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Is cannabis good, bad for health?

IN THE GROOVE WITH FRED ZINDI

I met Bob Marley at Crystal Palace Stadium, which was the venue for Reggae Sunsplash in 1980.

He told me that during his visit to Zimbabwe he had been to Mutoko, where he was introduced to local weed, aka dagga, marijuana, ganja, cannabis, spliff or mbanje.

He said that it was selling real cheap and he decided to buy 5kg of it. It was illegal then, but he managed to smuggle it through customs at the then Harare International Airport and through customs at Heathrow Airport in London.

Due to his celebrity status, nobody bothered to search him. As a VIP, he gave his passport to Neville Garrick, his graphic artist, to get it stamped by immigration officers. The ganja was hidden in the hollow part of a bongo drum, which he had also bought in Mutoko and he personally carried it being aware that nobody would bother him.

Marley did not use cannabis recreationally and did not see its use as a casual matter. He viewed marijuana as a holy rite, the same way Catholics view Holy Communion. Viewing himself as a holy person (as do all Rastafarians), Marley strongly believed that marijuana opened up a spiritual door that allowed him to become the artiste and poet he was. He actually preferred joints. He liked to smoke two joints in the morning and two more at night. He would then proceed to smoke two in the afternoon because it made him feel “irie” well…alright.

During times of peace and times of war, the number of joints he would light up may have varied, but on average, he would smoke 18 joints a day or half a kilogramme of ganja a day.

In the United States marijuana is being increasingly legalised, but is it safe? Some states have discovered the futility of putting restrictions on its use when there are other equally dangerous substances such as cigarettes and alcohol on the market. There is conflict between the widespread belief that marijuana is an effective treatment for a wide assortment of ailments and lack of scientific knowledge on its effects. This has been somewhat exacerbated in recent times by a drive towards legalisation.

Twenty-nine states plus the District of Columbia have so far made marijuana available for medical — and, in some states, recreational — purposes.

In Jamaica, ganja or marijuana functions as a religious sacrament for Rastas. Despite the religious rhetoric, then, a deeper reason for the sacralisation of ganja in Jamaica might be the huge economic benefit it brings to the island.

The use of marijuana in Jamaica, romanticised by reggae and a sacrament in the island’s Rastafarian religious sect, is widespread although illegal. The Jamaican police do not bother much with those who are seen simply smoking it as a religious rite. However, in order to please the Americans who put pressure on the Jamaican government against the growing of ganja, which is eventually exported to the US, a Jamaican narcotics squad patrols warehouses, sabotages clandestine airstrips and intimidates growers.

In addition, the Jamaican government has sponsored helicopter flights over parts of the island to burn ganja fields. Yet these campaigns from a Jamaican government pressured by US politicians are not appreciated by the majority of Jamaicans. A recent poll indicated that 62% of all Jamaicans opposed the curtailment of marijuana exportation to the US, in part because so many benefit from it. Many Jamaican homes are being looked after through the benefits accrued from trade in ganja.

The Jamaican government must be seen to obey instructions from the US where the ganja is mainly exported, but in reality, the government wishes it could freely grow the crop and trade in it.

There is a market for marijuana in Zimbabwe, let alone outside the country. Many youths who are unemployed and roaming the streets could establish roaring businesses if they were allowed to grow and sell the crop. But this would require them to have land and farming inputs to grow it. On top of that, they would also require a free licence to do so.

Zimbabwe, last year decided to allow the growing of cannabis for the purposes of scientific research and medicinal use. Already one Zimbabwean company, Precision Cannabis Therapeutics Zimbabwe, has been approved for the licence to grow ganja after paying a hefty amount as fees to obtain the licence.

Now the Rastafarian community and some artistes in Zimbabwe also want a piece of the cake. They have asked for the inclusion of recreational marijuana as a commercial venture. They also argue that growing marijuana is like growing maize and there is no need to ask for a licence to grow crops. Like growing maize, the growing of marijuana should be allowed without the need for a licence or any charges.

Ras JJ, a well-known Rasta, expressed his sentiments on the issue by stating that: “The government has failed to support the artistes financially through its Ministry of Youth, Sports , Recreation and Culture, but we can help ourselves if they give us land and a free licence to cultivate commercial ganja. We can export it to countries that have liberalised its use and bring in the much-needed foreign currency. The government will also benefit from the tax revenue.”

Another artiste who has travelled extensively throughout Africa had this to say: “In every country I have visited, it is easy to get cannabis if you want it. I spent over $500 buying ganja in three different countries and it was easy. I don’t know why our government is so finicky about the smoking of marijuana.

The youths in this country have a way of finding and smoking it. They should just legalise it. As it is, hundreds of youths in Mbare go and buy it from a well-known mbanje vendor. From the look of it, this vendor is doing very well. He has a nice home, a nice vehicle and his children are well looked after. The government could empower many unemployed youths this way if they liberalised the sale of ganja. Ganja could easily rival other exports such as gold, tobacco and diamonds. Look at Lesotho, which has legalised marijuana. They export their ganja to places like Canada and they get millions of dollars in tax revenue each year through exports of this income-earning crop. Let’s do it here also. That would remove pressure from the national purse.”

Peter Tosh once proclaimed: “Ganja is the only known cure for asthma and it makes one wiser, seen! Babylon [the white man] don’t want us to smoke it because dem are afraid that we will become wiser than them.”

This assertion has not been scientifically proved, but it is a known fact that ganja plays a crucial role among several of Zimbabwe’s musicians and other artistes. Many of them tell me that it inspires them to be more effective in their trade and should be legalised so that they do not have to look over their shoulders when smoking it.
Medical scientists have shown us that ganja can also be used for treating chronic pain, alcoholism, anxiety, cancer and depression.

Also, according to the National Institutes of Health, people have used marijuana to treat their ailments for at least 3 000 years.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration has not deemed marijuana safe or effective in the treatment of any medical condition, although cannabidiol, a substance that is present in marijuana, received approval in June 2018 as a treatment for some types of epilepsy.

However, there are some negative effects of smoking ganja, which have been scientifically proved over the years. Too much of it could cause lung cancer, testicular cancer or mental
health disorders. Regular marijuana smoking is also linked to increased risk of chronic cough, but it is not clear whether smoking marijuana worsens lung function or increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

African governments have, over the years, been considering ways to regulate the use of marijuana due to its medicinal and economic benefits.

While some scientists maintain that marijuana has immense medicinal benefits, critics say it contains harmful chemicals that are 20% more likely to cause cancer to the user than
tobacco.

Given the above information, it is up to you, the reader, to decide whether the use of cannabis is good or bad for your health.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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