Even the most knowledgeable smokers may be surprised to hear that Ghana consumes more cannabis than most nations. In 2014, a United Nations Report cited the West African country as the world’s number one consumer of India Hemp (Cannabis Sativa). Last year, Ghana dropped down three spots in ranking, and though it remained the leader in Africa, some strong opposition to cannabis decriminalization was starting to take effect.

The legal standing of cannabis, known across the country as “wee,” is a grey area in Ghana (as it is in other African countries). Similar to the early stages of decriminalization in the state of California, cannabis is not technically illegal in Ghana, though the Narcotics Drug Law prohibits any Ghanaian from cultivating, using, importing, or exporting any narcotic drug without a license. Patients are required to obtain approval from the Ministry of Health, which enables citizens to lawfully use, cultivate, import, and export wee. Known for its robust nightlife, Ghana has a growing cannabis cultivation economy and, according to the local newspaper Weekend Finder, a number of young workers are now focusing on growing India Hemp over all other viable crops. Cannabis cultivation remains one of Ghanaian farmers’ most resilient and profitable crops.

Despite these positives, the country still considers marijuana to be a narcotic substance, and the pro-cannabis movement, which has long been led by the Rastafari Council of Ghana, has suddenly found itself battling a formidable opponent. The face of the anti-cannabis movement is Dr. Akwasi Osei, the Chief Executive of the country’s Mental Health Authority.

The doctor has a bombastic argument against the decriminalization of cannabis, which centers mostly around the negative mental health effects that the substance has on the country’s young minds. Dr. Osei claims that cannabis can interfere with mental health behavior, lead to aggressive and violent behavior, and leave students unmotivated in school. He also uses the age-old argument of the gateway drug, claiming that once cannabis becomes unsatisfactory, users will move on to cocaine or heroin—a growing problem in Ghana and around the rest of Africa.

“There are a whole lot of issues about cannabis and … we have known here in Ghana and Africa that cannabis … brings about mental illness,” Dr Osei said in June. “In the West, they had challenged that position, so in those days when you attend conferences … they will say it does not.”

Dr. Osei went on to say that the cannabis Ghana produces is higher in THC and thus causes “a lot of problems by interfering with the functions and chemicals of the brains that lead to transmission of impulses,” producing a pleasant feeling that addicted users then chase.

Ghana’s Rastafari Council has pushed back accordingly. On April 20, 2016, the beloved 4/20 holiday for cannabis users around the world, the council released a statement calling for full decriminalization. The council used the wise words of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who argued that the criminalization of cannabis has a much worse effect than the actual use of cannabis. The Ghanaian advocates also used statistics from the decriminalization movement in the United States as proof that teenage use would not inflate. Khex Pongo, the chairman of the organization, constructed the statement to argue against Dr. Osei’s view that it will increase violence throughout the country.

“Decriminalizing will influence the way in which the police treat the young men of this country when confronting them during police operations,” said Pongo. “Cannabis is illegal and many young men use it. The truth is, that out of the number of young men who use cannabis, only a very small percentage of them are actually involved in violent criminal activity, their only crime being the possession of a controlled substance; a victimless non-violent crime.”  

Although the Rastafari Council has continued to put forth a valiant effort in fighting for decriminalization, the country’s law seems to still be under the sway of Dr. Osei and the Mental Health Authority. Last month, a Ghanaian farmer was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment for having 10,940 grams a marijuana growing on his farm without the proper permissions, a pretty harsh punishment for a country that is the third highest consumer of cannabis in the entire world. At the same time, Ghana’s Osu district has prided itself on its marijuana-infused akpeteshie drink, which many local nightlifers take to get the perfect buzz between drunk and stoned.

All things considered, the view on cannabis in Ghana remains a cloudy one, where the plant is all but embedded into the culture, but is still condemned by those like Dr. Osei, who seem to be out of touch with the wishes of the people. As the Rastafari Council of Ghana and other advocates continue to battle forth against the stigmatization of cannabis, those who wish to partake without getting into legal trouble will still have to go through the Health Ministry. Regardless of who emerges as the victor, it’s undeniable that cannabis will remain an integral part to the Ghanaian culture and way of life. Hopefully Dr. Osei will recognize this before more cannabis users and cultivators in the country are unfairly imprisoned—an experience that is certainly more detrimental to a person’s mental health and well-being than marijuana will ever be.