Whenever there is a new global geopolitical or economic trend, African countries have always jumped on the bandwagon, albeit through subtle prodding from those leading them into booby traps or simply doing so with the eyes closed and totally forgetting to read the fine prints critically.
In Nigeria’s eagerness to jump onto the cannabis gravy train, it has just made its first grave mistake. It had overlooked the potential pitfalls it will encounter when it decides to draft a legislation that fails to explicitly differentiate between the two controversial strains of the cannabis plant.
Portugal is a prime example of how local farmers were manipulated by Canadian companies and have since lost out on the immense economic potentials of a decriminalized cannabis regime in that country.
Legislators at the Nigerian House of Representatives have already concluded the first reading and are expected to take a second reading of a proposed bill that will legalise the cultivation, sale and use of cannabis.
The bill is being sponsored by Hon. Miriam Onuoha, a lawmaker from Imo State.
Canada’s cannabis giants Canopy Growth Corp, Cronos Group, Aurora Cannabis, Aphria, and Tilray with a combined market capitalisation of over US$ 12 billion are always lurking to in the shadows to capture emerging cannabis markets, and the Nigerian market is one that is hard to resist.
On October 21, 2020, the Nigerian newspaper, The Nation published what appeared to clearly betray a subtle dialectic that outlines the behind-the-scene shenanigans. Whether intentional or not, the nomenclature is very important in lobbying and advocacy in countries that hitherto had strict punitive laws against cannabis and had been completely averse to any suggestion for the relaxation of sanctions against cannabis.
Nigeria has been strongly resistant to any suggestion for the legalisation or decriminalisation of cannabis, such that several liberal state governors advocating for that had clashed with the Federal Government.
Therefore, when there is a sudden turn round, the motivation must be critically dissected and evaluated. The Nigerian legislators lobbying for the decriminalisation of cannabis keep throwing about a curious mix of terminologies that should give a cause for discomfort. It may pass unnoticed to the untrained eyes, but should not escape critical scrutiny of industry watchers.
An important claim made by the cannabis lobbyists are that they are advocating for the decriminalisation or legalisation of “non-intoxicating Cannabis, Cannabidiol, CBD oil, and industrial hemp.”
It is not exactly clear what they mean when they say “non-intoxicating cannabis”, especially when industrial hemp is mentioned in the same breath. Why not be clear on exactly what they want and call the specific strain of cannabis they are advocating for by name?
The opacity signals either a sloppy appreciation of the implications of mixing terminologies in their description of the cannabis plant, or it is simply an insidious bait that they and their bankrollers hope the often-clueless state legislators would not catch.
A cursory scan through the title and synopsis of the bill currently in the House of Representatives, confirms the worst fears proving that Nigeria has not learned much from the trickery that drove it to lose out on the golden opportunity to use its massive crude oil resources to transform the lives of its people and its economy-cannabis is on the verge of becoming Nigeria’s next resource curse if an immediate step is not taken to rectify the objectives of the bill currently being prodded on by lobbyists stringed to the aprons of their hawkish foreign bankrollers.
To begin with, the proposed bill has a long convoluted titled: “A bill for an Act to decriminalise the growth and use of cannabis, to establish a system for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers, users and control, to legalise the growth, sale and use of cannabis and set out a legal framework for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers and producers in Nigeria; and for related matters.”
As can be deduced from the title, simply mentioning cannabis does not elaborate on the direction Nigeria seeks to take in the cannabis frenzy.
The objectives of the bill provide better context, namely: “Provide for a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers and processors; establish a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers and processors; regulate the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medical purposes and promote public awareness about the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes and its use in relation to medical or health purpose.”
So essentially, Nigeria is only seeking to decriminalise Medicinal Cannabis, or specifically Medicinal Marijuana, the psychoactive characteristics and not Industrial hemp, the one the lobbyists are describing as “non-intoxicating”.
First of all, it is important to note that even though the two strains of Industrial Hemp (Cannabis Sativa) and Medicinal Marijuana (Cannabis Indica) are all referred to as Cannabis because they come from the same plant genus, they are basically apples and oranges in comparison. They do not possess the same chemical characteristics, nor do they have the same uses.
It is titled “A bill for an act to decriminalise the growth and use of cannabis, to establish a system for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers, users and control, to legalise the growth, sale and use of cannabis and set out a legal framework for the registration and licensing of cannabis growers and producers in Nigeria; and for related matters.”
A synopsis of the bill obtained by New Telegraph shows that it is “to regulate the cultivation, possession, availability and trade in cannabis for medical and research purposes.”
The objectives of the bill include to: “Provide for a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers and processors; establish a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers and processors; regulate the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medical purposes and promote public awareness about the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes and its use in relation to medical or health purpose.”
Industrial Hemp or Medicinal Marijuana?
Basically, the active chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the two cannabis plant strains differentiates them. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis and it is what determines whether one gets “High” or not when ingested for whatever purpose.
While industrial hemp has THC in trace amounts of not more than 0.3% and cannot get one “high” when ingested, Medicinal Marijuana is the hippie benchmark because it contains THC levels anywhere between 0.4% to as high as 30%.
Marijuana is the go-to strain whenever cannabis is referred to in terms of recreational use for its psychoactive effects or for medicine. There is another medicinal property called Cannabidiol or what is popularly referred to as CBD oil. But most medicinal marijuana strains do not have high CBD content.
CBD is also medicinal but does not have the psychoactive effects that come with high THC content-the “High”.
Industrial hemp on the other hand often had high CBD content-as high as 30%, and so, can also be referred to as medicinal. But what sets industrial hemp apart is that aside from ingesting it, the entire plant has unlimited industrial uses. In fact, industrial hemp can be used for over 25,000 different industrial applications that can spark an economic revolution in any country, and the North Americans, the Chinese and Europeans know it.
Industrial hemp can be used as the main raw material for industries such as the textiles, food supplements, cosmetic products, hemp concrete for construction, hemp bio-fuel for powering vehicles; an alternative to fibre-glass used in the automotive industry, paper, biodegradable plastic, etc.
So, why will Nigerian legislators place more emphasis on the more limited Medicinal Marijuana and relegate industrial hemp to the background? Well, it all comes down to profit. A kilogramme of medicinal marijuana can fetch as much as US$2000, while a CBD-bearing flower of industrial hemp can sell for anywhere between US$ 200 to US$ 400 for the same quantity.
Also, medicinal marijuana needs little industrial processing, because its industrial linkage is basically a few steps from production to consumption. On the other hand, a sustainable industrial hemp value chain requires substantial capital investment. Imagine the machinery needed to convert industrial hemp fibre from the farm into yarns for the textile industry. Imagine the number of jobs that will be created along the value chain.
So, essentially, Nigeria is gunning for the usual quick-fix approach as it did with its petroleum resources rather than the more sustainable industrial value chains that industrial hemp can create.
Falling For the Portuguese Trap.
Just like it is about to happen in Nigeria, Portugal has always been liberal on drug laws having legalised all drugs in 2001. It will take them some 17 years to pass laws legalising the use of medicinal marijuana in 2018 after Canadian cannabis giant Tilray had reportedly backed a section of lobbyists who strongly pushed for it.
That regime also allowed industrial hemp farmers to cultivate their crops for industrial use and for export. All they had to do is to fulfil the conditions for a license through the Food and Veterinary General Directorate (DGAV).
However, in January 2019 Portugal updated its laws requiring all hemp products to be regulated under INFARMED, the Portuguese government agency accountable to the Health Ministry that evaluates, authorises, regulates and controls human medicines as well as health products.
The implication of that singular move is that it forced industrial hemp farmers to submit to a licensing procedure as strict as the one for medical cannabis, while also bowing to their original regulator DGAV.
The new regulation dealt a massive blow to industrial hemp farmers in that country. Eventually, licensing to industrial hemp farmers was cut off by the government due to jurisdictional changes, leading 40 hemp farmers to sign an open letter to the government to request hemp licensing continuation as their businesses were collapsing.
Consequently, in 2019, industrial hemp farmers faced off with the government. They were losing as much as US$ 30,000 per hectare of hemp farm according to Portuguese hemp growing cooperative Lusicanna.
Well, just like what Nigeria is about to do, Portugal just lumped all cannabis plants together. But that is a problem.
The point is that the two plants were never meant to be mixed in the first place, and Tilray knew it and reportedly actively lobbied using some corrupt Portuguese Ministers to drag along industrial hemp farmers into the regulatory framework of medicinal cannabis so that they can get rid of them.
The industry is reluctant to disclose it, but the closely guided secret is that you cannot plant hemp in a 50-kilometer radius to medicinal cannabis because Marijuana is female while industrial hemp is male!
Marijuana plants produce flowers that farmers grow for their THC content the quality of the flower and its THC content is the bottom-line for medicinal cannabis companies. But if a hemp farm is in a 50-kilometer radius of that marijuana farm, pollen (which can travel that far) from the hemp will fertilise the female marijuana plant and they will lose both their quality and their THC content (along with the “high” that it gives). Yet, the entire purpose of cultivating marijuana is to maintain that very quality.
It has already happened in Canada and other countries where both hemp and marijuana are grown. In southern Oregon in the United States, medicinal marijuana companies want the state to ban industrial hemp production altogether.
The situation in Portugal is no different and it will be the same in Nigeria if cannabis is given priority over its more benign cousin.
Perhaps, if state authorities still feel strongly about the illegal cultivation of marijuana, they can simply look into the cross-pollination prospect, sit back and watch the illegal marijuana farmers abandon their crops after they lose the quality that gives them patronage.
In Africa, many countries that jumped on the bandwagon like Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda, etc., are quickly realizing the trap they have gotten themselves into, in terms of marginalizing the locals from participating in the multi-billion value chain of the cannabis industry.
Once Lesotho had legalized cannabis they wasted very little time in issuing licenses. The very first licenses they issued were free of charge and they did this to ensure that local farmers would benefit, but that didn’t last long before the government hiked licensing fees to US $37,000. That ultimately edged out local farmers and allowed the invasion of foreign firms with the requisite financial muscles, particularly the. They quickly moved in acquiring farmlands at rapid rates. Now, local farmers in Lesotho can only look on, while the foreign companies enjoy the windfall.
Ghana Provides Hope
HAG providing capacity building for farmers in Ghana to take advantage of the industrial value chain of Industrial hemp.
Ghana is perhaps the only African country that took a more pragmatic step amidst the furore between hemp farmers and medicinal farmers.
Ghanaian legislators, through the help of the Hempire Association of Ghana (HAG), were cleverer as they first set an indigenous objective for why they want in on the new green gold the world was going crazy about.
Just like Nigeria, Ghana has had an age-old strong punitive legislations against all cannabis plants. A gram of cannabis could land an offender into a 10-year jail term. However, when presented with the choice of which of the two cannabis strains to prioritise, Ghana opted for industrial hemp because of its practical industrial applications and the huge potential to radically transform the Ghanaians economy.
Perhaps the legislators were also guided by the strong revulsion that many people have towards cannabis, including conservatives and religious groups.
In March 2020, Ghana eventually passed the Narcotics Control Commission Act (Act 1019). That act contained less than two clauses that clearly defined that industrial hemp was decriminalized for cultivation, industrial use, and for export.
The fact that industrial hemp is not associated with the controversy of the psychoactive effect of the other cannabis plant, gave lobbyists in Ghana a firm grip on the narrative.
Also, the fact that HAG had outlined an elaborate integrated value chain for Ghana’s industrial hemp industry, added further impetus to the advocates lobbying for decriminalizing at least one of the less controversial strain of the cannabis family.
By 2021, Ghana will pass the requisite legislative instrument that will enable the government to issue licenses to farmers, most of whom are local farmers. Ghana’s concept is indigenous, yet inclusive.
Nana Kwaku Agyemang, the President of HAG and the Chief Executive Officer of Hempire Agric Ghana Limited has this to say about the stunning prospects being presented to Ghanaian farmers: “The prospects of cultivating hemp even with one acre is much more prosperous than cultivating 10 acres of Tomatoes, Onions and any other cash crop you can think of. To supply HAG (as the official Off-taker) with 1,500kgs of hemp will fetch on average $30,000 per harvest. This would be on a land size of no more than an acre and a half and considering the harvest would be four times a year this would amount to a gross $120,000!”
Incidentally, it took three Africans both at home and in the diaspora to unravel the puzzle cannabis economic puzzle that has already placed Ghana on the radar of the global cannabis industry. Stephen Adeoye and Raphael Ofori-Adeniran based in Germany started their own cannabis consultancy (Soringa ™) after doing a short stint with the US-based cannabis marketing firm Kannaway LLC, where the nuanced veil of the industry was peeled off to reveal the Eldorado that laid beyond the horizon.
Together with Nana Kwaku Agyemang of HAG, they mounted a subtle but intense advocacy campaign that left Ghanaians legislators no choice but to choose the path of common sense that will comprehensively transform the lives of local farmers in Ghana, even as Nigeria continues to grapple with making sense out of the double-talk that punctuates the brand new multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry.