A member of the House of Representatives, Princess Miriam Onuoha, representing Okigwe North Federal Constituency comprising Isiala Mbano/Onuimo and Okigwe Local Government Areas of Imo State on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) recently proposed a Bill to regulate the cultivation, procession, availability and trade in cannabis for medical and research purposes. Princess Onuoha, a first term lawmaker, has brought credibility, hope and progress for the people of Okigwe North as a consummate advocate of development-oriented legislation having sponsored or co-sponsored bills and motions that have so far impacted not only her constituents but Nigerians positively.
They include motion on the plight of out-of-school children, co-sponsor of a motion to ban sporadic shooting and use of firearms in public functions and sexual abuse against women and children bill. But the bill to legalise Marijuana seems to have attracted more public attention making her stand on cannabis or marijuana popularly known as “Igbo” in our local parlance the most celebrated legislation in the 9th Assembly.
Marijuana or weed is prohibited by law in the country to prevent negative consequence and influence on those who smoke or misuse it secretly hence Princess Onuoha believes the advantages inherent in Marijuana outweigh its disadvantages.
Contrary to the popular belief that marijuana is harmful to health and in most cases responsible for high rate of mental illness in the country, Princess Onuoha while announcing the legislation titled “The Cannabis Control Bill 2020”and leading the debate argued that marijuana can be harmful to health if abused or used without prescription by a medical practitioner, saying the essence of the bill is to regulate the cultivation, procession and availability and trade in cannabis for medical and research purposes. The lawmaker, whose goal is to be part of a vanguard that will use the chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly to prepare for a better Nigeria, believes that politics in the Federal Assembly is all about making good laws for the country amid other functions. She adds that anybody who does not understand the workings of the Assembly can be there for three times without making visible impact on the lives of the people of his constituency.
Essentially, she is sponsoring the bill because of its health and economic benefits if passed into law. To her, legalization of marijuana is long overdue for medical purposes and for its economic benefits. In line with the present administration’s diversification drive, there is need for Nigeria to legalise marijuana to cushion the economic effects of Coronavirus pandemic. Princess Onuoha expressed confidence that with legal control and proper regulations by appropriate authorities, cultivation of cannabis will increase income of farmers and the nation’s economy through foreign exchange.
The objectives of the bill include provision for a registration and licensing system for cannabis farmers and processors in order to regulate the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medical purposes and promote public awareness about the cultivation, processing, availability and trade of cannabis for medical and research purposes and its use in relation to medical or health purpose.
If the bill is passed and assented by the President, cannabis plantation will generate income far more than oil as cannabis now has various benefits and value chain in pharmaceutical industries for drugs and cosmetic manufacturing as well as other research purposes for institutions, saying by so doing it will create employment for the teeming youths in Nigeria.
Having served previously as member, Imo State Implementation Committee, Community Services, Women and youth Empowerment (CSWYE) and the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), she realized the effect of drug abuse on youths hence the bill prohibits issuance of cannabis license for medical use if such a person is without a proof that unless he or she is either a medical doctor and intends to use it for medical purposes or a pharmaceutical company who intends to use an amount of cannabis which may be determined as required in producing a medicine for the cure of a certain diseases.
Canada and Israel are reportedly among countries that are using cannabis (CBD) for the treatment and management of COVID-19 patients in their countries. The lawmaker was an environmental consultant with over ten years experience and served in different capacities of leadership in national, state and local government establishments where she had initiated and driven interventions in development issues, environmental affairs, tourism as well as women and youth empowerment.
It is good that the bill has received the backing and endorsement of her colleagues, especially female lawmakers, individuals and organization such as the Civil Society Organisation, stakeholders on farming cannabis for medical use initiative, which they described as “Strategic” bill that would unlock the potential of cannabis.
More importantly, Princess Onuoha re-emphasized that her intention was not to legalise the abuse of weed, but is for the nation to provide suitable regulations, control and license for farmers and investors who will cultivate cannabis which will serve as raw materials for pharmaceutical industries that can produce products for local and foreign needs and for overall national interest.
Countries like China and Canada are reportedly using the opportunities provided by the farming of cannabis to increase their national revenues and create jobs. In the home front, as a former member Board of Nigerian Tourism Development Cooperation and also Chairman, Tourism Development and Investment Committee where she helped develop the roadmap for increased revenue in tourism sector through Public-Private Partnership (PPP), the lawmaker expressed optimism over the richness of the nation’s soil which she said is very suitable and can be useful for the cultivation of cannabis if the necessary regulatory framework is given by the government. The bill has passed the first reading.
Okafor writes from Lagos