Pubdate: Fri, 05 Oct 2012
Source: Zambia Daily Mail (Zambia)
Copyright: 2012 Zambia Daily Mail
Author: Samuel Silomba
Note: The author Samuel Silomba is the Drug Enforcement Commission 
public relations officer.


THE Drug Enforcement Commission wishes to respond to the article that 
appeared in the Zambia Daily Mail newspaper on 3rd September 2012 
entitled: 'Legalising marijuana; to smoke or not to smoke?' written 
by Professor Kenneth Mwenda, and to the letter written by Robert 
Sharpe addressed to the Editor of the same newspaper on 6th September 
2012 on the subject of marijuana.

It was sad to note that, to a large extent, Professor Mwenda's 
article was skewed towards inciting Rastafarians to push for the 
legalisation of cultivation, sale and use of cannabis in Zambia. For 
instance, the author questioned why Rastafarians in Zambia cannot 
bring a court order before the High Court against the law that 
prohibits the cultivation, smoking, selling or buying of cannabis.

Although the law on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances 
permits the cultivation and use of cannabis for the purposes of 
medicine and research, it is important to appreciate that 
cultivation, possession and trafficking in cannabis are criminal 
offences in Zambia. Therefore, those who wish to engage in the debate 
about legalising cannabis need to take into account the historical 
background to the criminalisation of cannabis use in Zambia.

The control and regulation of the use of dangerous drugs, including 
cannabis, in Zambia, is traced to the year 1923 when the colonial 
government enacted what was called 'Opium and habit Forming Drugs 
Regulation Proclamation No. 10 of 1923'. After independence, Zambia 
revisited the colonial drug laws and enacted the 'Dangerous Drugs Act 
No. 42 of 1967' which prescribed administrative and regulatory 
provisions in the area of drug use and drug handling. It further 
created restrictions, prohibitions and specific penalties for 
possession of drugs without a licence or authorisation.

In 1989, the Zambian government enacted a piece of legislation called 
'Dangerous Drugs (Forfeiture of Property) Act No.7 of 1989, which led 
to the creation of the Drug Enforcement Commission through Statutory 
Instrument No. 87 of 1989. In 1993, in consultation with 
international and regional organisations, Zambia enacted the Narcotic 
Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act No. 37 of 1993 (Now Cap 96 of 
the Laws of Zambia under volume 7).

Cap 96 of the Laws of Zambia domesticated the United Nations (UN) 
Convention on the control and prohibition of cannabis. The UN single 
convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, Article 28 (control of 
cannabis) forbids member states from cultivating cannabis plants for 
industrial or horticultural purposes. Hence, legalising the 
cultivation of cannabis in Zambia would imply the undoing of the 
International Treaties to which Zambia is a signatory.

The above genesis to the criminalisation of marijuana in Zambia also 
puts to rest the argument advanced by Robert Sharpe in his letter to 
the Editor of Zambia Daily Mail that Zambia is being influenced by 
the Americ an government in the war against illicit drugs. Zambia has 
a history on illicit drugs which has and continues to determine the 
development of drug law in the country.

In addition, African countries have recognised the threat that 
cannabis cultivation, trafficking and abuse pose to the 
socio-economic development of the continent. At the 22nd Meeting of 
Heads of National Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA), Africa, it was 
highlighted that cannabis remained the most widely cultivated, 
trafficked and abused drug on the continent.

It was also revealed that cannabis cultivation was a threat to food 
security as some peasant farmers in rural communities were replacing 
the cultivation of staple crops such as rice, yam, maize and cassava 
with cannabis. The HONLEA meeting further revealed that cannabis 
abuse adversely affected the productivity and achievement of 
development in African communities and posed a direct and serious 
threat to the health of the citizens.

Professor Kenneth Mwenda endeavoured in his article to understate the 
negative effects of cannabis use by dwelling more on the perceived 
benefits of the drug. This perception needs to be corrected. Apart 
from causing the feelings of euphoria and relaxation, cannabis use 
leads to numerous negative effects which have been documented in a 
number of studies. These adverse effects of cannabis use affect the 
health, physiological and psychological aspects of an individual user.

Professor S.W. Acuda of University of Nairobi outlined some of the 
harmful consequences of cannabis such as psychosis characterised by 
restlessness, confusion, panic, paranoia and hallucinations. 
Professor Acuda further argued that cannabis use may lead to the 
development of 'amotivational syndrome' which is characterised by 
slowly progressive loss of energy and drive resulting into memory 
impairment, poverty of ideas and deterioration in personal hygiene.

Other health consequences, as highlighted by Professor Acuda, 
include; lung diseases, chromosome abnormality, carcinogenic effects, 
suppression of immune systems, occurrence of bronchitis, damage of 
the respiratory system and malfunctioning of male reproductive system.

Other scholars such as Professor Ogunremi of University of Ilorin, 
Nigeria, point out that cannabis use in females may lead to menstrual 
disorder by interfering with ovulation. Professor Ogunremi also 
argues that chronic cannabis use in females may lead to embryo 
toxicity resulting in small and abnormal babies. He adds that 
cannabis use may cause brain toxicity which can lead to dulled 
emotional expression and chronic psychosis.

The question is: Can one consider the above effects of cannabis 
inconsequential as proposed by Robert Sharpe?

Currently cannabis and alcohol abuse account for the highest number 
of clients that have been counselled and rehabilitated by the Drug 
Enforcement Commission. Legalising cannabis will not only lead to 
increase in the number of addicts, but it will also result in 
Government redirecting money, which could have been used for 
developmental projects, to the treatment and reintegration of addicts.

In his article, Professor Mwenda extends his argument by warning 
young people not to ask their parents whether they had ever smoked 
marijuana as it is considered rude and disrespectful in Zambian 
culture. By warning young people not to ask their parents whether 
they had ever smoked cannabis, Professor Mwenda is indirectly 
encouraging young people and the rest of the population to try to 
smoke marijuana by minimising the adverse effects of smoking 
cannabis. His argument seems to point to the fact that cannabis is 
harmless as it has also been smoked by all the parents.

It is also vital to state that the economic argument for legalising 
cannabis cultivation and use to generate tax income has been 
considered for a long time now as un-ethical and un-economical. The 
economic argument is based on poor fiscal logic as any reduction in 
the cost of drug control will be offset by much higher expenditure on 
public health.

The question raised by Professor Mwenda needs to be answered 
conclusively: Legalising Marijuana; to smoke or not to smoke? Current 
research does not support the idea that marijuana is harmless. Many 
studies indicate that marijuana usage leads to crime, violence, drug 
dependence and the use of other drugs. Cannabis is a gate-way to hard 
drugs such as cocaine and heroin. As outlined above, marijuana use 
can cause severe health problems. While many negative consequences of 
marijuana are clearly known, others are less obvious. Hence there is 
no doubt that marijuana use has numerous negative consequences.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom