Marijuana and the protection of endangered species are rarely things we mention in the same conversation, never mind the same sentence. However, a growing problem in Nigeria suggests that it might be time to start.
Despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary, marijuana is still classified as a narcotic drug by most world governments. Forbidden to grow this plant or to purchase it from growers legally, those who wish to take advantage of its physical and emotional benefits are forced into the black market.
Depending on who you ask, the illegal sale of marijuana generates between $10 and $120 billion in revenue a year. It’s no wonder criminals are willing to risk life and limb to grow, even if it means jail time or worse. Desperate for money, illegal marijuana growers have taken to Nigeria’s forests, a move that threatens resident wildlife.
The Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee is considered the most threatened of the four subspecies and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Unfortunately for this threatened chimp, its home happens to be the very forests that marijuana growers are clear-cutting in order to meet the black market demand for weed.
During a 2012 survey, researchers participating in The Southwest/Niger Delta Forest Project found that half of the deforestation occurring in these reserves from 2010 to 2012 appeared to be the result of cannabis cultivation.
“Demand for the marijuana product is soaring,” Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh, Coordinator and Principal Investigator of the The Southwest/Niger Delta Forest Project, told Mongabay.com. “Profits from marijuana crops can come in within 6 – 8 months of planting, fetching 2 – 3 times more money than could be gotten from cultivating other food crop…”
This is a side-effect of marijuana prohibition that you won’t hear on the radio or in a politician’s speech. But it’s important to consider. Keeping cannabis illegal, despite widespread public approval for recreational weed, or at the very least decriminalization, is taking its toll on the planet, not to mention our economy and culture.
The war on drugs, which many admit has been a dismal failure, costs the American government (aka taxpayers) $20 billion dollars a year and ruins lives when growers and consumers are thrown in jail for possession of a plant. Now, we’ve come to realize that forcing marijuana into the black market is also destroying vital forest ecosystems where our closet biological relatives are struggling to survive.
As more countries, like Uruguay, and U.S. states, like Colorado and Washington, begin to legalize recreational marijuana use, it’s likely we’ll see demand for black market weed decline dramatically, if not disappear. For the chimps of Nigeria, this can’t happen soon enough.
Photo Credit: USAID Africa Bureau