Namibia’s justice minister has ruled out legalizing marijuana as he feels the country is ill equipped to deal with its potentially harmful side effects.

Activists within the African nation have been protesting in a bid to see its prohibition of medicinal and recreational cannabis use overturned. A group of Rastafarians marched through the streets of Windhoek on Good Friday, protesting and declaring that smoking weed is their birthright.

They want to see the Abuse of Dependence-Producing Substances and Rehabilitation Centres Act 41 of 1971 repealed, as they feel it is an obsolete apartheid law that should be scrapped.

However, they will be disappointed to learn of justice minister Sakeus Shanghala’s comments on the subject. He claims that Namibia does not have enough qualified psychiatrists to deal with the potential mental health effects that could come with the legalization of marijuana.

Shanghala also said that the country must first tackle alcohol abuse before it can think of legalizing cannabis use.

“We do not have sufficient alcohol rehabilitation centres and countrywide there are only 19 registered psychiatrists,” he said. “We hardly have enough psychiatrists to handle even criminal psychiatric evaluations, how are we going to deal with an explosion of psychotic-prone symptoms in society?”

He argued that there are other medicines that can provide the pain relief that cannabis offers, while they do not come with the “psychotic disorders” and “detrimental effects on cognition” that he associates with marijuana.

He also fears a rise in depression if cannabis is legalized.

Shanghala reminded all Namibians that anyone found with marijuana is subject to a fine of up to N$30,000 (US$2,158) and up to 15 years in prison. Despite the strict punishments, it is estimated that 3.9% of Namibians are cannabis users.

Campaign group Ganja Users of Namibia has championed marijuana’s medicinal properties and its potential to boost the country’s economy.

South Africa recently decriminalized cannabis and this year it has been approving companies to export to lucrative markets around the world. Lesotho is also emerging as a real hotspot for cannabis cultivation, but Namibia – which borders South Africa, has thus far decided against liberalizing its approach to marijuana.

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