Namibia: Ganja Advocate Takes Shanghala to Task

Ganja Users of Namibia secretary general Borro Ndungula says members of the National Assembly should refrain from making untrue and misleading statements against cannabis legalisation.

Ndungula made the appeal in a statement he issued on Saturday, after justice minister Sacky Shanghala, during a parliamentary session last week, said Namibia is not apt to manage the apparent devastating effects brought about by the drug.

"The drug [cannabis] is sold in lower income areas. Let us first solve the alcohol abuse problem in the country. As it is, we do not have sufficient drug rehabilitation centres. We hardly talk about mental issues," Shanghala said.

He, however, noted that the plant has potential therapeutic effects to ease cancer symptoms - but said this is not enough to call for its legalisation.

The justice minister was responding to Swanu president Tangeni Iijambo, who said the criminalisation of cannabis was violating the fundamental rights of Namibian citizens.

Previously, Iijambo was quoted to have said that Namibia could be losing out on potential economic benefits due to the government's resistance to legalise the use, sale and growing of the 'weed'.

Ndungula has since advised Shangala to rather focus on amending or repealing 'obsolete apartheid laws', which he said include the abuse of Dependence-Producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act 41 of 1971.

He said in his statement: "There is countless proven scientific and medical evidence that says cannabis is 100 times safer than alcohol."

Ndungula is challenging the minister to "produce any proof that says Namibian masses don't want to replace prescription pills with cannabis."

"As much as citizens want to use cannabis instead of expensive prescription medicines, there is no single doctor in Namibia ready to prescribe it to them because by law cannabis is illegal and therefore criminal.

"No doctor wants to take that risk but the demand from the users who need cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes is huge, yet minister of justice says any argument in favour of legalisation on medicinal ground is defective and must be rejected," he said.

Asked about the negative impacts of the drug, Ndungula suggested that people only abuse cannabis due to lack of education. "Once its legalised, people will know better," he argued.

Last month, The Namibian reported that the police are at the forefront of those opposed to legalisation; the health ministry is somewhere in-between; while the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council feels there must first be a study to determine potential demand, and the highs and lows of how it would work.

To show the police's concern, Khomas region's police commander Joseph Shikongo, also mentioned during an interview with the newspaper, that drug possession topped the list of the most prominent crimes during the first phase of the just ended 'Operation Kalahari Desert'.

Recent months have witnessed a pro-cannabis group - which Ndungula was part of - marching for the legalisation of cannabis, while another group of anti-cannabis protesters participated in a counter march.

PSYCHOLOGISTS WEIGH IN

Clinical psychologist Anina du Toit notes that some studies have found that cannabis is associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in individuals.

Schizophrenia is described as a mental disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. Schizophrenic patients may appear to have lost touch with reality. "My opinion is that young people should avoid the use of cannabis as their brains are still developing and it places them at risk for developing schizophrenia and psychotic symptoms," Du Toit added. Another psychologist, Edwina Mensah-Husselmann, said during her 12 years in private practice, she had witnessed how people's brains were irreversibly damaged by cannabis abuse, explaining that the legalisation of cannabis in Namibia will bring more harm on a mental health level.

"Legalisation of cannabis will enable more psycho-social problems such as violence, violent crimes, and poverty because cannabis users obtain cognitive impairment and do not act in their right mind.

"The dependence on any drugs drives users to deplete their own resources to be able to have the next fix or to commit crimes to obtain money to feed their addiction," said Mensah-Husselmann.

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