Arriving at the tranquil village health facility in southwestern Nigeria, we were met by a small gathering of men – young and old – with thinly veiled excitement.
These rural farmers were visibly intrigued by our research interest in their experiences as proud growers of ewé ọlà (leaf of wealth), as they colloquially describe cannabis in the Yorùbá language. They had consented to meeting at the health facility because of its obscure location.
Cannabis is a heavily criminalised plant in Nigeria. It can get its growers, traders and users long prison sentences. The National Drug Law Enforcement Act prescribes an imprisonment of not less than 15 years for possession and use of cannabis. Yet its very illegality ensures high prices and makes it lucrative to grow.
We are researchers who have studied drugs and drug policy in Nigeria for nearly 20 years. We were aware of the risks to our interviewees and the need to protect them. Our research project is one of the few to explore the inside views of illicit cannabis farmers and traders in Africa.
These insider views challenge the dominant story that the illicit cultivation and trade of cannabis is unproductive or driven by organised criminals.
Our main findings show that livelihoods are not only made from legal crops. In fact, it is illicit cannabis, with its illegality premium, that made a difference to our interviewees’ lives in Nigeria. Understanding what roles cannabis plays in people’s lives can help to inform alternative and possibly better drug policies.