Ghana has dropped to 3rd on the 2015 global rankings of countries where Cannabis Sativa, popularly known as India Hemp or marijuana, is largely smoked or used.
Ghana, who only last year was cited in a United Nations 2014 Report as the number one consumer of the substance in the world, remains the 1st in Africa. The Upper East Regional Minister, Albert Abongo, disclosed this during this year’s celebration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Held in Bolgatanga, the Upper East regional capital, the event was themed: ““Listen First: Drug Prevention among the Youth and Children.” It was organised by Life out of Alcohol and Drugs Ghana (LOAD Ghana) in collaboration with Basic Needs Ghana.
“The most abused drug globally is marijuana with estimated users of 140 million people under the age of 30 years. Ghana is Africa’s leading user of marijuana and third in the world,” the Regional Minister stated. “In Ghana, 65% of students who abuse marijuana do so to have good time with friends. The use of drugs is highest in the three regions in the north of Ghana and appears to be increasing in the Upper East Region along with alcohol use amongst the youth and women,” he observed.
The rankings of first 15 countries
North Korea, where marijuana is not considered as a drug and it is even sold at food markets, is ranked as the highest consumer of India Hemp in the world. Cambodia comes second, with many restaurants cooking it and offering it as side dish.
Ghana, the world’s third consumer, has 21.5% of citizens aged between 15 and 64 heavily involved in the smoking of marijuana. Behind Ghana is the Netherlands, where it is generally accepted for people to smoke it in public places such as bars and cafes and citizens are allowed to carry 5 grammes of it in public and up to 30 grammes in their private residences.
Uruguay is fifth with an exclusive ambition to become the first country in the world to create a state-run marijuana industry. The sixth on the rankings table is Iceland where, despite the fact that it is illegal and anyone caught consuming it would face a jail sentence, 55,000 out of a total population of 320,000 people smoke marijuana.
Czech Republic occupies the 7th position with citizens allowed to grow up to five plants at once for personal use, although it is still technically illegal in that country. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of about 130 million people, comes next with 14.3% of that population smoking weed in public view and boys as young as 12 years peddling it at open markets.
Jamaica, ninth on the table with a unique global reputation linked to the consumption of marijuana particularly within the Rastafarian groups, has anti-cannabis laws but cultivation, possession and sale of the substance is everywhere. Portugal, where citizens are allowed to possess up to 25 grammes of cannabis for personal consumption with drug use considered as a sickness and treatment rather than punishment enforced, is tenth.
The United States of America places 11th with 15% of its population addicted to India Hemp. New Zealand, ranked 12th, has steep fines and short prison period for unauthorised possessors, but 15% of its population aged between 16 and 64 years still consume hemp. Zambia, 13th on the table, has 17.7% of its population using weed and 75% of its psychiatric patients being treated for cannabis-related conditions.
Spain, 14th highest consumer in the world, has a small fine and confiscation for possessing and trading in cannabis with more than 10% of its population patronising it. The world’s number 15 consumer is Australia who has zero tolerance of cannabis but about 10% of its entire population cannot do without marijuana on a daily basis.
Measures put in place in Ghana
Mr. Abongo said the Government of Ghana, as part of measures set up to keep citizens away from illicit drugs, had introduced laws and policies against the consumption or use of illegal drugs, citing as an example the Narcotic Drugs Law 1990 (PNDC Law 236) “which focuses on control, enforcement and sanctions of the use and trade of illicit drugs”.
“In addition, Ghana is collaborating with other West African countries to design a Drug Policy Reform which will deal with drug production, use, trafficking and organised crime at sub-regional and national levels,” the Regional Minister disclosed.
He also pointed out that government alone could not stem the tide of drug abuse and illicit trafficking sweeping through the country’s shores and, therefore, urged individuals and organisations to join in the fight against the menace.
Anti-drug war underway in schools
The anti-drug war, to which government is urging citizens to strongly dedicate themselves, already has begun in schools in the Upper East Region, with LOAD Ghana spearheading it in partnership with Basic Needs Ghana.
The don’t-do-drugs war so far has been taken to 25 second-cycle schools where the crusaders reportedly are making inroads. The Executive Director of LOAD Ghana, Roger Abaa Atambire, who himself is still recovering after battling with alcoholism for over ten years, told a crowd at the celebration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking that the war had to start with the youth.
“Aristotle, the critical and great thinker, years ago said that ‘all advancement in society begins with development of the character of the young’. If we don’t have disciplined youths, who would be our future leaders? If all of us come together in this country to fight drugs and alcohol, we would emerge victorious. And the drug war is won through education. We need to start education very early in the primary and junior high schools,” Mr. Atambire stressed.
To legalise or not to legalise?
The growing national debate in Ghana over a motion to have cannabis decriminalised in the country bounced to the fore at the celebration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in the Upper East Region.
The Mental Health Authority (MHA) noted with worry that alcohol, after it became legalised in Ghana, had continue to wreck lamentable havoc on the country because measures to ensure that its use did not destroy its people did not accompany the legalisation.
The direction the debate on cannabis had travelled so far, the MHA also observed, had been without critical questions about control measures on consumption. The debate thus could end with marijuana, a more dangerous substance than alcohol, accessible like alcohol to every hand with a purchasing muscle. The MHA expressed great panic the consequences would be too devastating to handle.
“We have legalised alcohol as a substance that is being used. What measures have we put in place to ensure that this substance that we have legalised [is] not destroying the lives of the people? If we have not done anything, then, what is the measure or [assurance] that when marijuana is legalised something would be done so that the evil that it is causing would be addressed in society?
“The position of the Mental Health Authority is that we should rather focus our resources and logistics on the management of those who suffer from substance abuse so that rehabilitation centres can be built across the country,” Edem Ameglah, Upper East Regional Coordinator of Mental Health, said when he represented the Chief Executive of the MHA, Dr. Akwasi Osei, at the event.
A member of the Council of State and guest speaker at the celebration, David Adeenze-Kangah, spoke on the debate, saying, legalised or not legalised, a majority of Ghanaians, once taught to believe marijuana was not good, would not patronise it, whilst a number of citizens would always ignore warnings to embrace the substance.
“Alcohol and drugs are not good. I want to believe that most Ghanaians are good citizens and if they say something is bad, they would try not to do it. There will always be people who would know that it is illegal but they would do it.
“However, let us believe that we have good citizens and when we legalise it and say it is bad they would not go and take it. But because it is illegal some people are not taking it,” he said.