By Ediomo-Ubong Ekpo Nelson / Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy
Studies on cannabis criminalization that interrogate the experiences of users are mostly of western origin. Relatively little is known about the experiences of cannabis users in Africa. This study explored cannabis use and criminal sanctions based on the experiences of users. It draws on qualitative data collected through in-depth interviews with street-involved youth (n = 97) recruited through time-location sampling from 11 purposively selected cannabis hot-points in Uyo, Nigeria. Data were transcribed, coded and analysed thematically. Cannabis was used by these young people for recreational and functional purposes, including stress relief, work performance and coping with life’s difficulties. Criminal sanctions for cannabis use, which included arrest and (pre-trial) detention following crackdowns on hot-points by police officers, did not produce desistance, but encouraged corrupt and unlawful policing practices (e.g. extortion) that exacerbated social and health harms for marginalized youth. Law enforcement officers’ complicity in the supply and use of cannabis within detention facilities further undermined desistance. The failure of criminal sanctions to reduce cannabis use highlights a need to explore alternative measures, including decriminalization of minor cannabis offences (e.g. retail, consumption) and provision of treatment services for dependent users as an alternative to custodial sentencing.