Background to the Study

Cannabis,Ganja, Igbo, Weed, Morrocco, Indian hemp, Marijuana; they all refer to arguably the most commonly available naturally occurring psychoactive drug there is in the world. Its psychoactive abilities stem from the fact that it contains active chemical substances that can change brain functions and result in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition and behaviour. Cannabis is widely used as a recreational drug and sometimes, even for ‘spiritual’ purposes. More recently, its extraordinary medicinal capabilities are more openly acknowledged, resulting in decriminalization in some countries.[1].

Clinical importance surrounding marijuana has garnered much global attention in recent years. Controversies surrounding legal, ethical, and societal implications associated with use; safe administration, packaging, and dispensing; adverse health consequences and deaths attributed to marijuana intoxication; and therapeutic indications based on limited clinical data represent some of the complexities associated with this treatment. Marijuana is currently recognized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA’s) Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (Controlled Substances Act) of 1970 as a Schedule I controlled substance, defined as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medicinal use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety data for use of the treatment under medical supervision.[2]

Cannabis is the most commonly cultivated, trafficked, and abused illicit drug worldwide; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), marijuana consumption has an annual prevalence rate of approximately 147 million individuals or nearly 2.5% of the global population. In 2014, approximately 22.2 million Americans 12 years of age or older reported current cannabis use, with 8.4% of this population reporting use within the previous month.3,4 General cannabis use, both for recreational and medicinal purposes, has garnered increasing acceptance across the country as evidenced by legislative actions, ballot measures, and public opinion polls; an October 2016 Gallup poll on American’s views on legalizing cannabis indicated that 60% of the population surveyed believed the substance should be legalized.[3] Further, a recent Quinnipiac University poll concluded 54% of American voters surveyed favor the legalization of cannabis without additional constraints, while 81% of respondents favored legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.[4] Limited data suggest that health care providers also may consider this therapy in certain circumstances.[5]In the United States, cannabis is approved for medicinal use in 28 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico as of January 2017.10

The use and acceptance of medicinal cannabis continues to evolve, as shown by the growing number of country now permitting use for specific medical indications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has considered how it might support the scientific rigor of medicinal cannabis claims, and the review of public data regarding safety and abuse potential is ongoing.[6]

The agency saddled with the enforcement of drug laws in Nigeria is the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). The agency has the job of curtailing the consumption of drugs in Nigeria. The general powers of the agency are contained in section 3 of the NDLEA Act.[7]

Under the NDLEA Act, which came about by the promulgation of Decree Number 48 of 1989, the possession or smoking of cannabis, or even allowing one’s premises to be used for dealing in cannabis, can result in a prison sentence from 15 years to life. Its precursor, the Indian Hemp Act, was even harsher, carrying a maximum sentence of death.

The 2011 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report stated that cannabis use was prevalent among 14.3 per cent of 15 to 64 year olds in Nigeria. The same report in 2014 revealed that Nigeria had made the highest number of cannabis seizures of any African country. Following this report, the NDLEA launched a programme dubbed ‘Operation Weed Eaters’ that aimed to rid the country of cannabis.

The medical benefits of marijuana are key element of the pro-legalization argument. Advocates suggest that marijuana reduces stress, and has uses as an analgesic, an antiemetic, a bronchodilator, and an anti-inflammatory. It has been found to cure hiccups, helps protect against brain trauma, improves the immune system, and helps the brain terminate bad memories following catastrophic events (Sides, 2015). The anti-legalization campaign periodically argues that states with medical marijuana laws see increases in youth usage rates. Lynne-Landsman, et al. (2013) found that states with medical marijuana laws did not have measurably significant increases in youth usage rates in the few years following medical legalization. Hasin, et al. (2015) adds context to Lynne-Landsman, et al.’s (2013) findings, suggesting that adolescent use is higher in states with legal medical marijuana. Thus, the relationship between medical marijuana legalization and impacts on youth usage rates is not currently known with any exactitude. Thus, the present study seek to investigate the ethical and legal implications of the use of marijuana for clinical purposes

Statement of the Problem

Marijuana use in the Nigeria society has become an issue of serious concern and constitutes one of the most important risks taking behavior among young adult. Despite worldwide concern and education about cannabis use, many only have limited awareness of their adverse consequences (Eneh, 2004).

Cannabis has been used to reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy and people with HIV/AIDS, and to treat pain and muscle spasticity (Borgelt, Franson, Nussbaum &Wang, 2013). According to Borgelt and colleagues, (2013) Safety concerns regarding cannabis include the increased risk of developing schizophrenia with adolescent use, impairments in memory and cognition, accidental pediatric ingestions, and lack of safety packaging for medical cannabis formulations.

Similarly, Gordon, Conley, and Gordon, (2013) reported that exposure to marijuana had biologically-based physical, mental, behavioral and social health consequences and was associated with diseases of the liver (particularly with co-existing hepatitis C), lungs, heart, and vasculature.

Numerous studies have been conducted (e.g Eneh, 2004; Borgelt, Franson, Nussbaum &Wang, 2013; Gordon, Conley, & Gordon, 2013) to unravel the etiological complexities of cannabis use in an attempt to search for effective prevention programs. However, it is evident from studies done that a variety of factors account for frequent use of cannabis in our society. Some of these factors include family and peer-group influence, exposure to mass media content, and low level of self-esteem. The present study intends to understand some of the ethical and legal implications of the use of marijuana approved for clinical purposes.

Aims and Objectives

  1. To examine the legal framework governing the use of medical Marijuana
  2. To critically examine the social impact assessment and marijuana policy

Research Methodology 

The methodology of this research is mainly doctrinal. We applied the ordering analysis of the legal structure, legal framework and case law to establish our objective. This we did by extensive survey of legal literature, even when we did not undertake any form of field work. We however undertook descriptive analysis, interpretation and systemization of legal norms or doctrines. We gave commentaries on the philosophical questions underpinning the research, including the nature or characteristics of the laws themselves. The materials used are sourced from primary and secondary sources. The primary resource materials used in this research include relevant legislation on the subject matter, rules and regulations made pursuant to the relevant legislation.

It will be impossible to undertake a study of this nature, without the complement of previous research works in this field. The secondary source of data used in this research, includes relevant published text books on the subject. Articles, periodicals, magazines, journals, seminar/workshop papers and sundry national and international written materials are utilized in coming to some of the conclusions in this research. We engaged books or other written source materials on the research. Basically, we looked for available source materials in the subject area of research and examined, appraised, critiqued, evaluated, analysed, and used the information thereof as a basis for our recommendations for decision making, enactment of laws and rules and regulations. Other relevant materials, including those from the internet and electronic sources  are deployed in the research.

Significance of the study

The study will equally add to the existing body of knowledge on the subject marijuana legalization, rules and policy. Students undergoing research work similar to the present study who may wish to use this work as a reference material or a spring board for their own work will find this work really useful.


[1] 25 Booth, M., Cannabis: A History (London, 2003), p. 292

[2] Control and enforcement Part B–Authority to control; standards of controlled substances §812. [also known as Controlled Substances Act, 21 United States Code § 812(b)(1), 1970].


[3] Swift A. Support for legal marijuana use up to 60% in U.S. Oct 19, 2016

[4] Quinnipiac University. Allow marijuana for vets with PTSD, U.S. voters say 10-1, Quinnipiac University national poll finds; slim majority say legalize marijuana in general. Jun 6, 2016

[5] Adler JN, Colbert JA. Medicinal use of marijuana–polling results. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:e30

[6] food and Drug Administration. FDA and marijuana. Jul 7, 2016

[7] The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, as amended by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (Amendment) Decree 1990 (section 3 (1))