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Legalise it! 4 Politicians who advocated for legalisation of bhang

By Wangu Kanuri December 12th, 2023 3 min read

In some African countries, cannabis colloquially known as bhang stands at a fascinating crossroads. While it remains illegal in many countries, a growing number of politicians are now advocating for its legalisation.

These advocates argue from diverse perspectives, highlighting the plant’s potential economic benefits, its medicinal properties, and the need to reconsider long-standing social attitudes towards it.

Here are some of Africa’s politicians ‘fighting’ for the legalisation of the plant:

Prof George Wajackoyah

During the 2022 general election period, George Wajackoyah, the Roots Party presidential candidate caused a frenzy with his manifesto of legalising bhang once he wins the elections.

In interviews and while addressing Kenyans in rallies, Prof Wajackoyah claimed that marijuana farming would not only create job opportunities for the youth but it would also grow the economy of the country if exported.

He added that a sack could be sold for around Sh490 billion ($3.2 million) and there was a ready market already. However, bhang was made illegal in 1994 under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act.

This Act classified cannabis as a narcotic drug and outlined the penalties for its possession, cultivation, use, or trafficking. The penalties for cannabis-related offenses in Kenya are quite severe. Depending on the nature and severity of the offense, individuals caught in possession, using, or trafficking cannabis can face heavy fines and long prison sentences.

For instance, possession of cannabis can lead to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten years. Trafficking or cultivation of cannabis can result in life imprisonment and substantial fines.

Omoyele Sowere

In the 2023 general election, Omoyele Sowere, the African Action Congress (AAC) presidential candidate in Nigeria pledged to legalize cannabis if he won the presidency.

He advocated for the legalization of cannabis, emphasizing its potential to boost the economy. He explained that exporting cannabis could be a significant step towards diversifying the country’s economy.

“There are some weeds on earth, there are reasons why God created them. For example, cannabis, if you take it the right way, will increase your thinking. I am not taking it but I will legalise it. It is not that you should abuse it,” he said.

Further suggesting that the non-legalisation of bhang is what made Nigerians abuse it, Sowere noted, “There is no place you will reach in Nigeria where you won’t be able to buy cannabis if you want it. They are selling it in the mosque, in the church. Pastors are taking it and Alfas (Islamic clerics) are also taking it. If you want to buy good cannabis, you will get it from NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency). If you know how much they are making from cannabis in this country, you will marvel.”

However, in 1988 under the Indian Hemp Act, bhang was made illegal in Nigeria. This law specifically prohibited the cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis, also known as Indian Hemp in the context of this legislation.

The penalties for cannabis-related offenses in Nigeria are quite stringent. Under the Indian Hemp Act, individuals found guilty of possessing or using cannabis can face imprisonment for terms ranging from several months to several years, depending on the severity of the offense.

The Act also imposes severe penalties for the cultivation and trafficking of cannabis, with the possibility of life imprisonment in extreme cases.

Jumanne Kishimba

In 2019, the Kahama Urban MP Jumanne Kishimba urged the Tanzanian government to legalise bhang or marijuana for medical purposes. He argued that other countries like Uganda, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe were minting money from the sale of the plants.

“Eighty per cent of painkillers are made of marijuana. I wonder why the Tanzania’s Foods and Drugs Authority (TFDA) does not sample these drugs and inform us otherwise,” he claimed.

Then asked, “All marijuana grown in Tanzania should go into manufacturing human drugs. What will be wrong for the government to start issuing licenses to allow its farming as this will be economically beneficial?”

Joseph Musukuma

Recently, Joseph Musukuma, the Member of Parliament for Geita in Tanzania, suggested to President Samia Suluhu’s government that legalizing cannabis could enhance the country’s revenue.

In a parliamentary session, he proposed that rather than destroying the already cultivated cannabis, the government could consider exporting it to boost national income.

However, he clarified that his recommendation was not to promote the cultivation of cannabis for local consumption, but rather for export.

He pointed to examples of countries that have economically benefited from exporting cannabis, emphasizing its potential as a revenue source for Tanzania.

“I’ve brought up the topic of cannabis legalization several times, not because it’s a miracle solution, but because I see its potential beyond recreational use. It’s disheartening to see law enforcement destroying cannabis crops on TV, especially when we consider the economic opportunities we’re missing out on. Let’s look at countries like Canada, Colombia, and Pakistan – despite global concerns over drug abuse, they’ve managed to turn cannabis into a significant revenue source,” he said.

However, cannabis was made illegal in Tanzania under the Dangerous Drugs Act, which was enacted in 1974. Individuals found in possession of cannabis can face long prison sentences. The length of imprisonment can vary based on the quantity of cannabis involved and the circumstances of the case.

Additionally, those involved in the trafficking, distribution, or selling of cannabis face even harsher penalties, including life imprisonment.