The call for a relaxation of drug laws to allow for medicinal and recreational use of cannabis seems to be gaining momentum.
The Executive Director of the Mental Health Authority, Dr Akwasi Osei, however, says it is only reasonable to decriminalise aspects of the law to enable drug addicts to seek appropriate treatment instead of being sent to jail.
That, he said, would help people who are drug addicts to receive the necessary treatment and counselling to help them get back their lives.
Speaking to The Mirror in Accra ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls on Sunday, June 26, 2016, Dr Osei noted that total decriminalisation of cannabis would give a blanket visa for people to abuse it.
The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is a day set aside by the United Nations to campaign against drug abuse and illegal drug trade and is observed annually on June 26.
Dr Osei, who is also the Chief Psychiatrist in charge of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, said the country will be making a grievous mistake if it decides to totally legalise cannabis.
According to him, about 30 per cent of out-patient visits to the Accra Psychiatric Hospital each year is marijuana-related, while about 10 per cent of admission cases at the hospital are also marijuana-related.
“This figure is just the tip of the iceberg because a lot of people refuse to visit the hospital while others resort to prayer camps and other spiritual centres for help,” he stated.
Dr Osei does not doubt the medicinal properties of marijuana but said there were alternative medications for the marijuana derivatives, so people cannot say the drug must be used in its raw form because it had medicinal purposes.
He noted that countries that had legalised cannabis did so because they had lost the war against drugs and many of those countries had begun to record high behavioural problems as a result.
“It is just like the laws on guns in the US today. Most Americans have regretted the legalisation of guns there and are now calling for a tighter gun control,” he noted.
The Rastafarian Council of Ghana also argues that the country will reap immense financial benefits if cannabis is legalised, but Dr Osei notes that the economic benefits will be eroded by the dangers associated with the drugs.
“Ghana will spend more money than it will get from drugs. Medical hardship and social hardship such as violence and robbery will far outweigh any economic benefit,” he explained.
Dr Osei rather called on the government to adequately resource NACOB and tighten the laws on drugs to include confiscation of all properties of persons who are convicted on drug-related charges.
Several individuals and bodies have in recent times called for the decriminalisation of cannabis, with the latest being the West Africa Drug Policy Network, an international drug policy consortium.
The former Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Mr Kofi Annan, is also said to have urged governments in West Africa to decriminalise narcotic drugs to avoid wasting scarce resources in fighting a war that cannot be won.
Last March, the Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Mr Yaw Akrasi Sarpong, called for a national debate on the use of marijuana in the country.
The Head of the Drug Law Enforcement Unit of the Ghana Police, Mr David Selom Hukportie, has also called for the decriminalisation of cannabis, popularly referred to as ‘Wee’, to help in the fight against the abuse of the drug in the country.
The Rastafarian Council have also for some time now called for Ghana to decriminalise cannabis.
The group argues among other things that marijuana has been well-established and successfully used for relieving some ailments. These include pain, controlling nausea, stimulating appetite and relieving the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and other ailments