In his wisdom, Karl Marx believed that "religion is the opiate of the people". Indeed, in times of trouble, churches are full of the faithful seeking assistance of the Almighty to spare them from impending disaster. Similarly, with ganja, in times of national stress — whether due to the unacceptable level of crime or the grave state of the economy — the pro-ganja lobby again comes to the fore. The perennial arguments are once more advanced attempting to persuade the Government to decriminalise and ultimately legalise cannabis. This accounts for the recent plethora of pro-ganja articles and commentart in the media.
Before addressing the numerous views in circulation, a critical clarification is necessary: Medical marijuana, which contains proven beneficial medicinal properties, differs from smoked marijuana that is decidedly injurious to human health. This distinction is essential to consider when assessing the merits and demerits of marijuana. In Jamaica, it is well known that a leading use of medical marijuana are the medicines produced by Drs Albert Lockhart and Manley West, ie Asamasol, Canasol, and Antimol for the treatment of glaucoma and asthma; in association with Dr Henry Lowe and Mr Hawthorne Watson who contributed through research related to the nature of cannabis.
In the preparation of those medicines, the psychotic drug Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been extracted, rendering the users immune from any psychoactive reaction. Untreated marijuana is known to contain about 30 active ingredients collectively known as cannabinoids, which are harmful to human health.
The likelihood of decriminalising untreated addictive ganja so it can be smoked or used in various foods and drinks cannot be described as a positive step in the improvement of the national health. In addition to alcohol and cigarettes, that contain addictive nicotine, the availability of another addictive substance that becomes easier to obtain, less expensive and more socially acceptable will induce more individuals of all ages to use them. Would such action be progressive and in the beneficial interest of Jamaica's national health?
The number of politicians and others calling for decriminalising of ganja is astounding given the parlous state of the country's economy. Such time spent should be devoted to creating jobs and stimulating growth instead of relishing the thought of what types of "spliffs" could soon be on the "high" street downtown and elsewhere.
Dr Dayton Campbell, MP for St Ann North Western, must be commended for revealing some of the detrimental effects of smoked cannabis, and warned against the ill and wide-ranging negative defects of decriminalising marijuana. It should be noted that in the United States it is medical marijuana that has been liberalised in certain states. Possession and use of the drug remains a federal offence.
Reference is frequently made to the Dutch experience and their control of what they categorise as "soft" and "hard" drugs, so called depending on the level of the health risks involved with their use. The possession of soft drugs is limited to 30 grams, but was recently reduced to five grams, for personal use, is a summary offence rather than an indictable offence. Soft drugs may be sold in coffee shops under strict conditions. In answer to the question, have drugs therefore been legalised in the Netherlands? The answer is "No," and importing or exporting, selling, producing, and possession of either hard or soft drugs are an offence in Dutch law.
The maximum quantity of soft drugs the coffee shops may sell, has been reduced to prevent tourists from purchasing drugs for export, a practice frequently encountered in Jamaica. The cost of addiction is a significant factor, as drug addicts are not left to their fate in Holland. Addiction being first and foremost a health problem, it is the aim of the various care services to reach as many drug addicts as possible. With the expected increase of ganja users following decriminalisation, the cost of health care in the public domain would rise. Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson needs to give serious consideration to this potential liability. The Dutch are planning to commit addicted offenders to a special prison facility for addicts.
It is recommended that before changing the Jamaican law, Dr Ferguson contact the Dutch Ambassador in Cuba, and enquire about the latest drugs management techniques in Holland where it has been reported, that the system had to be modified in the light of rapidly rising costs relative to the care for the burgeoning numbers of addicts which have resulted from the liberalised system. Furthermore, it would be prudent to get the press to conduct a poll on the subject of decriminalising ganja to check the national validity of such a controversial decision.
Again the question must be asked, why are the domestic Drug Courts, with one in each parish, not used to bring about the same result sought by changing the domestic law? A first offender caught with a "spliff" and taken before the Drug Court is given a warning and released without charge or criminal record. A second offender, when again before the Drug Court, is asked to participate in a rehab programme. In the event the offender is unrepentant, they would then have to attend the Magistrate's Court for a hearing which could result in a verdict and create a record if found guilty.