The House of Representatives on Thursday stepped down a bill seeking to decriminalise the use of Cannabis in the country.
This is as the lawmakers tasked the Central Bank of Nigeria to immediately direct commercial banks to overhaul their online and electronic banking services.
Members of the House of Representatives, on Thursday, at plenary were divided over a Bill seeking to amend the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, 2004, to confer additional responsibility of the power to grant and revoke licenses for the cultivation of Cannabis plant for medicinal purposes.
The proposed legislation, which was stepped down at the plenary, Wednesday in order to consolidate it with similar bill, was sponsored by Hon. Benjamin Kalu and Hon. Olumide Osoba.
On Thursday, however, the Bill was presented for second reading after it was consolidated with Hon. Miriam Onuoha’s bill, tilted, “Bill for an Act to Decriminalise the Growth and Use of Cannabis, to Establish a System for the Registration and licensing of Cannabis Growers.”
The co-sponsor, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, leading the debate on its general principles, informed his colleagues on the plethora of medicinal benefits attributed to cannabis such as pain control, weight loss, cancer treatment etc.
He said the Bill sought to establish and regulate the safe use of cannabis as a source of medicinal treatment in medical centers, adding that Nigerians shouldn’t live in denial on the benefits while they go outside and import it, in medical form, from Germany, Australia etc.
On the financial implication, Kalu who is also the House spokesman, said the NDLEA was an existing agency of the government and if the Bill was passed into law, it would not bring additional cost to the government.
But speaking against the Bill, Hon. Nicholas Ossai, noted that Nigeria was a signatory to the international treaty of nations on the ban on cannabis, and therefore, queried the authenticity of the statement that cannabis could cure cancer, or that it could be efficiently regulated when allowed to be legally administered.
Countering Ossai’s view, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, reminded Ossai that where existed conflicts of Laws and Treaties, Laws always took preeminence, especially when the treaties were not fully domesticated.
He stated that the bill did not repeal any existing law and that it would allow experts to contribute at the Public Hearing if cannabis could treat the mentioned illnesses.
Hon. Nkem Abonta, on his part, called for balance in the passage of the Bill as the motive of the sponsors of the Bill was just, but the practical application could be harmful to society, especially if not effectively regulated and then abused.
He therefore advised on a rigorous debate at a public hearing where the relevant experts could shed more light of knowledge on the matter.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Idris Wase, who also opposed the Bill, expressed worry that if legislation was used to legalise cannabis, it could be exploited to abuse the drug, especially among the youths.
But Gbajabiamila insisted that the very fact that the drugs were being abused necessitated the need for regulation.
Disagreeing further, Wase warned that if cannabis was legalised Nigeria would be turned to a drug baron country, and Nigeria shouldn’t be turned to Columbia.
Chief Whip, Hon. Mohammed Monguno also stated that the articles of the bill seemed vague and ambiguous and at such, could make it highly manipulated by abusers of cannabis.
Kalu, in exercising his right of reply, stated that the consolidation of the different Bills, has distorted original intention.
Judging by the mood of the House, Kalu requested to step down the Bill for further consultations.