According to a BBC report filed on January 8th, the government of the West African nation of Cameroon will allow HIV/AIDS and cancer sufferers to use marijuana for pain relief. But in a strange twist, and citing no source, the story went on to say that Cameroon would import medical marijuana from Canada.
That was news to the Canadians.
"There is no foundation for that report," Canadian Health Ministry spokeswoman Roslyn Tremblay said flatly.
"We don't have any to export," Tremblay told DRCNet. "We don't know where this is coming from, other than perhaps they saw the recent announcement that we had awarded a contract."
Health Canada announced in late December it had awarded a contract to supply it with medical marijuana to Prairie Plant Systems of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The company will supply the Canadian government with 400 pounds of rolled joints and bulk marijuana next year and about a thousand pounds per year for the remainder of the five-year, $7 million contract.
The weed will be made available to the roughly 140 people who have been granted federal medical exemptions so far, with more to follow. For the past eighteen months, the Canadian federal government okayed the cultivation and use of medical marijuana for a small number of people for such diseases as multiple sclerosis.
Some of the contract marijuana, which will be grown in a mineshaft, will be used in research, and Prairie Plant Systems will also grow placebo pot for clinical trials. No surplus is expected.
And if there were?
"If there is a surplus," said Tremblay, "we don't know how we would dispose of it. If it could serve a practical purpose elsewhere... well, we hadn't considered that," she pondered.
Coming back to earth, Tremblay reiterated the ministry's somewhat bemused position. "As we stand at this moment, there is no consideration of any export of the contract marijuana."
Be that as it may, the BBC report, filed from northwest Cameroon, says local marijuana farmers and activists are upset, and this time it cites sources. The story quotes Dzeka Edwin Fon, the head of a group calling for the legalization of cannabis cultivation in the northwest, as saying the crop could provide a bulwark against high unemployment. "Cannabis is already being grown in Cameroon -- though illegally -- so it is unwise for the government to import it," he told the BBC. Better to cultivate it locally under Health Ministry supervision, he added.
The story also cites an unidentified doctor arguing that Canadian marijuana has no ingredient that makes it superior to the local variety for medical purposes, and that local crops could supply all the public hospitals and clinics in the land.
Cameroon, along with other West African countries, produces significant, if unknown, amounts of marijuana for domestic consumption and export to the region and to Europe. According to the BBC report, cannabis is widely used and accepted in the northwest region, even being used "in the production of a hair lotion popular with Cameroonian women."
According to the US State Department's latest country report, "Cannabis is widely available in Cameroon; some of it grown domestically, more imported from Nigeria. According to the local press it is the drug most widely used among Cameroonians (next to alcohol). The average price of 2-3 grams of cannabis is 50-100 CFA (USD .08-.16)."
The UN's International Narcotics Control Board, in its most recent annual report (http://www.incb.org/e/ind_ar.htm), complained "that cannabis cultivation has increased and that important seizures of cannabis originating in Cameroon have been made in Europe."
Cameroonian police have sporadically attacked cultivation and trafficking in the northwest, seizing roughly 8,000 pounds of cannabis annually in the late 1990s. The national Gendarmarie have also burned fields in the northwest and in 1999 arrested hundreds of young people during their sweeps.
For Cameroonian cannabis growers, it seems the immediate threat is not a Canadian competitor, but a repressive government, with the international drug war bureaucracy glowering in the background.