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Debate on Legalization of “Abonsam Tawa!” Rages!


Legalize it, don’t criticize it, 

Legalize it, and I will advertise it

Some call it tampi, some call it the weed, some call it marijuana, some o’ them call it ganja

Never mind, legalize it

Good for the flu, good for asthma, good for bronchitis, good for glaucoma, and thrombosis

— Peter Tosh

When it comes to the debate on the legalization of marijuana, three perspectives come to mind; those like NACOB boss Akrasi Sarpong who argue that continuously outlawing the addiction in the face of increasing usage amounts to playing the ostrich, those like Peter Tosh who ascribe to the holy herb, all manner of magical healing powers, and those like me whose first- hand experience with users has been nothing short of disastrous.

The Akrasi Sarpong perspective essentially amounts to questioning the rationale for a pretentious raging war against an apparently winning ganja team? People are growing the holy herb in their homes, more people are using it – pupils, students mixing it with shito, undergraduates and post graduates alike are finding inspiration therein and government could actually make money from this, he argues. Personally of course, he is against legalization, he is quick to add!

Perhaps Mr. Sarpong is right about marijuana’s mass grassroots appeal, epitomized in its many psychedelic names and the variety of reasons for its rabid consumption. I-Jah- Man, Rasta Joseph Hill simply loved “a spliff of the international herb” because “it make I feel so groovy and gives me inspiration in music!” Rita Marley’s principal reason for smoking ganja in the early days was the way it made her feel –cooled out and meditative!

Apart from a roll call of various professionals – doctors, lawyers, politicians etc. – that are supposed to be avid “wee sheleloi”, the medical properties of the holy herb appear to be one of the most cited reasons for its legalization apart from our other compatriots “who see God when they smoke it!” Musician, Peter Tosh proudly credits the weed for ameliorating glaucoma, asthma, bronchitis and thrombosis inter alia. To get the professional medical perspective, I went to Dr. Akwasi Osei, Ghana’s Chief Psychiatrist, about 10% of whose inmates and 30% of whose outpatient cases are drug related. He was ruthless and attacked the pro-“abonsam tawa”-legalization position without respite.

Marijuana is used to produce marinol to treat some types of glaucoma and used as an appetite stimulant in terminal cases like cancer. In both instances however, it is the processed form and never its raw abused form that is used.

“Opium is used to produce pet hiding, coca for procaine penicillin. Do we therefore say we should legalize heroin and cocaine? Anti-snake serum is from snake venom. Do we therefore legalize snake bite? Spurious arguments!” concluded Dr. Akwasi Osei. With some advancing the position that legalized alcohol poses more health dangers than cannabis (another name for ganja), cocaine and heroin, the Chief Psychiatrist was quick to counter that had the world known the dangers of alcohol earlier, legalization would have been a non-starter. As a matter of fact, cocaine was reportedly an advertised ingredient in coca cola until the 1900s when its dangers were established and made illegal.

What do studies show in places that have legalized marijuana? In Dr. Osei’s words, “There is no doubt that cannabis causes mental, behavioral, social and other medical problems. Even in the US, studies lately coming out indicate that in the States where cannabis has been legalized, they are recording more cannabis related behavior problems than States not legalizing it.”

Ghana’s Chief Psychiatrist is advocating better ways of handling the addiction including placing more emphasis on demand reduction, treating those already addicted, rather than sending them to jail. Such treatment, he points out, includes sending them for forced treatment in treatment centers, more of which need to be created. “The developed world has lost the war on cannabis and under that circumstance the way out is to legalize and control it. We have not lost it yet and cannot legalize it. When they lost control over guns they legalized it. Should we legalize guns here? The suggestion for legalization, to me, is uncalled for?” he concluded.

This thus introduces the third perspective—personal experiences with a user. Now one must be careful when ‘confessing’ personal experiences in the use of the international herb, especially in Ghana’s sociopolitical context. The last Ghanaian politician who permitted a ganja-tag, certainly lived to rue it. Infact a senior journalist is quoted as saying this Ghanaian politician was so drenched in the practice he used to wake up with a halo of Jah powder floating round his head.

I discerned the sweet aroma of marijuana before I actually knew what it was –first in Secondary School and more recently, in the streets of Amsterdam. Back then, a particular sixth former would hijack the bathhouse and before long, dark whispers would start circulating that Ras was at it again. The son of a big man, he was bright and had great potential. One day, he was caught red handed as they say and promptly dismissed. Years later, Ras sauntered to the school one hot afternoon looking beaten, haggard and ragged – a very pale shadow of himself. He had no money for transport. He was hungry. He begged for food. There was great sadness that day. His life was gone and he was not yet 30!

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