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High time for Henry Lowe

Wednesday, December 11, 2013    

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Dr Henry Lowe, research scientist and entrepreneur has presented to the public a bold and far-reaching proposal to promote the beneficial properties of medicinal marijuana when he officially opened his company which would extract marijuana's medical components for commercial purposes.

Dr Lowe's company named MEDICANJA — a bit of tongue twister — will "conduct clinical research to extract the components of hemp that can cure a number of illnesses". He also proposes to develop a strain of the plant which is less potent in tetrahydrocarabinnol (THC) the component of ganja that creates the "high" for smokers and the reason ganja is banned. The female ganja plant is grown for smokers.

He warned that smoking the plant has health and psychological risks and he has no plans to break any local or international laws. He continues: "I am for managed, controlled research into marijuana. I am not into smoking ganja. Smoking has its own dangers, but I have always maintained marijuana has strong medical uses." It is puzzling, therefore, that he would want of develop a weaker strain of cannabis for smokers that would still be harmful and unlawful, and in breach of both domestic and international laws. Perhaps his motive has been misunderstood in this instance. The foregoing is a testimonial to Dr Lowe's company regarding the objectives and direction of the organisation by which the company will be judged.

A clear description of the harmful effects of smoked cannabis is provided by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy that states: "Smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart lungs, and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception and judgement. Smoked marijuana contains cancer compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobiles crashes and workplace accidents." This description does not fit the concept of a harmless activity.

While smoked ganja is illegal in Jamaica, we are informed it is still used widely in private by adults without causing offence to others or corrupting juveniles. This clandestine practice is regulated by a sense of morality rather than by force of law. Under the circumstances, it is reported ganja flourishes in homes, tourist resorts and in certain religious ceremonies. To publicise the use of ganja would create even more serious, if not insurmountable difficulties of regulation and would be the de facto pathfinder for the introduction of other "social" drugs similar to ecstasy and methamphetamines. However, smoked ganja would still be subject to the smoking ban recently introduced by the Government.

The call to decriminalise ganja, as recommended earlier by the Ganja Commission, was viewed by many as legalising the weed for universal use. That was not the case. Decriminalisation is the term used to describe the removal of, or reduction in criminal penalties for particular acts. It is a broad term that includes a range of measures such as the removal of sanctions for simple possession of drugs or lowering the penalties for possession of small amounts.

The Federal Supreme Court of the United States has stated: "Marijuana remains in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act because it has a high potential for abuse, a lack of certified safety for use under medical supervision, and currently no accepted medical value." Since this ruling there have been approximately fifteen states that have legalised cannabis for medical use, and the Federal Supreme Court has not changed its position as it appears to be understood that ganja so used in those liberalised states is under medically certified supervision. For the rest, other activities involving possession, selling, producing, distribution of raw ganja is still a Federal offence that carries stiff penalties.

However, it will be interesting to see the reaction of the Federal Supreme Court in the event that those states that have legalised the use of cannabis for all purposes move to release all prisoners incarcerated for marijuana offences.

It is reported that the Jamaican Government, with the US, is examining the possibility of relaxing the legal constraints under which Jamaica is bound. Should the Government choose to ignore US possible advice in the event of a negative caution, Jamaica's certified status could be altered. In that event, a decrease or forfeiture of US financial or other assistance may result, which would likely affect our future trade relations with the US which uses taxpayers' money to provide voluntary aid to Jamaica.

Each year, a report is presented to the US Congress on the state of compliance with the conventions to which Jamaica is a signatory. In the occurrence of a negative report, the US, within its sovereign right, can declassify the beneficiary territory and withdraw its voluntary aid.

The pros and cons of the ganja debate have been copiously documented. As time goes by more evidence of the harmful effects of the drug are coming to light. Some time ago, Dr De La Haye, president of the Psychiatry Association of Jamaica and clinical director of the Detoxification Unit of the University Hospital of the West Indies, stated: "Ganja can make you mad, so why take a chance and use it?" We do believe that cannabis is playing a role in the level of violence in this country. Cannabis has THC, which brings out aggression in people".

As it is said: "We have more degrees but less common sense, more knowledge but less judgement". That seems to ring true when considering the issue of dangerous drugs.

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