THE PROBLEM (AND PROSPECTS) WITH SOWORE’S WEED EXPORT INITIATIVE

September 9, 2018by Tope Fasua0

I like engaging with tough issues. Perhaps that is what got me to this point. Leading a country (or even trying to do so) cannot be an easy affair. And so, the other day when my co-aspirant Omoyele Sowore made a statement about cannabis and was lampooned by a broad swathe of his critiques for it, I was of two minds. It may sound impolitic and insensitive for someone of Sowore’s makeup to broach such a topic – and he did acknowledge that fact while speaking – but as usual I wanted to be sure that commentators hadn’t taken an emotional view of things. Coming from a Sowore, people may start thinking that that is the psychotropic substance that gives him his constant high.

Yet, there are truths that can be extracted from Sowore’s statement. The search for these truths took me on a voyage to explore – on the internet – what was happening in the hazy world of cannabis, or marijuana. Even the legal market is still hazy. In the first place, and according to medicinet.com, the ‘herb’ as some of its users like to call it, is found medically useful for ailments like pains, nausea, muscle spasms, epilepsy, autism, sleep problems, multiple sclerosis and so on. On this point we need to deal with our mindset of being slow to explore innovations or even buy the results of other peoples’ sound research. There may be a need to start looking at that crop more from a scientific angle than from a mere narcotic angle.

From the economic point of view, a 2017 article on leafly.com makes a claim that the market for illegal cannabis could be as high as $200billion, with the legal market nudging around $100billion. As at 2017, Canada and The Netherlands dominated the export market, with China and Israel warming up. Australia, Chile, Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Finland and Italy were major importers. Another report by the Independent newspapers put the UK right on top of the pile of producers of legal marijuana as at March 2018. Is there some new market going on that we are unaware of? Perhaps we are meant to be crunching the numbers with a view to getting in on the action as Sowore has suggested.

Very importantly, it should be noted that true to type, the use of medical marijuana has been innovated by the white man. People don’t just chew on the leaves or smoke the dried stuff to get better. There is a case of a 6-years old epileptic child in the UK whose condition was greatly improved from about 3,000 seizures in one year, to 24 as a result of a medical marijuana treatment he took in The Netherlands. Of course what he took was oil synthesized from the plant (and perhaps enhanced or treated with other useful medicines. So when we talk of medical marijuana, people are talking of tablets, capsules, oils for even chewables like cod liver oil. Nigeria needs not bring up the rear in all matters of innovation. We shouldn’t also allow age-long beliefs hold us in the dark, distant past. Apart from medical use though, there are countries where it is becoming perfectly legal to use the raw stuff. Good luck to them.

There is also a need to deal with some of our wasteful government policies. In a country where 90million are living in abject – food – poverty, we have seen government seize imported chicken, rice, clothes and bury or burn them. The other day in Port Harcourt, people waited for the gang from Customs and Excise to thin out before invading the dumpsite to exhume the buried chicken. Free-food-for-all that day (poisonous or healthy). As for ‘weed’, the customs simply burnt them in large caches. No wonder all of us in Nigeria sometimes behave as if we are high on the stuff. It must be permanently in the air LOL!

I do have a couple of problems with the idea though.

First of all, I am not too sure if the best cannabis is found in Ekiti State as claimed by the gentleman. I am not even sure how people know the ‘best’ in such matters. What seems clear, from the reports of NDLEA is that states like Delta and Ondo (where I and Sowore are from) are the largest growers of the crop. I read a series in The Punch last year, where an extensive report was done on the tendency of youths in Ondo State to abandon cocoa farms for Indian hemp cultivation. We learnt that swathes of our large forest reserves have been commandeered by starry-eyed youths driven by the quest for money and the need to get as high as Cocoa-House in Ibadan. Why? Cocoa takes at least 4 years to show results, and the price of cocoa suffers from global fluctuations. Indian hemp instead takes 4 months. All you need is the leaves, and there seems a steady queue of off-takers. The market is effervescent… endless and liquid.

The implications of this is that our youths are ready to abandon food crop farming, while they embrace what gives them raw and quick cash. It is just an escalation of the dog-eat-dog society we live in.

Another reason is that mainstreaming the export of this crop in a country like ours, may lead to a mad rush for its cultivation. Many of our people are always looking to take advantage. A mad rush for cultivation will certainly mean that we have more addicts who have mismanaged their use of this plant only as a psychoactive agent – a downer (I believe) which is designed to calm people down. Recall the Opium Wars of China, when on three occasions, the British insisted on pushing that drug into the country but the Chinese fought back because too many of their people were permanently high! God forbid that that happens here if we casualize, democratize and even raise to a high pedestal the cultivation, usage and sale of cannabis as a top earner and a platform for economic diversification! In other words, we should be keenly studying that market but must be extremely sure we can totally control and indeed lock down the entire value chain. Nigeria hasn’t been good at regulating anything in the past though. So there you have it. It is a time bomb.

Also, just like our crude oil, or other solid minerals, why isn’t Sowore, or any leader who hopes to mainstream the exportation of this product, not thinking of how we can extend the value chain towards producing the medicine ourselves? Would it not be a tragedy if we again export the raw commodity while we import the product of knowledge that is its end results? This is how foreigners took many substrates from Dogonyaro trees, kola nuts, bitter kola and other indigenous crops here, and reexported it to us as expensive medicine. For those who don’t know, Coca Cola (Coke) is so called because at least in the beginning when it was a ‘head medicine’, the two major components were Kola Nuts (known as a mild laxative – makes you go to toilet – found in Africa) and Coca leaves (got from South America and from which Cocaine is distilled). Today, Coca Cola may have found chemical alternatives that mirror Kola Nuts, but they have become a trillion-dollar company – reaching to the furthest ends of the world.

As for me, what matters most here is the likelihood that Nigerians will abandon everything else for the dollars associated with the product, and no one will plant food that Nigerians will eat anymore. It is bad enough that a vast swathe of African land is being used for tobacco, tea, coffee, flowers – especially in East Africa. These are mostly products we don’t use, admire, eat or even understand in some instances. I was in Uganda in 2013 when this debate came up – the people are hungry but the land is used to plant what they don’t eat but at best export. Till date, that problem has not been solved over there.

I’m just not sure we can handle that play with Cannabis. Not for now.

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