Columns

Cigarettes versus marijuana the paradoxical situation

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, April 30, 2014    

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SMOKERS and non-smokers would have probably recoiled in horror when seeing the newly designed cigarette packets that display various stages of advanced cancerous illnesses alleged to have been caused by smoking tobacco with high nicotine content.

The new packets sold by Carreras Limited are intended to discourage smokers from indulging in what is acknowledged to be a dangerous pastime that could be fatal. For those smokers that remain in denial, and there are very many, who hypothetically, may have an X-ray to determine the cause of their annoying cough, when shown the minute lung spot would probably think "nothing to worry about", but on the contrary it could be the signal that worse is in the offing. To see a lung removed after a lifestyle which included heavy tobacco smoking, emits a strong warning to obtain remedial assistance as soon as possible and desist from smoking. That is the objective of the cautionary packet advertising campaign.

While the cigarette company is campaigning to persuade smokers to quit, Government is planning to introduce an even more harmful and addictive smoked substance in the form of decriminalised recreational ganja, which is diametricaly opposed to the cigarette company's offensive against tobacco. The question to be asked is, "Would decriminalising ganja significantly improve Jamaica's moral standing, the economy, national health, social welfare, the environment, and the international standing of Jamaica and its people? This situation is positively inane and demonstrates the cavalier attitude of those promoting recreational ganja. Kudos is due to Dr Fenton Ferguson, minister of health for stating publicly "I don't support the smoking of marijuana, just as I don't support the smoking of tobacco. My support would not be for legalisation that will allow for wanton smoking of ganja". For example, "Legalisation has been tried before in the US and failed miserably. Alaska's experiment with legalisation in the 1970s led to the state's teens using marijuana at more than twice the rate of other youths nationally. This led Alaska's residents to vote to re-criminalise marijuana in 1990". (DEA).

For clarity, we feel obliged to again explain that "decriminalisation" is the term used to describe the removal of, or reduction in criminal penalties for particular acts. It is a broad term used that includes a range of measures such as the removal of sanctions or the simple possession of drugs or lowering the penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs. The current dialogue in the Parliament deals with "decriminalisation" and not specifically with "legalisation", and whether it should apply to ganja for recreational use mainly for smoking pleasure. Medical marijuana has already been approved for use in the manufacture of medicinal products. After years of inconclusive study, continuing debate related to the decriminalisation of recreational ganja, represents an expensive gesture to the minority who seek instant illegal and injurious self-gratification, while issues of greater importance to the nation languish in the anteroom gathering dust.

It's worth mentioning, that in the past the British Government reclassified cannabis from a Class B drug to Class C, in an attempt to reduce the amount of police work related to processing offences involving marijuana. The move was unpopular as critiques were of the view that Government was implying the drug was not as harmful as believed earlier. In a short space of time, the result of the move became evident with a significant increase in ganja use which led to the drug being reclassified to Class B as it now stands. Changing the Classification from B to C did not amount to decriminalisation per se, as the original category and substance of the drug had not been altered. However, the reason for the change in the first place, was the discovery that contemporary cannabis contains a much higher percentage of THC than earlier varieties. This new version called "skunk" poses a serious threat to both the physical and mental health of its users.

In our domain, we repeat the important reference published in The West Indian Medical Journal of December 1999 that contains an article by Dr Archie McDonald and others of his team in the trauma centre at the University Hospital in Kingston. Their findings were in the tests of blood and urine on 111 victims admitted during a three month period, ganja was the most prevalent substance found in their bodies. The discovery was made in 50 per cent of victims of road crashes and 55 per cent in victims of violence- related injuries. By comparison, alcohol was found in 43 per cent of crash victims and 27 per cent of violence-related injury cases. The conclusion is that ganja plays a greater role in motor vehicle accidents in Jamaica than alcohol.

Meanwhile, we wonder what has become of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) that launched the Resistance Education against Drugs (READ) project with support from the National Health Fund targeting 25 schools to combat the initiation age of ganja use, reported to be 10 years old! Imagine the far reaching nature of this destructive situation if ganja is to be decriminalised and available to the general public? We urge the NCDA to canvass the minister of justice not to consider decriminalising recreational ganja use. There are enough cultural aberrations to manage nationally, without adding another known addictive substance that has the potential to increase industrial accidents, violent crimes and traffic accidents, to name a few effects of THC, the psychoactive drug in cannabis aka ganja. Over to you NCDA!

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