francisco’s Pro Legalisation Drug Policy Alliance, says the benefits of legalisation exceed the disadvantages. “The government is earning a fortune in tax revenue; in years to come it’ll amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. The funds from marijuana taxation are building schools and funding police departments. There’s not much harm, but a lot of good and less crime,” said Nadelmann.
The danger to health has never been fully substantiated. Our own Dr. Allan Haworth from Chainama Hospital was at pains demonstrating that tobacco and alcohol were more harmful than dagga.
Indeed the DEC in particular and Government in general say nothing about tobacco which is sold legally and yet the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that nicotine, which tobacco contains, is one of the most addictive drugs and is the cause of most preventable deaths.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention describes tobacco as “the single most important preventable risk to human health and the most important cause of premature death worldwide”.
Alcohol, which is an even more dangerous culprit and known danger to humanity, is sold openly and yet it has been proved that “the majority of all fatal accidents are caused by drunken drivers, while the bulk of pedestrians and people who die in motor vehicle accidents were under the influence of alcohol’’.
A South African multi-centre study demonstrated that 78.9% of all patients at trauma units with violent injuries tested positive for alcohol. Of all homicides, more than 50% were alcohol-related.
Zambia can indeed learn from Israel where the Health Ministry runs the medical marijuana industry with more than 15,000 patients who use the medical variant
In South Africa a Medical Innovation Bill, that was intended to legalize for medical, economic and industrial purposes, was introduced in parliament, but sadly the MP who proposed the bill, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini from the Inkatha Freedom Party succumbed after he was diagnosed with stage four, inoperable lung cancer, for which he hoped to have access to medical cannabis to relieve symptoms.
Perhaps time has come for the Government to reconsider its stance on ganja.