By Kwesi E. Baako
In this day and age when the so-called advanced countries are researching and freeing up the use of marijuana after reluctantly accepting its numerous benefits (mostly health) the Executive Secretary of Ghana’s Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Yaw Akrasi Sarpong has revealed a frame of mind and an ignorant stance that clearly disqualifies him from not only holding such a position but also for commenting publicly about anything to do with narcotics.
Mr Akrasi-Sarpong is purported to have said that Ghana no longer has a problem with hard drugs like cocaine and heroine but is having issues with marijuana. He is also said to have added that it was better to involve in cyber crime than to grow and trade in marijuana.
The NACOB boss reportedly made these bizarre comments during the 45th annual report launch of the International Narcotics Board (INCB) at the headquarters of the Narcotics Control Board in Accra last Tuesday .
First of all, a regulatory body like NACOB should be interested in research and not just in playing a punitive role like what Mr. Akrasi Sarpong and his predecessors have made it to be. In the so-called advanced countries; the same countries which forced the hands of African and other so-called Third World governments into signing the International Drug Convention agreements that criminalize such God-given plants as Cannabis and bundle them together with other lethal substances like cocaine and methamphetamine, there is research (hypocritical as it is) into these substances. There is also a certain gateway for their use if necessary. For example certain States in the US have had legal and medicinal marijuana for years and more states are waking up to the reality that marijuana is not the evil substance we have been brainwashed into thinking it is. More states are easing up the laws on Cannabis.
In a CNN documentary by in-house medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, marijuana was ‘discovered’ (the same way they discovered America) to have some very beneficial uses medicinally. In the documentary, a little girl who could hardly feed herself is now a vibrant little girl able to keep up with her peers after an extract from marijuana was administered to her. Other patients with all manner of ailments also paid tribute to the potency of Cannabis to cure their maladies.
But in Ghana, we have a total ignoramus at the helm of affairs who claims marijuana is “more dangerous than cocaine and heroine’’. How does he even qualify for such a position if not for the need to have a ‘macho man’ to suppress the use of the herb.
In the US now, companies are seriously considering investing into marijuana production and distribution as it gets ready to be listed on the stock exchange. (Reference: http://investorplace.com/2013/11/best-medical-marijuana-stocks-mjna/#.UxiLNv15uao) So already we are seeing two great benefits of this good herb; for health and commerce. Since Mr. Akrasi Sarpong himself admits that Ghana produces some of the best marijuana, should the nation not cash in on it and rather control it to its benefit? (That to me would make him a more useful official worthy of being paid with taxpayers money)
Having said so much so far, let’s all apply ourselves to some logic on this matter. Ghana- like many other countries spend a huge amount of scarce resources chasing and imprisoning users of marijuana. According to the Director General of Prisons, Ghana spent over $1 per day on meals per prisoner, not to mention other costs. Now $1 is shockingly meagre but there are some free Ghanaians who survive on about the same amount. The argument here really is not about the amount spent but about the fact that the government is spending some amount of money at all in keeping its youthful workforce whose only crime is smoking a joint locked away. Most of the ‘offenders’ are youth who may be put away for as long as 10 years for smoking a single joint; something that their counterparts in the so-called advanced countries (who forced Ghana to sign the convention. I will never stop making that reference) would get away with with something like a warning, a fine or community service.
So government effectively has a scheme which puts away the productive youth who rather get an education in crime in the prisons. (http://www.jhr.ca/blog/2012/05/ghanas-prisons-universities-of-crime/). These people come out of jail, spent, deprived of an education and a skill, frustrated and bearing an ex-convict tag. Even though we are deceived into thinking that they get some kind of training in the prisons, who really employs ex-cons? So we end up with a generation of frustrated adults, with ex-con tags and a ‘degree’ in crime; who have no means of making a livelihood because no one will employ them. Logical outcome: more crime. And I’m not talking smoking a single spliff!
So instead of government employing people like Akrasi Sarpong who obviously contributes nothing to the progress of the nation- to perpetrate this evil agenda of demonizing a plant that others have rightly discovered to be a great gift from God, how about the government benefitting from the whole marijuana trade which is now underground and putting millions into the pockets of some unknown elements?
How about decriminalizing marijuana for a start so that if a youth is caught smoking a spliff, instead of lengthy jail terms which benefits no one, getting the youth to do some community service like cleaning the streets and the beaches (which do need cleaning), helping out with social welfare programs etc. Mind you, I am not by this suggesting that its a crime to smoke marijuana and that anyone should be punished for it. I am just saying that even if the government finds a need to inflict some form of punishment for users of the herb, it should rather inure to everyone’s benefit and not the other way round. This way, the government actually gets free labour and keeps the vibrant workforce intact. Mr. William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States admitted “experimenting with marijuana”. Now, if the US legal system had such ludicrous laws that could have seen Mr. Clinton locked away for ten years, the US and the world at large would have been deprived of a quality politician and a great leader.
How about legalizing the herb and taxing growers, just like growers of any other cash crop? How about Mr. President saying to Barack Obama and the other leaders of the West “You know Sir, I see you easing up the punitive laws and cashing in on Ganja. Guess what, we have some nice grade which I’m sure your consumers will enjoy. We can supply your shops with the good stuff” This way, the revenue to be made in the trade (which government is actually having a hard time fighting) will go to government for everyone’s use and not to some faceless ‘drug barons’.
How about debating laws to regulate the production and consumption so that it is not abused? How about getting our scientists busy researching it properly so that our health sector can also benefit?
Instead we have an Akrasi Sarpong making witless statements like marijuana is worse than cocaine and heroine. The worst part of his statement is that it is better to indulge in cyber crime than to grow marijuana since it brings more money! He also says the cyber criminals are smarter! Really? And even worse is the fact that he remains at post after making such ridiculous statements.
If government is truly for the benefit of the people, I would hereby humbly suggest that an open debate be called for this matter. The peanuts that the country gets to fight marijuana is nothing compared to the true benefits the nation would stand to benefit from if we put our house in order. Like everything else, we are waiting for our slavemasters to give us the green light before taking the step, and that is a sad commentary on a country celebrating 57 years of independence. Someone, please pass this on to Mr. President.