Rural farmers in south-western Nigeria grow ewé olá (leaf of wealth), as cannabis is usually called in the Yoruba language. This plant is highly criminalized in Nigeria and is capable of imprisoning its growers, traders and users for a long time. According to the National Drug Law Enforcement Act, possession, and use of cannabis attracts an imprisonment of not less than 15 years. Despite these prison sentences, it has become a lucrative business with high prices. Researchers who have learned drugs and drug policy for almost two decades in Nigeria researched this plant.
Through this research, researchers discovered that illegal cultivation and trade of this drug is not unproductive or only driven by organized criminals. Findings revealed that farmers do not make a living through legal crops. Adequate understanding of the roles played by cannabis in the lives of people can contribute to informing alternative and better drug policies. The purpose of the research was not to carry out an estimation of the trade or use, as is often done by the United Nations and government studies.
There are socioeconomic benefits attached to cannabis farming and trade.
The research aimed to develop an understanding of what the plant means to its growers, traders, and users. Through the interviewees, it was learned that there are socioeconomic benefits attached to cannabis farming and trade. This plant had turned out to be the major source of income for many as it is more profitable than traditional crops like cocoa. These benefits which help to ameliorate unemployment, widespread poverty, and meagre income were the major reasons for their engagement in these activities.
Most rural settlers find cannabis farming as a major means of generating and diversifying income to make ends meet. Majority of the interviewees said that the profit of the farming was used to feed their families, provide shelter for their families, and send their children to school. Those who took up a profession in retailing and transporting the drug in the city confessed that it provided the income to meet basic needs and the needs of their dependants, which makes them feel better about themselves.
Cannabis represented mental disorder and deviance among Nigerians.
In contrast to the views of many, cannabis farming and trade is not only done by socially deviant and uneducated individuals but also by university graduates, village elders, and some members of the community who lived law-abiding lives. A university graduate returned to the village to farm the drug plant because he believed it could provide a better source of living than paid employment. Some farmers also stopped growing other cash crops like cassava and cocoa to commercialize cannabis due to its lucrativeness.
However, some of them continued to cultivate cassava, cocoa and other crops as a cover to prevent the threat of detection by police officers. Many young men have been introduced to this farming by farmers. The stigma associated with the drug remains, regardless of its socioeconomic benefits. The drug plant has since a long time ago represented mental disorder and deviance among Nigerians and has been proven to have a widespread demonizing effect. Therefore, its growing, trading and usage is subject to social disrepute.
They hoped that Nigeria legalizes the market of the drug.
Also, the interviewees complained about the illegitimacy that they experience and its adverse effects on their self-esteem. They likewise talked about the consequences of drug criminalization and police raids on cannabis retail sales outlets, locally called “bunks”, and farms. Sometimes, they prepare money to bribe law enforcers. Majority of them are aware of the plant’s legalization in some countries and hoped that someday, their means of livelihood would become respectable through its legalization in Nigeria. Their worry was also expressed on the assumption that the future legal market of the drug might be taken over by affluent, urban-based politicians interested in exploring new investment opportunities.