In a disappointing turn of events, the Supreme Court of Ghana has reaffirmed its decision to strike down a law permitting the cultivation of cannabis for industrial and medicinal purposes. This ruling not only undermines the potential benefits of regulated cannabis cultivation but also hinders Ghana’s progress toward a responsible and controlled legalization framework.
In this article, we will delve into the policy dilemma created by this decision and explore the implications it has for Ghana’s cannabis industry.
Unconstitutional Grounds and Missed Opportunities:
The court’s argument that the law allowing cannabis cultivation violated Article 106 of the 1992 Constitution raises concerns about the interpretation of legislative intent. While it is essential to ensure that bills meet the necessary requirements, it is equally crucial to evaluate the broader implications of such decisions. By focusing solely on procedural technicalities, the court overlooks the potential economic and social benefits associated with regulated cannabis cultivation.
Ghana has an ideal climate for cannabis cultivation and a rich history of traditional use, making it well-positioned to tap into the global market for cannabis-based products. The strikeout of this law denies the country an opportunity to generate revenue, create jobs, and foster innovation in the burgeoning cannabis industry. Furthermore, it disregards the growing body of evidence supporting the therapeutic potential of cannabis in treating various medical conditions (Holland 2020 ; Davis 2016 ; Javid et al. 2016 ; Sharma et al. 2018 ; Shrivastava et al. 2011; WHO 2014 ).
Regulated Legalization: A Pathway to Progress:
The rejection of the law on cannabis cultivation not only stifles economic growth but also impedes the development of a robust regulatory framework. Regulated legalization is an effective means to address public health concerns, reduce the illicit market, and ensure consumer safety. By allowing carefully controlled cultivation and distribution, Ghana could have established a system that safeguards against abuse and promotes responsible use.
Many countries worldwide have recognized the potential benefits of cannabis legalization and have taken steps to create comprehensive frameworks to regulate the industry. These nations are reaping the rewards, both economically and socially, as they embrace the emerging cannabis market. By contrast, Ghana’s decision to strike down the law puts it at a disadvantage, hindering progress and missing out on the opportunities a well-regulated cannabis industry can bring.
As one of the world's largest consumers of cannabis, it's estimated that 21.5% of Ghana's population (aged between 15 and 64) regularly uses the drug (Prohibition Partners, 2019). In 2012, officials from the Border Agency at Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom made a seizure of cannabis originating from Ghana . The haul, weighing in at 1.5 tons, was the largest ever recorded and had an estimated value of £4.3 million. More recently, in August of 2016, authorities seized over two metric tons of cannabis in the Volta region of Ghana .
The Prohibition Partners (2019) estimate Ghana's medicinal cannabis market value at 0.38 (US$m) and recreational market value at 326 million dollars by 2023 . According to the World Drug Report (2018), Ghana is identified as one of the primary sources and trafficking points for cannabis in Africa. These reports suggest that the country has the potential to produce for the legal cannabis market.
However, countries like Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi have taken the lead by legalizing cannabis to reap their medical and economic benefits. For instance, Lesotho saw an FDI inflow of $13.13m in its cannabis industry (Prohibition Partners 2019 ).
Agriculture contributes significantly to the GDP and employment in Ghana . In 2014, agriculture contributed about 23.6% to GDP, 22.8% in 2015, and increased to 23% in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, it contributed 22% and 20.5%, respectively. Additionally, the Planting for Food and Jobs program launched in 2017 created 11,270 temporary and 2,700 permanent graduate jobs. This suggests that with the appropriate policies in place, agriculture, under which cannabis production falls, can contribute more to Ghana's development.
Overcoming the Policy Dilemma: To move forward, it is imperative that Ghana reevaluate its approach to cannabis cultivation and legalize it within a robust regulatory framework. This decision should be guided by evidence-based research, lessons learned from other jurisdictions, and an understanding of the potential socioeconomic benefits that a well-regulated cannabis industry can offer.
The government should engage in thorough public consultations, involving all relevant stakeholders, including experts, medical professionals, farmers, and the general public. By fostering open and informed dialogue, Ghana can craft a comprehensive policy that addresses concerns while maximizing the potential benefits of cannabis cultivation.
Conclusion: The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the law on cannabis cultivation in Ghana is a setback for the country’s progress toward regulated legalization. By focusing on procedural technicalities, the court fails to consider the broader socioeconomic implications and potential benefits associated with a well-regulated cannabis industry.
Also, the Government of Ghana is not against the regulated legalization of cannabis for both medicinal and industrial benefits. It is therefore imperative for the Attorney General, who is obviously upset by earlier efforts and significant progress made by the government to legalize cannabis in 2020 to review the position by Parliament. Therefore, Parliament should be invited to scrutinize the decision made by the Supreme Court against the potential socio-economic benefits of the regulated legalization of cannabis for medicinal and industrial purposes.
Ghana should seize the opportunity to reassess its approach, engage in evidence-based policymaking, and develop a comprehensive framework that harnesses the potential of cannabis cultivation while safeguarding public health and promoting responsible use. It is time to embrace progress, learn from global experiences, and shape a future that allows Ghana to thrive in the emerging cannabis market.
Source: ACRIPOD, African Cannabis Research Institute for Policy and Development