The Chief Psychiatrist of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, Dr Akwasi Osei, has condemned calls for a national debate on the legalisation of marijuana in the country, describing it as “a dangerous call”.
He said the legalisation of marijuana or ‘wee’ would rather encourage more youth to increase or start smoking it and consequently raise the rate of mental cases and drug-related crimes in the country.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra, Dr Osei said the suggestion that Ghana should legalise marijuana, as done by some European countries and some states in the United States of America, was unfounded, since Ghana’s marijuana was more potent in terms of causing mental ailments than the marijuana used in Europe and the US.
Besides, he said, those countries had lost the fight against marijuana, hence their decisions to legalise its use.
Dr Osei said Ghana had not lost the fight against wee and, therefore, the recent calls for a national debate on its legalisation were without basis.
Another worrying trend, he said, was the increasing number of teenagers using marijuana.
The Accra Psychiatric Hospital receives 400 outpatient cases daily, with 30 per cent of the cases being cannabis-related.
The hospital recorded 4,000 cannabis-related outpatient cases in 2013.
Of the 485 inmates at the hospital, 50 of them, which constitutes 10 per cent, are cannabis-related.
On March 12, 2014, the Executive Secretary of the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Mr Yaw Akrasi Sarpong, said on an Accra radio station that the “war” waged on marijuana stood to be lost because many people believed “what you are fighting is not a crime”.
He said legalising marijuana, like some states in the US had done, would help regulate its use and reap huge profits for the country.
Potency of Ghana’s marijuana
Dr Osei said the strength of the cannabis used outside the country in Europe and the US was nowhere near the strength of the cannabis used in Ghana.
“Recently it has been established that our cannabis has much stronger component of cannabinol, the active ingredient, compared with cannabis over there, so if their cannabis does not cause mental illness, our cannabis causes mental illness,” he said.
Effects of marijuana
The Chief Psychiatrist said besides the mental problem caused by marijuana, “it is the gateway to drugs such as cocaine and heroin”.
“Somebody uses marijuana and at some point he thinks that marijuana is no longer effective. So he wants to go further for cocaine and heroine. Marijuana also causes behavioural changes because it impairs your judgement,” he said.
Dr Osei noted that many people who were committing crimes such as armed robbery were on cannabis because it seemed to embolden them to do what they wanted to do.
Besides, cannabis could cause cancer of the lungs and other parts of the body and also reduce fertility, he said.
The Chief Psychiatrist said the current drug war, which focused unduly on supply reduction of marijuana, to the neglect of demand reduction, was wrong.
He said people found handling cannabis beyond ‘personal use’ should be jailed.
However, if someone was seen using a small quantity to treat his addiction, that person should be forced to go for mandatory treatment, instead of being made to serve a jail term, Dr Osei said.
“Because if you jail him, the addiction is there. He will come back and continue or go and continue over there. Until we use this approach and fail, we cannot claim that we have lost the drug war, so let us legalise it,” he contended.