When you formed the DOC in December 2019, you said the membership comprises responsible citizens from all walks of life. Who are these members?
From the outset, something that everybody wanted was like a natural mystic. From then onwards, we started discussing it and interest started building up. About the responsible citizens that you are asking, I cannot name them because they are responsible, that makes them discreet. We don’t have to expose people’s name in the media. Maybe I don’t have their consent to do so because of the time constraint. But yes, when the time comes, when the legalisation comes, you will know, everybody will know because everybody is in line with the legalisation of cannabis in Gambia.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your educational background and your upbringing.
I first attended Serekunda primary school, then transfered to Kaur because my dad at the time was traveling to America and didn’t want me to stay here. My aunty was the headmistress at Kaur Primary School. I completed my primary school in Kaur and proceeded to Armitage High School after Common Entrance. I did Form One in Armitage but when my dad came back from America, I transferred to Nusrat High School but I ended up finishing at Gambia High School. I then went to GTTI for a year. My education was based on passion and after realising that the course was not for me, I quit after a year. I taught at Nusrat High School as a physical education instructor. After a year of teaching, I went into business which led me to travelling to the UK in 1994, this was two weeks before the Revolution. The first thing I did in UK was a management course. I have a diploma in management. After that, I pursued a career in coaching. I did my coaching course from level one to two, I did child protection, emergency first aid and a diploma in sports psychology courses. I did all that, honestly, just solely to take out the Scorpions from the ditch they were in and take them to the international stage. Since then, from 2004, I have been applying for job. You know Gambia, you have to be a bootlicker to get some jobs and everybody knows I am not that type of person.
Why should the country legalise marijuana?
The country should legalise marijuana in many ways and for many reasons including because of the state of our economy. When the coalition government came to power, they went to EU and sought for funds and they had a pledge of 1.4 billion that came with strings attached. To tell you the truth, those funds are still not released because whatever they wanted from Gambia they didn’t get yet, such as LGBT and stuff. So we are saying, why not we just decriminalise cannabis like other countries are doing despite not having the arable land, the sunshine to do that but The Gambia does? Even though we have Ginack here, we can take it to a bigger level whereby we can legalise it for export, medical purposes, tourism etc. It can give a facelift to agriculture. Decriminalisation of cannabis would ensure that facelift and take the economy to the next level. This would ensure our young people stay here and earn a decent living.
A lot of kids in the country tend to develop bad behavioral tendencies after they first start using cannabis, while others go into delinquency. Is that criminal or a mental health issue as a result of marijuana?
I say no to that for the simple reason that cannabis is a medicinal drug. The prohibition of cannabis is causing all these problems because cannabis has different strains, just like there are different kinds of beer. Because of prohibition, the individual cannot choose the strain that they want. If there was a legalisation and there is a designated smoking area, or a coffee shop or a sports bar, people can go in and choose the best strains but because of prohibition people are forced to buy from anywhere, around the corner, the illicit market. The illicit market does all sort of stuff. It’s never guaranteed that you will get a good stuff from the illicit market and people are often disappointed when they realise the stuff they bought is not good enough. We need to legalise it so that both the people and government benefit from it. The medicinal part of it outweighs any negative perception attached to it. Cannabis cannot make anybody to do something wrong. You do something because you want to. It has so much positive effects on people. For God’s sake. The behavioral part of it is just the individual. It’s like any other plant. People send their kids to buy cigarettes on which it is written ‘smoking kills’. That is far more harmful than cannabis. The white man made cigarette and people welcomed it, yet God gave us something for our supplement, a natural thing and people say that is a bad thing.
At Tanka Tanka, they believe most of the mental cases they treat are attributable to marijuana consumption, wouldn’t it be irresponsible then to call for the legalisation of the ‘ganja’ as it is called in Jamaica?
No, it wouldn’t be irresponsible and no, the people at Tanka Tanka, is not marijuana related. I went there personally and they gave me a list of 38 people admitted and out of the 38 only four were marijuana related and that’s their thinking, it’s not even scientifically proven. I asked them among the four people allegedly there because of marijuana, how many of them are from Ginack, and they answered none. So how come the Ginack people are not crazy because marijuana is what they cultivate? Even in the media, there are many people from Ginack who are responsible people. Their parents are growing marijuana and everybody knows that growing up. So how come the people of Ginack are not found at Tanka Tanka?
Over 60 per cent of Gambians depend on farming for their livelihood, yet the agriculture sector has done little to alleviate their hard conditions. How will the cultivation and exportation of cannabis help in this regard?
The only way to facelift agriculture right now is to legalise the cultivation of marijuana for export and for medical and recreational purposes. The young people are not interested in growing groundnut because the price is going down drastically. So imagine if you legalise the growing of marijuana right now, and the government has about 200 acres of land, how many young people are going to work there? At this very junction, tens of thousands of young people are waiting for that to happen to boost our economy. We don’t want to travel. We want to stay in our country and this will not only give a facelift to agriculture but beautify it and our GDP would more than double the 1.4 billion we went to look for at the EU with strings attached. There is an opportunity of having 6 billion right now just by growing marijuana. We have something that can bring tourists here. In Holland right now, they are having problems with having to deal with the number of tourists. They don’t even know where to put them because everybody goes there to have a good time.
What do you make of calls by health experts for countries to embrace unprocessed marijuana to treat illnesses such as nausea, pain, anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and others?
One cannot avoid illnesses, the more you growing older, you will bump into them. Even Europeans are having problems dealing with these illnesses and here in The Gambia, we have an opportunity to make our own medicine and curtail that, and we are holding back. What are we waiting for? The colonial masters who prohibited it are now legalising it. So are we really thinking for ourselves? When are we going to wake up from our slumber? These people are not going to do it for us. To borrow the phrase of Yahya Jammeh, for 400 good years they were in control but never even built a single school. If marijuana was bad, do you think Canada would legalise it? And America, 13 states, all legalised it. There is a trend and Gambia must follow suit. We are not going to relent. This is going to happen.
Do you smoke cannabis?
Yes, I used to smoke. Now I graduated from smoking, I am only using it as my tea. I used the cannabis oil for whatever pain I have on my body or muscle. I even use it for my hand sanitizer. I am not worried if I have my cannabis oil. But yes, I used to smoke from 1981 when I was in Form One, at Armitage High School. And I am still here. If cannabis would make anybody mental, I think I would have been one. Tens of thousands of Gambians older than I am, are still smoking since from childhood. They are here and nothing happened to them. Some of them hold government positions.
Indeed, an increasing number of African countries are looking to cannabis as the ticket out of poverty, and foreign investment for this sector has since flooded in countries such Uganda and South Africa. Would you like the same for Gambia and how?
I would say hell yeah to that. The time is now for us to legalise cannabis. If you go to our chemists and to our supermarkets, you will find the CBD oils that the Americans are making and selling it here in The Gambia at some exorbitant prices. You would find a 20ml CBD oil for D2,100.70. Do you think the poor person, you and I can afford that? No, it’s for the elite. They are trying to make sure the poor people are not cured, that they don’t have access to natural healing. When are we going to be wise? I would love to see that [its legalisation] happen today. I don’t want my government to waste time in that regard. If you want to empower the youths, if you want to bring development to the door step of every Gambian, legalise marijuana, for God and heaven’s sake. We are not going to relent. This is natural and it is God-given. The authorities cannot stop us from smoking, the authorities cannot stop marijuana from growing because it is a plant. We are missing out big time. We are depriving our people of natural remedy. We want to satisfy the white people; we want to satisfy the imperialists and take their medicines.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about cannabis, and there continues to be an inherent bias against it due to a variety of political and personal ideologies. How does this affect your crusade for its legalisation in Gambia?
It’s so simple, and straight forward. These are all negative connotations. I am sure you have so many enemies yourself. People who just look at you and draw conclusions. Look at the Tanka Tanka misinformation that you earlier asked about. Everybody knows Ginack grows weed, even the white people are coming and taking videos of Ginack’s weed farms and putting them on YouTube, just to show how dumb we are, how stupid we are and can be sometimes. In light of all this evidence, all these positives and benefits, we are saying no to the legalisation of cannabis. Do you think that is okay mentally, for a grown ass to be just marginalised in his own house just because he is not bringing money? This is the situation here. We are driving each other crazy in our households let alone out there in the streets. Everybody is knocking heads and they want to blame that on marijuana. How about the drugs, the container of drugs? Did you hear about that issue since its report in the news? Those are the drugs making people crazy. The smoking bit, nobody can stop that. England is the biggest exporter of marijuana, believe it or not.
Politician OJ has in the past also called for the legalisation of marijuana in the country. How did those remarks from a top political figure help spur your movement’s fight in this regard?
To tell you the truth, he is right, however, we are not banking on what any politician is saying. Hamat Bah too said that, and Marie Sock too is open to that idea. They are telling the truth. They want the best for the country. They want employment for the youths. Legalisation of marijuana in this country will make backway a thing of the past. Maximum respect to OJ and Bah and Sock. They want the best for the country. And we are here to make sure that is done. It will be controlled without compromise. There will be coffee shops and designated smoking areas. There would also be an age-limit. Under 18s would be prohibited from buying and smoking. It can be done. These are the measures we like to attach to it and the authorities are aware because we have conducted a series of meetings with them.
In July 2018, the DLEAG reported a significant surge in drug abuse cases, at least 355 have been said to be cannabis related. Do you accept these figures and how will this number affect your fight?
Prohibition is making our young people criminals. And they would learn every kind of criminality as long as they are incarcerated. Can you imagine, just smoking a spliff, they take you to that Mile II, where you are associated with killers, armed robbers and the like. Even if you spend there a day, you will learn one form of criminality. When there are criminals out there, syphoning our millions, taking them outside the country, embezzling our funds and they are being celebrated. I ask you the journalists, is that fair?
Thank you for speaking to Bantaba