Marijuana which is also known as cannabis or Indian Hemphas been the subject of many legal arguments in recent times especially with its legalisation in many American states. In Nigeria however, marijuana use remains not just illegal but also a federal crime attracting severe punishments ranging from whipping (for minors) to imprisonment of up to twelve years with sale and growing of the plant carrying penalties of up to twenty-one years imprisonment with serious cases of trafficking attracting the capital punishment under the Indian Hemp Act LFN 2004.
Despite the strictness of the law, a study carried out by the Committee on Drug Policy of the Wellington Ministry of Health ranks Nigeria as the highest producer of the plant in West Africa and the eight highest consumer of the drug in the world. The focus of this article is however the claim by many who have been accused of using the drug that its use is for religious purposes pledging allegiance to the Rastafarian faith. A notable marijuana user who claimed he used the drug for religious purposes is legendary singer, Majek Fashek.
While other jurisdictions have responded to this issue, the Nigerian courts are yet to make a ruling on this. In England, the popular 2002 case of R v Taylor leads the line where it was held that the United Kingdom’s prohibition of cannabis use did not contravene the right of freedom of religion. In Italy and many American states, the Supreme courts have taken a contrary view by allowing Rastafarians usage of the plant in their worship in line with the freedom of Religion and conscience laid down in the Convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of which Nigeria is also a signatory. In addition to this, Section 38 of the constitution guarantees all Nigerian citizens including people living legally in Nigeria, the right to freedom of religion with the only exception being membership of a secret society.
While the courts in Nigeria are yet to make a ruling on this, it is my opinion that the constitution being the grand-norm of our laws guarantees Rastafarians the right to practice their religion freely and by implication the use of marijuana. Therefore, the Indian Hemp Act and Dangerous Drugs Act are to the extent of their inconsistency with section 38 void in the words of section 1(3) of the constitution.
NNAMDI UZUEGBU is a student of the Nigerian law school and a law graduate from Igbinedion University, Okada.