Namibia not ready to legalise cannabis

Justice minister Sacky Shanghala's claims that the poor use cannabis widely have been dismissed by pro-dagga groups.

17 July 2019 | Local News

Pro-cannabis advocates in Namibia were dealt a heavy blow last week when justice minister Sakeus Shanghala said Namibia was not ready to decriminalise or legalise the herb for recreational use or otherwise.

The minister said Namibia should first deal with “one of the most devastating legal drugs in the world - alcohol” which has become an increasing problem in the country.

In response to increasing calls for Namibia to decriminalise cannabis, with many touting the potential health and economic benefits for the country's citizens, Shanghala on Thursday told the National Assembly “Namibia is not ready to manage the legalisation of cannabis or marijuana”.

He noted that 71 cannabis-related cases are currently before the High Court, and all are related to recreational uses.

The minister said the courts take the issue of cannabis seriously. Someone who had been found in possession of 16 grams of cannabis, valued at less than N$500, was sentenced to five years behind bars in 2016.

“Cannabis is a serious offence in Namibia, because Namibia is not able to deal with the devastating effects of the drug on our people,” the minister argued.

He also claimed that “it is apparent that the drug is sold in lower-income areas with households that are already struggling.”

This claim was rubbished by the group Ganja Users of Namibia (GUN) in a statement released in response to the minister's remarks.

“We call on the minister not to mislead the nation by saying it is only poor people who use cannabis,” the advocacy group stated, adding they estimate at least 200 000 Namibians, “rich or poor”, use the plant.

Gun described the minister's arguments against the substance as untrue and misleading.

“The justice minister must refrain from commenting on cannabis if he knows nothing much about it,” they stated.



Worrisome

Among several claims the minister made to boost his argument against legalising or decriminalising the substance, he said “marijuana is addictive; it is known to cause schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders”.

He further argued there have been reports that the drug has negative effects on cognition and can impair driving abilities or work, and could lead to anxiety, short-term memory loss and hallucinations.

The minister also claimed that a “compelling argument” is that cannabis has negative health effects in both adolescents and adults.

He argued that the country does not have sufficient alcohol rehabilitation centres and only 19 registered psychiatrists, and would not have the capacity to deal with the “explosion of depression cases flowing from the use of marijuana if legalised”.

He further claimed that cannabis use amongst the youth has been associated in a study with a “six-fold increase in future Ecstasy consumption”.

Shanghala advised those interested in having cannabis registered as medicine to apply to the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council.

“There is no harm in that,” he said.

The minister did admit that components of marijuana have a potentially therapeutic effect to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as cancer, but said there are legal medicines available “that do what cannabis is purported to do”.



Rubbish

In response to the ministerial statement, GUN has appealed to the public and the National Assembly to reject those views and repeal laws criminalising cannabis.

GUN argued there has been “countless proven scientific and medicinal evidence that says cannabis is one hundred times safer than alcohol.”

The advocacy group further argued that while many Namibians want to replace pricey prescription medicine with cannabis, doctors are not ready to prescribe it to citizens because of the risks involved.

“The demand from users who need to use cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes is huge,” GUN stated.

GUN referred the minister to a petition handed over to parliament earlier this year to “familiarise himself” with the content.

The petition noted that the country should legalise “a harmless plant for which people are being imprisoned and fined for no reason”.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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