All you need to know about the new craze for marijuana

What you need to know:

  • The global legal marijuana market is expected to reach $146.4 billion by end of 2025, according to a study by Grand View Research, Inc. Growing adoption of marijuana in several medical applications such as cancer, mental disorders, chronic pain and others is expected to propel revenue growth in near future.

  •  Medical marijuana emerged as the largest marijuana type segment in 2016 and is estimated to be valued at $100.03 billion by 2025.

  •  By product type, marijuana buds segment was estimated to be dominant in 2016 with revenue share of 62.9 per cent and is estimated to be valued at $82.9 billion by end of 2025.

Dar es Salaam. South Africa has become the latest African country to legalise cannabis with the country’s constitutional court saying that it will no longer be a criminal offence for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption.

South Africa’s decision comes almost five months after Zimbabwe in April, this year, approved the use of ‘weed’ for medical purposes though recreational use is still illegal in the country.

In fact, Lesotho became the first country in Africa to grant licences to produce marijuana for medical and scientific purposes last year.

Near home, Professor Simon Mwaura, a Kenyan scientist, has petitioned Parliament to legalize marijuana, arguing that he had found a way to separate the plant’s psychotropic elements therefore making it safe for human consumption.

Mwaura wants the plant used as a raw material to create food supplements as well as herbal and medicinal extracts.

The news on South Africa’s legalisation of cannabis appeared concurrently with an announcement by Coca-Cola that it was keen on joining a rush by major alcohol makers and a cigarette company to test the cannabis market and find partners ahead of the October 17 launch of legal recreational marijuana in Canada.

Canada is the first major economy to legalise recreational marijuana, and shares in cannabis producers have rallied in anticipation.

Meanwhile, cannabis stocks took a wild ride on Wednesday this week, with more market watchers saying the high over growth in medical marijuana has got out of control.

The legality of cannabis for medical and recreational use varies by country, in terms of its possession, distribution, and cultivation, and (in regards to medical) how it can be consumed and what medical conditions it can be used for.

These policies in most countries are regulated by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that was ratified in 1961, along with the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Countries legalising weed do so for either medical or recreational or both purposes. Countries that have so far legalised recreational cannabis are Canada, Georgia, South Africa and Uruguay, along with nine states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

Countries that have legalised the medical use of cannabis include Australia, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and the United Kingdom. The issue of legalising ‘weed’ has for decades divided the public opinion the world over into two major camps; proponents and opponents.

Legalisation advocates say cannabis is safer than alcohol. They argue that bringing weed out of the shadows would allow for better monitoring of the industry, not to mention increase tax revenue.

These advocates, including former US President Barack Obama, argue that the criminalisation of the plant mostly affects the poor and minority kids who account for a disproportionate share of those punished for its use.

Critics, however, say that easing marijuana laws exposes children and teenagers to the drug and could lead to an increase in drugged driving, among others.

Illegal but common

Cannabis, locally known as ‘bangi,’ is illegal in Tanzania - though it remains the most common drug and is produced for many uses, such as domestic consumption and even export. In 2010, seizures of cannabis in the country amounted to 279.5 tonnes, accounting for 4 per cent of the global total, and were the third largest by country after Mexico (2,313 tonnes) and the USA (1,931 tonnes).

Cannabis is cultivated in many regions in the country and also grows in the wild.

The regions in which the most cannabis is cultivated are Morogoro, Iringa, Tabora, Mara, Arusha, Rukwa, Ruvuma, and Tanga. Simple possession of cannabis can result in up to five years’ imprisonment, with additional fines, according to the Drug Control and Enforcement Act.

Both food and medicine

These legislations, notwithstanding, cannabis use in food and medicine has been a feature of rural Tanzanian life for centuries—if not millennia– and its use is widespread, notes Sense Seeds, the world’s largest cannabis seedbank.

The Amsterdam-based organisation says that in the southern highlands of Tanzania, cannabis seeds and leaves are used in the preparation of various traditional dishes, and traditional healers are known to use cannabis extract to treat ear-ache.

“You can blend it with coffee, tea, beet, spirits,” Prof Mwaura told . “It has very good compatibility,”

A lack of understanding

Rastafari United Front of Tanzania is one of those advocating for the idea of legalising weed in the country albeit in subtlety. Rastas believe that the ‘Tree of Life’ mentioned in the Bible is the marijuana plant.

Contrary to popular belief, Rastas actually condemn the use of marijuana simply to get high. Instead, it is usually used within religious ceremonies in a highly ritualised manner in order to enhance feelings of unity and help generate visions of a spiritual and soothing nature.

While on a trip to Tanzania early last year, the chairman of Rastafari United Front Thau-Thau Haramamba told MCL that criminalising ‘weed’, as is the case in the country currently, was the result of a mere lack of understanding.

He said that they do support the government’s efforts to cub drug abuse in the country but not marijuana use. “How can a plant be a drug?” asked Haramamba. “I think people need to be educated more.”

Lawmakers for weed legalisation

The proponents of the idea of legalising weed in the country is not limited to Rastafari only, it has penetrated even in the Parliament and earned support of some lawmakers.

Outspoken Geita Rural MP Joseph Msukuma is one of them. Mr Msukuma said during a parliamentary session that he was not aware of any scientific study that had found ‘weed’ and khat with any fault. He said their criminalisation by the government was unfounded.

Special Seats MP for Tarime - an area where weed is widely cultivated - Esther Matiko (Chadema) is another supporter of the idea who last year asked the government to carry out a comprehensive scientific study looking at both the positive and negative effects of marijuana.

“And once it is found that the positive effects surpass the negative ones, then the government should legalise the plant,” she suggested.

Government unconvinced

But the government has already ruled out any commitment to legalising the plant in the country.

In February 2016, then former deputy minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elders and Children, Dr Hamis Kigwangalla, ruled out legalisation on marijuana and khat, associating its consumption with adverse mental effects to users.

“Various studies have proved that the use of marijuana leads to addiction and eventually a mental illness known as cannabis-induced psychosis and thus the government can never allow its use,” Dr Kigwangalla stressed.

But Ras Haramamba says the mental illness facing people who consume cannabis is not a result of using cannabis but rather mixing it with other substances.

He argues that no study has ever found that the consumption of the original plant is associated with mental illness.