Whether they are smoking a blunt or eating kush cakes, more young Nigerians are using marijuana than ever before.. and it has nothing to do with the devil.
Depending on where you’re reading this from, it is very likely that that you know someone that smokes cannabis, the herb that is commonly referred to as weed.
If you live in any of Nigeria’s major population centres, Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kano, the chances are higher; every young person you know has probably consumed one variant of marijuana, in one way or the other, in the course of their lives.
If that young person is a millennial, the chances just went through the roof.
This is not meant to cast outright assertions about the habits of the younger members of your family and friends; it is simply what statistics and months of social deduction say.
According to data from the United Nations Office for Drug Control, the average age of first use for most Nigerians is between 10–29 years; the same report states that 10.8% of these people continue to use cannabis for a substantial period over the course of their lifetimes.
And you might be tempted to blame failing institutions or today’s bad children, but the reasons are far simpler.
In the past decade or so, cannabis use has become a major part of popular Nigeria culture. The dank aroma of a burning blunt is now about as common as K-Cee dressing like a traffic light or Uncle Dino Melaye bringing more shame to his immediate family and the people of Kogi State.
You get the point.
You probably don’t like it but it’s not as surprising as it used to be.
There was a time when children were actively taught about drug abuse and every cannabis smoker was thought to be about 30 minutes from insanity and a stint in one of our many psychiatric facilities.
So how did we get to the point where weed is almost normal?
It started with perception. And that change in perception started with the legendary Fela Kuti.
Even though there are strong claims that certain tribes actively cultivated it as far back as the 18th Century, it is widely accepted that marijuana use was introduced to Nigeria by soldiers returning from the Burma front of the second World War.
They had discovered it at the hands of fellow soldiers from other countries who taught them to use it to numb the pain and trauma of war.
But it was the enigma, Fela Kuti, who put it in the face of all and sundry.
As Fela’s militant music and message touched nerves across society, they came in the image of him holding a blunt in his right hand.
The people loved the music but not everyone supported this blatant drug use, he was arrested on a number of occasions for drug possession and use.
Some, however, listened to this man talk about how this herb was made to liberate the mind. His staunch followers saw him reach creative and philosophical heights that they thought impossible and in time, they explored it themselves.
The average Fela fan was a poor person living in the oppressive regimes of the 1970s — 1990s and that factor, coupled with the pressure for survival and the desire to be detached from their reality made them willing participants.
In the years when Afrika Shrine was in the Mushin/Surulere vicinity, that area became a hotbed for dealers and users of Cannabis. Thanks to places like the famed Shitta, it still is.
It only makes sense that it is musicians and entertainers, inspired by Fela, that have done the most to change how cannabis is viewed in the years since he passed away, particularly among the younger generation.
The factors that facilitate this are still the same; the average young person in these times is displeased with the state of things, and where one can not search for leave in body, it is easy to search for and find leave in mind.
Where Fela treated the herb from a philosophical standpoint, today’s entertainers have approached it as a tool, a part of their routine and in turn, an element of the culture.
There may have been a time where the NBC banned videos for encouraging illegal habits but they must have forgotten all about it.
It is nearly impossible to see a music video from any of Nigeria’s more popular musicians without a cloud of smoke floating around like a featured artiste.
We’ll assume you know the music video for his 2013 hit "Redemption", where Jesse Jagz, producer extraordinaire and already proven lyricist laid down the law and cried out to Babylon.
"Burning Bush" is two-faced weed love song: a ballad to what Jagz percieves of the herb and a dirge to the woman who revealed it to him. The album that produced these songs, his magnum opus, "Jagz Nation Vol. 1: Thy Nation Come" is Nigeria's
In recent times, musicians like Wizkid, Davido, and the very aptly-named Burna Boy have taken it a step further and completely tied their very brand identities with marijuana.
We’ll keep things on this side and not cross over the seas to Young Thug, Migos, Future or Wiz Khalifa.
What these people do, perhaps unwittingly, is make weed cool.
So when a young person first considers smoking a blunt, the question he has to answer is no longer a moral one, it is a social question.
Will you say no or will you do it for the culture?
This ‘re-branding’ of marijuana is part of a global conversation that has been on-going for the better part of the past 100 years.
The traditional perception of weed as a ‘bad drug’ was never restricted to just Nigeria. Around the world, it has always been vilified as a dangerous and addictive drug and tied to social disorders, violent crime and insanity for most of the 20th Century.
Then, as if to flash a big middle finger to the rest of the world, the Netherlands changed its policy on cannabis and classified it as a soft drug.
In reality, it was not made legal, but chances of getting arrested became very slim, except where the smoker is a minor or disturbs the public peace.
Naturally, citizens of other countries around the world have begun to push for liberal policies on drugs. In the past 20 years, several states in the United States, Canada and the whole of Uruguay have legalised cannabis.
The conversation surrounding marijuana has shifted from ‘vilification’ to ‘legalisation’, it only makes sense that this has filtered into Nigeria.
Thanks to the news, social media and a culture that has encouraged us to look to the West for standards to aspire to, young people now approach cannabis with a relaxed stance.
The question they ask is simple: If it’s legal in a developed country, then how will it make us mad?
It is clear that these factors play a major role but we cannot say they are the sole reason why marijuana has seeped into your homes, back-packs, parties and just about everywhere.
Music videos, 10-second snaps and videos of people celebrating in California may get one interested, but finding the herb to consume is another equation entirely.
Which is why it should come as a surprise to no-one that it has become too easy to find weed in Lagos.
For every corner, shantytown, street, neighbourhood or estate, there are two guys; one sitting innocently on a bench, the other loitering carefully around, both with small pouches and a bag stashed somewhere, all of them heavy with weed they are ready to sell.
In some high-brow areas, dealers ride around on bicycles and small motorcycles waiting on the next order for weed that they will deliver in a matter of minutes.
Think about it, that young people can now get weed by delivery.
All that is left is to open e-commerce sites where users and consumers can order their preferred quantity and strain from the comfort of their beds.
And as cannabis has become more accessible, consumers (and various business people) have devised newer, more creative ways to use it.
Last week, a colleague of mine came in contact with a random collection of students from one of the more prominent universities in Nigeria. Ever the precocious, data-hungry guy that he is, he asked them when, if ever, they had their first experience with weed.
All 8 of them had consumed weed at one point in time in the last two years. 7 of them had taken it in either a cake, pie, slice of pancake, smoothie or a juice.
Just one person had smoked it.
It’s not hard to understand why.
Smoking marijuana attracts attention, the smell of burning weed is a distinct, dank odour that most people are familiar with.
But by mixing and preparing it with familiar foods and drinks, a big problem is solved.
I dare you to tell the difference between a regular chocolate cake and one with cannabis infused from the taste or smell alone.
The result is that tens of retailers and 'head shops' have popped up that offer these products - cookies, cakes, oils, smoothies.
More people now get high while consuming regular foods and attracting zero attention.
This is not to say that smoking has gone out of fashion, it remains the most common mode of using marijuana in Nigeria and this is made relatively easy by the fact that law enforcement agents just don’t seem to care as much as they used to.
A good number of Nigerian policemen smoke weed themselves, some of them at the same spots and bunks where it is sold. But that is beside the point.
Except you’re completely naive or you decide to light a blunt in the most public or notorious places, it is very difficult to get arrested for smoking weed in Nigeria.
Let’s be clear; the Police takes possession very seriously and getting caught with the smallest quantity of marijuana will most definitely get you arrested.
The case is different with smoking because most times, it is a question of who feels troubled by it or, better still, whether it constitutes a nuisance.
A lot of the time, the answer is no, most people, even where they are uncomfortable with marijuana use in their immediate vicinity, are very reluctant to inform the police.
It may seem difficult to believe, after all, Nigerian law enforcement officials are notorious for arresting people at the slightest offence… and sometimes when you’re completely innocent.
But there are persons sitting in the open around Surulere and Ketu in Lagos, Jimeta in Yola, Karu in Abuja and Upper Sakponba in Benin, diluting the atmosphere with cannabis smoke as you read this. They would beg to differ.
Save for the NDLEA (who are probably willing to arrest anybody that can spell smoke), the attitude of the Police and various subordinate security agencies towards consumption and use is more relaxed than you would expect for a country as conservative as Nigeria.
Maybe it is just a reflection of the general stance that higher authority is gradually taking over Cannabis. In a 2012 interview with Daily Post, then-presidential aspirant Muhammadu Buhari trivialised marijuana in comparison to other hard drugs like Cocaine.
“These drugs, We We (Indian hemp), is planted here, but the hard drug, cocaine, most Nigerians don’t know what cocaine is.”, he said. "You can have a certain people who grow Ashisha or We We and so on because it is indigenous. But cocaine, it is alien to our people. And this drug (cociane) is so potent that it destroys people, especially intelligent people”
This, the same person who enacted the notorious Decree 4 that provided that drug peddlers should be shot.
Nowadays, visit any concert, live show, art exhibition or random gathering of young people and you are likely to see one or more daring ones set fire to a generous doobie, with policemen or security officers nearby, unlooking and moving on with their lives.
It is easy to blame them for disregarding their duties and allowing the use and possession of an illegal substance.
However, you will find there is little they can do to affect a growing culture that is pushing us towards an important crossroads when it comes to this subject.
That culture is fuelled by all the factors that we have explored - a change in how weed is seen and understood, increased access to it, an ever growing global conversation and overwhelmed law enforcement agents running on outdated rules and regulations.
Considering how much it has permeated and become a norm, particularly among young people, there is nothing to indicate that marijuana consumption will dwindle or even stall.
So, control your sense of smell, relax your nerves and avert your eyes if need be, it appears you're about to see a lot more weed around.
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