Legalising marijuana with robust regulations

BY Garfield Williams

Wednesday, December 18, 2013    

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I am eager to contribute to the discussion pertaining to the reform of the marijuana laws in Jamaica. "Ganja", "purple skunk", "pot", "weed", "herb", "Hemp", "marijuana" and "sensimellia" are some of the many names given to the plant genus cannabis. The three main species are sativa, indica and ruderalis. "Sister of man" and "gift sent from god" were terms used by ancient users of this "miraculous herb". "Journey in my head" from Sonnet 27 and "noted weed" mentioned in Sonnet 76 were references to cannabis and the use thereof by researchers who were prompted to carry out a chemical analysis that was later published in the South African Journal of Science.

The results illustrated that "pipes dug up from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon contained traces of cannabis". Medicinal properties were known since ancient times. Founders of Chinese medicine prescribed cannabis for malaria and rheumatism, while soldiers used it to heal their wounds due to its antibacterial properties. In India, it was used to treat epilepsy, asthma and diabetes. After the discovery of the most active compound in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in 1964, by Dr Raphael Mechoulam, many more medicinal applications were attributed to this herb. These include anti-inflammatory, anti-ischemic, analgesic, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic, the notable anti-cancer and anti-HIV. Today the drug Marinol is actually synthetic THC.

I strongly believe marijuana is the wonder herb and a gift to mankind. Its medicinal, recreational and economic aroma is nothing but captivating. Now that I have cast my ballot, journey with me to an island where the "highest grade" can be found.

Marijuana was brought to Jamaica by indentured labourers in the 1800s. They used it for medicinal and spiritual practices. The Rastafarians, in the 1960s, also found this plant to

be a wonder herb and entrenched it in their faith. The reggae icon Bob Marley, through his melodious hits and strong affiliation with "high grade" — another notorious name for a form of ganja — made smoking marijuana synonymous to the "Jamaican experience".

Ironically, marijuana has always been illegal in Jamaica. Like many other countries, Jamaica has made strides towards decriminalising marijuana, but is still miles away from such a feat. Former prime ministers P J Patterson and Bruce Golding have both led the study of the phenomenon on this herb due to recent recommendations to decriminalise weed, one such quarter being the National Commission set up in the late-1990s by the Government. The cries from Parliament have become louder, among them former Deputy Prime Minister Kenneth Baugh, Mike Henry, Raymond Pryce, Justice Minister Mark Golding, and Opposition Senator Tom Tavares-Finson. We have also heard cries from the academics, including Professor Barry Chevannes (deceased), and reggae recording artiste Queen Ifrica. Most recently we learnt of the launch of Medicanja by Professor Henry Lowe.

Jamaica, however, faces opposition from "Babylon" — modern-day imperialism it is. The United States stands as great opposition. They have partnered with Jamaica and provided some US$7.8 million to eradicate ganja in Jamaica in the 1990s (CNN, 2001). Ironically, more than 10 US states have decriminalised marijuana; and two, Colorado and Washington, have legalised the recreational and medicinal uses of cannabis following the approval of state referenda in the 2012 elections. In fact, California (Emerald Triangle) might now be considered the ganja capital of the Western Hemisphere. Outdoing Jamaica in length and economic robustness, which is solely dependent upon the production of ganja. "The Emerald Triangle is 10,260 square miles (26,600 km); two times the size of Jamaica, which is 4,244 square miles (10,991 km), and makes a profit of US$1 billion a year from cultivating the plant." (Haughton, D, 2012)

Contain the smoke

Trinidad, Venezuela and the Middle East have oil, Dubai has gold and Brazil has biofuel. Napa and Sonoma flaunt their wine tours, and it is said that tourists flock to Scotland to sample the fine malt whiskies. What do we have in Jamaica? The answer is the "highest grade". Jamaica flaunts, arguably, the best quality of the plant, the "highest grade".

Jamaica can be the mecca of the cannabis. An independent analysis by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that, after another $22.5 million in revenues from state and local sales taxes on marijuana were factored in, the state could expect to see "$60 million in total combined savings and additional revenue for Colorado's budget with a potential for this number to double after 2017".

Dutch coffee shops often fly green-yellow-red Ethiopian flags, other symbols of the Rastafarian movement, or depiction of palm leaves to indicate that they sell cannabis as a consequence of the official ban on direct advertising. This aesthetic has been reported to attract many public artists who may be paid to create murals in the coffee shops and use Rastafarian and reggae-related imagery. These shops draw more than 3.66 million international visitors annually. Did I hear someone scream "ganja tourism"?

I am not a user of ganja, but I am intoxicated by the economic aroma that this herb emits. Ganjanomics refers to the economics related to the controlled legal supply and demand of ganja by legitimate stakeholders. This term has been around for some time now. "Ganjanomics: bringing Humboldt's shadow economy into the light" is the title of article published in the High Country News Magazine (Jenkins, M, 2011).

Our own Dr Leachim Semaj highlighted the possible benefits of the implementation of ganjanomics in Jamaica, in a recent address to academics at the University of the West Indies (Mona). We would not be reinventing the wheel, as many countries have long taken the bold step of reforming their marijuana laws. Let us, too, make the bold step and propel into this hemisphere with proper research and planning. With the implementation of robust regulations we, too, can flaunt economic growth. Jamaica, wake up and smell the high grade!

As part of the plan, only licensed farmers and consumers would be allowed to cultivate and indulge in the trade of ganja. Only pharmaceutical companies and universities would be granted licences to cultivate medicinal ganja and advance ganja research. Stakeholders will pay an annual ganja tax, in addition to GCT to the Government. There could also be a revival of the hemp industry (textiles, oil, food etc). Think: biofuel — ethanol from hemp.

As things grow and we start to enjoy the benefits then we could license industries to package and process ganja commercially, like cigarettes. The end would include branding ganja as we do Blue Mountain Coffee. The next step, recreational ganja tourism: licensed "splif bars", ganja cafés for tourists and affluent natives.

Let ganja be the cure for Jamaica's economic wounds.





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