In Ghana, using or even openly talking about cannabis or 'ntampi' is pretty much taboo. literally translated, one of its names "abonsam tawa" actually means devil's tobacco and it is typically associated with madness. Judging from our culture and from general attitudes towards the plant, one would think it had no place in Ghanaian society. This is far from true, and for those in the dark about it, this is the reality.
Marijuana use in Ghana even though illegal is five times the world average. People use marijuana in Ghana more than in the Netherlands where it is legal and more than in Jamaica where it is used by the Rastafarian population for spiritual purposes. The 2007 UN World Drug Report shows that in 2006 about 21% of Ghanaian's aged 15 to 64 used marijuana. The world average for that year was 3.8%. In another survey, Out of a sample of 894 senior secondary students, it was discovered that 58% of the sample population were current marijuana users. Figures for alcohol and cigarette users were 46.2% and 44.6% respectively, thus making marijuana the recreational drug of choice for that age group. What is even more surprising is that the parents of these secondary school kids are utterly oblivious to their children’s 'narcotic pastime'. Thanks to "Visine" and little tricks such as the old towel under the bathroom door the kids leave no traces or evidence of their drug use. To the parents, everything seems perfectly normal. The plants roots go even deeper. In my research, i came across a number of articles and 'testimonies' by tourists about their experiences and impressions of Ghana. To many visitors, Ghana is a 'stoner's paradise'. Seriously, not all tourists mentioned it in their stories, but for those that did, i usually saw the article transform from a general account of the holiday to a detailed account of a marijuana expedition. Seaside locations feature frequently in these accounts. Basically anywhere with a "rasta" population is a potential hotspot for pot loving tourists.
For the sake of readers who don’t know much about it, we should note some facts about the cannabis plant and dispel some of the myths associated with it. First of all, the name cannabis refers to the different preparations and variations of the plant, the most common of which is marijuana. This variation contains the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is what gets users 'high'. Immediate effects include reddening of the eyes 'red-eye' dryness of the mouth 'cotton mouth', increased heart rate, relaxing of the muscles and of course 'the munchies' or hunger. In the short term, users will have impaired short term episodic memory, working memory and impaired concentration. This is probably why students and workers who use marijuana get lower grades, have more work related accidents and are absent more frequently than non-users. The drug is however no more harmful to the body than alcohol or tobacco . Long term effects of marijuana are not so clear.
Till date there is no conclusive evidence linking marijuana smoking to lung, head or neck cancers. Quite surprisingly, some studies have discovered the anti-tumoral properties of certain cannibanoid’s and moderate use of the drug is said to protect against head, lung and neck cancer as well as breast cancer. The long term neurological effects are yet to be established.
Not all plants from the cannabis Genus or family are grown for their psychoactive properties. Hemp, the soft durable fibre cultivated for industrial and commercial use is obtained from a strain of the cannabis plant which lacks in THC and thus cannot get you high. Arguably one of the best fibre's for clothes ropes etc, the hemp plant has been used for many industrial purposes including biodegradable plastics, paper, health foods, textiles and fuel. Countries including China, France and Canada produce and reap the economic benefits of industrial hemp.
Other countries and states have allowed the controlled use and possesion of marijuana. Pot loving tourists like those i mentioned earlier flood cities like Amsterdam with little else but marijuana on their minds. One can only imagine how much revenue is generated from Amsterdam's 'Coffee Shops' (Coffee Shops are bars licensed to sell marijuana.). With legalization comes a decrease in drug crime and the freeing up of courts and prisons for more serious offenses. Often, prisons and courts are held up by the arrest and trial of people, for the possession of marijuana, (from drug dealers) regardless of the amount. Control of the drug by the state itself not only removes the drug dealers from the picture but also takes away the excitement some users get from doing something illegal. With drug dealers out of the way marijuana is less likely fall into teenage hands. Countries where the sale of marijuana is institutionalized have found effective ways of limiting the amount a person can buy for any given period so as to prevent its abuse. No more smoking till you pass out.
So which is the greater good? Should cannabis be made legal so the country can enjoy the health and economic benefits that come with it? After all its not like a new substance is being introduced into the system. Its use being already widespread, legalizing would just be a way of taking advantage of a problem. Or should it remain an illegal drug for our 'morality' and for sake of the youth? No matter what the answer may be, the cannabis plant is and will probably remain the most controversial plant on the planet.