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The societal impacts of legalizing marijuana in South Africa

01.01.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Cannabis, marijuana, weed or whatever is called in your part of the world is globally the most commonly used psychoactive substance under international control. In 2013, an estimated 181.8 million people aged 15−64 years used cannabis for non medical purposes globally Nevertheless we cannot minimize, its misdeeds that have just been demonstrated (loss of memory and neurons, accidents, cancers). Its legalization will result democratization and without adequate regulation, it may turn into a real problem in the disadvantaged sections of the population.

But there are always concerns that once a previously illegal substance like marijuana is legalized, a plethora of challenges may follow suit. Chief among these is crime. The argument is that due to the fact that it is now easier to acquire the drug, an increase in drug related crimes is likely to follow. But one could argue that because marijuana has a relaxing, calming effect, the person in such a state of mind is barely motivated to commit crimes.

One of the biggest concerns raised is that once the drug is legal, there will be a sharp increase in the amount of users and abusers thus impacting on the positive economic participation of citizens of that particular country leading to a decrease in overall societal well-being. There is also a concern that the most vulnerable, easily influenced groups such as the adolescents, youth and young adults would be caught in the web of addiction.

DENATIONALIZATION OF MARIJUANA IN SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s highest court recently legalized the personal use of cannabis and ruled that the ban on private possession, consumption and cultivation of the plant for own use is unconstitutional.

South Africa became only the third country in Africa to legalize cannabis, after Lesotho in September of 2017 and Zimbabwe in April 2018.  A National Survey of Youth Risk Behavior conducted in 2015 among students in Grades 8-10 indicated that 12.8% of South African students (13−15-year-olds) have used cannabis, and a study of young

People in grades 8−10 in the Western Cape in South Africa found lifetime use of 23.6%. The South African Stress and Health Study (SASH) surveyed over 4000 adults aged 18 years and up in a household survey and found 8.4% lifetime use. Males were more likely to use than females, and urban dwellers more likely to use than their non-urban counterparts.

But there’s a general feeling of discomfort that marijuana would have devastating consequences for Africa and her people as there are challenges already of substance abuse and that the youth are in the firing line of this assault. Will they be able to run businesses efficiently, will countries produce proper civil servants that would assist the country’s economy to grow? Will the society produce well equipped and productive members of the society? These are some of the question that need clarity before considering legalizing marijuana.

WHAT ARE THE HEALTH RISKS OF MARIJUANA?

On the other end of the spectrum is the plethora of studies that have investigated and found negative associations between marijuana use and its impact on health.

The continued use of cannabis is thought to worsen existing symptoms of bipolar disease among those who suffer from mental health problems. But among those with no history of the mental health condition, there’s limited evidence to suggest a link between continued marijuana use and developing bipolar disorder.

Moderate evidence suggests that regular marijuana users are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, and there is a small increased risk of depression among marijuana users. Marijuana use is likely to increase risk of psychosis, including schizophrenia. But a curious finding among people with schizophrenia and other psychoses is that a history of marijuana use is linked with improved performance on tests assessing learning and memory.

Although there is no evidence to suggest any link between using cannabis and an increased risk for most cancers, the National Academies of Sciences did find some evidence to suggest an increased risk for the slow-growing seminoma subtype of testicular cancer.

The daily use of cannabis over years and decades appears to produce persistent impairments in memory and cognition, especially when cannabis use begins in adolescence

Cannabis acutely impairs several components of cognitive function, with the most robust effects on short-term episodic and working memory, planning and decision-making, response speed, accuracy and latency.

Regular marijuana smoking is linked to increased risk of chronic cough, but “it is unclear” whether smoking marijuana worsens lung function or increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma. There is also evidence that demonstrates both the harms and health benefits of marijuana but more research is needed to confirm the health impact of continued use of the plant.

THE BENEFITS OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA

The National Institutes of Health suggests that people have used marijuana to treat their ailments for at least the past 3,000 years and the plant has also been a source of curing ailments in Africa through indigenous knowledge systems.

A large review from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine assessed more than 10,000 scientific studies on the medical benefits. The review found that marijuana, or products containing cannabinoids — which are the active ingredients in marijuana, or other compounds that act on the same receptors in the brain as marijuana — are effective at relieving chronic pain.

Another comprehensive review of evidence, published last year in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, revealed that using marijuana may help people with alcohol or opioid dependencies to fight their addictions.

The review published in Clinical Psychology Review assessed all published scientific literature that investigated the use of marijuana to treat symptoms of mental illness. Evidence to date suggests that marijuana could help to treat some mental health conditions. The review indicates that there is some evidence to suggest that marijuana might alleviate symptoms of social anxiety.

South Africa is thus in a position in which legalization would offer clear economic and social benefits. If channeled properly, revenue tax could be used to alleviate many social ills that currently plague country. But there’s a potential for big business in the legalization of Marijuana that would inject a much needed stimulus in the continent’s economy. But every country must make an informed decision on the societal impacts before considering legalization.

Article from AFRIC Editorial.

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