By Dorcas S
Colorado is one of the 20+ states that have legalized marijuana either for medicinal and/or recreational use. America/ns started the process of legalizing the drug, in earnest, back in 1911 and the process has only gathered momentum since.
Yes the country has a hodge-podge of legislative initiatives at the state and federal level regarding the debate but the bottom line is that the conversation re: legalization of marijuana is more a question of “when” as opposed to “if” it will be legalized. It is just a matter of time before marijuana is legal at the state AND federal level across America – plain and simple.
Contributing to the legalization momentum is the consensus that cannabis sativa has demonstrable and beneficial medicinal qualities especially for those suffering from chronic pain; oftentimes related to cancer treatment or musculoskeletal injuries. The drug is also very popular among those suffering from mental diseases such as schizophrenia. Add to marijuana’s medicinal properties, the billions of dollars in tax revenues the drug is generating for states that have legalized it and one can see why it’s just a matter of time before “weed” is legal across America.
Which brings me to Kenya.
Gwada Ogot of Siaya recently petitioned the country’s parliament to legalize marijuana – also known as “bhang”. The drug is currently banned in the country – which is ironic given the fact that Kenya has, for all intents and purposes, legalized miraa (khat), another plant-based stimulant that also has a (long) history in the country’s culture. Additionally, cigarettes, which contain the highly-addictive nicotine not to mention a host of other unpleasant chemicals and carcinogens, is legal and widely used throughout the country!
I personally don’t smoke or take alcohol so I won’t be affected by the decision one way or the other. However, I would argue that there are more upsides to legalizing marijuana than there are downside(s). As mentioned above, marijuana has proven medicinal properties. Just ask the millions who have permits or licenses from their doctors – to use it – for a host of medical conditions; some which are listed above.
Additionally, taking the profit motive of its usage away from the drug dealers is always a good thing as is the corollary: Tax revenue FOR the government, some which can be used to fund drug treatment programs among other beneficial public services.
Unfortunately, any chain of events that brings together the words “Kenyan Government”, “Kenyans” and “Money/Profit” in one sentence is almost always wrought with pitfalls. In fact, that would be the main concern I would have with the push to legalize marijuana:
Kenyans are corrupt.
They steal from one another and from the government with an avarice and ease that would be shocking if it weren’t so regular and commonplace. Those tasked with managing the revenue, make that windfall, that legalization of marijuana would bring into the state coffers will be tempted to splice off some of that money into a personal off-shore bank account. I can almost bet one month’s paycheck that the ubiquitous “cartels’ would form around implementation of the legislation.
The business license to grow, process and sell the product – in California, the latest state to enter the fray – is very expensive – depending on the volume of product to be processed/supplied. Add to that the anticipated tax revenues and we are talking some serious money, reportedly outpacing the amounts from alcohol in the FY June 30, 2015 – in Colorado’s case.
Legalizing i.e. regulating marijuana will also allow the government to control the drug’s quality. But given Kenya’s reputation of circumventing all regulatory controls for “kitu kidogo”, I won’t hold my breath on this upside.
There are downsides to legalizing bhangi. Experts refer to it – marijuana – as a “gateway drug”: i.e. a drug that introduces users to other more serious and dangerous (illegal) drugs.
This would be the second-most important reason NOT to legalize the drug especially when viewed alongside the other downsides such as addiction, increases in DUI (driving under the influence) and the myriad health-related issues linked to smoking in general.
The National Youth Leadership Blog offers a lucid conclusion to the debate over legalization of marijuana:
That “the important thing is for local governments, judicial systems, law enforcement officials and addiction treatment specialists to work together to create communities that will be free from marijuana addiction and its other unfavorable effects.” I would add “while facing up to the reality that drugs are already part and parcel of ‘free’ and ‘open’ societies.
To wit: drugs and alcohol, legal and illegal are a way of life in Kenya. There have been enough rumors re: the pervasiveness of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and prescription drugs across all levels of the society that only the naïve and deluded would think otherwise. Add to that the insidious level of corruption in Kenya, also across all levels of the society and the legalization debate is both a perfect storm and a wicked problem whose resolution, in my opinion, would be a question of choosing one’s poison:
Legalize marijuana, control its quality and usage while earning the resultant tax revenue OR criminalize it and allow criminal enterprises to control its trade, earn tax-free proceeds from the trade and deal with the resultant violence inherent in the drug trade.