Every year scores of villagers are arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison for long stretches of jail time for either cultivating or using marijuana.
More recently our Drug Enforcement Commission(DEC) has included the use of Khat , a drug commonly grown and openly used in East Africa for recreation and medicinal use, as one of the prohibited drugs on which arrests and prosecution have increased.
In contrast Khat is sold in markets and openly used in East Africa where it is a major commodity traded openly. Nobody is arrested for using khat. Now Marijuana can be bought openly in many parts of the United States of America and Netherlands among developed countries.
Indeed the legalization of Marijuana in the United States of America raises very serious issues for consideration in Zambia where many people have been sent to prison for growing and using Marijuana. Many chiefs and ordinary villagers have been arrested in raids by the DEC and so called “perpetrators” sent to prison.
Should we continue imprisoning people for a drug whose overall effect and danger is very much lower than alcohol and cancer causing tobacco. It is a well documented fact that the United States banned Marijuana to encourage the consumption of alcohol. Dagga as a recreational product was being used by most immigrants who could not afford alcohol while “hemp” was readily available.
Marijuana is a recreational substance that has been used by Zambians from time immemorial and was only criminalized with the advent of colonial Government.
Marijuana , like Khat, in East Africa have been used by the people for various purposes associated with recreation, work and endurance for tasks that demand physical strength and concentration over stretched period of time.
In Southern Province, elderly women will normally relax and gain a high, while in Eastern and Northern Provinces the drug was associated with physical strength required in manual work.
However with colonial administration all the benefits have been ignored. Instead the emphasis has been on the negative aspects of the drug, which argument also rings hollow when compared to the dangerous properties of alcohol and tobacco.
More harm is caused by tobacco in this country than can ever be cause by marijuana, so much so that Professor Harworth a renowned psychiatrist has been particularly critical of the manner in which the drug has been treated.
That is why the decision by Colorado and other states to allow recreational use of the drug must enable our law enforcers to reconsider the manner in which ordinary people have been harassed for using Dagga while litre’s upon litres of potent alcohol are sold openly.
Colorado among many other states considered, legalization, decriminalization and subsequent use of the drug after significant public discussion, when it was realized that criminalization drove the drug under for the benefit of the black market which made huge profits from a trade that deserved to be open and transparent.
‘Colorado’, most observers have commented, has become the first state “ to make the prudent choice of legalizing the consumption and sale of marijuana, thus dispensing with the charade of medical restrictions and recognizing the fact that, while some people smoke marijuana to counter the effects of chemotherapy, most people smoke marijuana to get high — and that is not the worst thing in the world.”
They have argued that “Regardless of whether one accepts the individual-liberty case for legalizing marijuana, the consequentialist case is convincing. That is because the history of marijuana prohibition is a catalogue of unprofitable tradeoffs: billions in enforcement costs, and hundreds of thousands of arrests each year, in a fruitless attempt to control a mostly benign drug the use of which remains widespread despite our energetic attempts at prohibition. We make a lot of criminals while preventing very little crime, and do a great deal of harm in the course of trying to prevent an activity that presents little if any harm in and of itself.”
Time has come for us to examine the matter objectively to save the hundreds of people arrested and incarcerated every year for consuming a substance that is less potent than alcohol.