Posts Tagged ‘http://standardtimespress.net/cgi-bin/artman/publish/article_4636.shtml’
Marijuana And Our Youths: Smoking The Future Away
Posted by Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk) on May 22, 2010, 09:01
ABOUT 50 metres from the United Methodist Church at Koroma Street, Old Road, Calaba Town, a group of youth gather in a pote called Main Bowl to smoke the “Wise Thang.” Four of the youth are in their school a uniform…Brima’s (not his real name) behaviour has changed considerably. His eyes are constantly bloodshot. He keeps himself withdrawn from the rest of his class and now prefers sitting at the back row.
“What’s wrong with you Brima?” queries his teacher repeatedly. “Madam, don’t disturb me ok; you’re interrupting my meditation,” the boy retorts to the annoyance of his teacher, but to the amazement of his classmates.Marijuana! At home here it has a variety of names or nick-names, from Couchie, Sling, Jumbo, Weed to Wrap, Djamba, Tie, Grass, Ganja and the Wise Thang. The cost per wrap is Le 500.00 or Le1, 000 (far less than a dollar)- depending on the quality, and it is available next door. Apparently Marijuana is out of control in Sierra Leone and very little is arguably being done by any organisation to control the cultivation, sale and use of the Indian Hemp. It has become the most popular drug among our youth and is potentially the most dangerous drug in the West African country.
There are more than a thousand outlets called ghettos/potes/camps/cartels/yards scattered all over Sierra Leone. The peak period for abuse of marijuana in Sierra Leone is the so-called Bob Marley’s night on May 11, when youth all over the country celebrate the late reggae musician’s birthday by smoking the substance openly and freely. In the past (70s and early 80s) marijuana smoking was done in secrecy, says Mr Arnold Olayinka, a retired school teacher. “It was like any secret society. Most of the people who smoked it then- mostly young men- hated very much to be associated with it because society woefully scorned at it. Society associated users with all the criminal activities that were going on.”
However, today marijuana smoking is done in open air. It is as accessible as cigarettes. Almost every street you walk past in the capital city of Freetown, the smell of Djamba sweeps across your nostrils. Moreover, users of the substance are not afraid to be identified with it. Youth of school going age constitute an alarming proportion of users. Four out of every 10 school pupils in the Western area interviewed randomly for this article are either frequent smokers, have just being introduced to it or have gone through the experience one time or the other. Nowadays there are even potes near school compounds where some pupils hangout before going for lessons or to dodge school assembly.
Other users include the young unemployed, vagrants, prostitutes, immigrants, ex-combatants (most of who have not been properly rehabilitated and re-integrated into their communities of origin) and the down-and-out who don’t see any future in their lives. The ghetto is their office, and they spend hours every day smoking while discussing a range of topics from the economy and politics, to music and football. “If Reggae legends such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear, and Joseph Hills Culture smoke it publicly during their performances… if they advocate for its legalization so passionately… What’s the harm in us smoking it? After all some medical practitioners recommend marijuana as a cure for asthma,” says one youth at Valley View, a popular pote in Central Freetown. “If you are to give a speech in front of a large gathering and you are kind of panicky, I recommend a sling. You will deliver well,” says another youth. “Marijuana gives you confidence. It gives you control over everything you’re doing. “Peer pressure is a major influence on young users. “If you want to be recognized by your peers, or you want to court a girl, then you must move with the crew,” says a youth who was introduced to marijuana recently. “If you don’t, the others will consider you a ‘Babylon’ or a ‘baldhead’. They will dissociate themselves from you.” This desire to be recognized encourages many youth to experiment with marijuana smoking. And when they do, they gradually become hooked.
Another cause is frustration and depression over life’s circumstances and poverty. Lack of opportunities for a better life, the youth turn to the ghetto to get company and kill the day; and to forget about the problems at home. However, the problems never go away, especially with marijuana. The effects of marijuana can be detrimental. According to official sources, the strong type of marijuana is now being imported from Nigeria into Sierra Leone. Some retailers even mix it with another substance called brown brown, which is derived from cocaine. This increases the risk of users developing a mental illness. The most common combination of drug abuse among Sierra Leonean youth is marijuana and alcohol (e.g. Pegapak), and, according to Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Edward A. Nahim, this is responsible for 80% of all mentally ill problems we have in Sierra Leone. Abusers of marijuana also risk having psychoses, a condition wherein they lose touch with reality or the world around them. 90% of the inmates at the City of Rest-the only rehabilitation centre for substance abusers in Sierra Leone- are drug related cases, especially with Marijuana.
In addition, marijuana can be very dangerous to the country as a whole, says Dr Nahim. It can lead to violence, aggression, armed robbery, and sometimes destabilising the functioning of the state. The ugly side of this trend falls on school children. Marijuana changes their attitude towards school, religion and authority. In early April this year, the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) apprehended 27 bags of Marijuana in Kambia district. Ironically five police men are being investigated on allegations of taking bribe and letting the culprits go free. According to ASP Shyllon, Asst Director of CDIID, the consignment of Marijuana was heading for Guinea when the Police arrested the vehicle after a tip off. Marijuana farming is a very lucrative business in Sierra Leone today. The SLP at one time discovered a large marijuana farm in the peninsula area, and apprehended seven miles of marijuana farm in the provinces. Recent raids have also yielded alarming discoveries.
However, the ones not apprehended are in the majority. Marijuana is now produced in all parts of Sierra Leone, as opposed to before, for domestic, commercial and export purposes. It’s even alleged that some police officers do own Marijuana farms up country. “The marijuana problem is a huge one,” says ASP Francis Munu. “I think during the war, many Sierra Leoneans took the liberty to grow Marijuana because it’s more rewarding financially than food crops. But we (the Police) are doing our best and I think we are up to the task. “Unfortunately, legal justice does little or no good. In 2008 the Government of Sierra Leone ratified the National Drugs Control Act, which makes the possession and use of drugs such as marijuana illegal. In other words anyone caught buying, selling or in possession of marijuana is liable on conviction for a term not less than five years. However, raiding potes and arresting and charging culprits to court exposes offenders to more substance abuse and criminal behaviour in prison.
But according to Dr. Nahim, it is the dealers that should be prosecuted while the users should be referred for treatment. “The solution to the problem is two-fold,” says Dr Nahim, who incidentally has been Sierra Leone’s only psychiatrist for a long time. “First, you reduce the supply of marijuana by destroying farms and effectively manning traffic routes. Second, you discourage the demand for marijuana through medical advice. Give public lectures and sensitise the public on the dangers of marijuana smoking. “Furthermore, Dr. Nahim suggests the creation of skills training and job opportunities for the youth to be able to live independent lives and become less dangerous.