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Legalising marijuana would be wrong

The Point Is...

Dayton Campbell

Sunday, September 22, 2013    

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An edited portion of Government MP Dr Dayton Campbell's contribution to the debate in Parliament on the motion to legalise marijuana.

A third of Jamaicans have used ganja in any form and 30 per cent of Jamaicans have smoked marijuana with males reporting this three times more frequently than females.

Fewer than a half of reported users are current smokers of the product, but this differs between males and females, with a third of females and a half of males reporting current use. The most commonly reported frequency among current users is daily use, with 9.6 per cent of the population (approximately 50 per cent of current smokers) reporting this frequency and males almost nine times more than among females reporting.

If the Government is to decriminalise marijuana in small portions, that could therefore mean that it is not legalised in its entirety. The foreseeability of production of this plant is that most farmers would suspend producing other crops and place more emphasis on marijuana, seeing that it is easier to cultivate and the plant matures faster for harvesting.

One needs to be mindful that there will not be a balance in the demand and supply scale.

Although Jamaica is said to produce some of the best marijuana as a developing country, we could face problems with developed metropolitan countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Jamaica is said to be the largest supplier of illicit marijuana to the United States.

The United States has been fighting a drug trade that exists in Central America for many decades. In addition, the ongoing "ganja for guns" trade between Jamaica and Haiti is also of major concern for Jamaica's future. Haiti is believed to be smuggling guns from the United States and bartering them with Jamaicans in exchange for marijuana.

According to the Ministry of Justice records, 650 guns were confiscated in 2007 and 450 in 2008 by the security forces. Jamaica is known to be one of the most violent countries in the world, ranking fourth in homicides behind Honduras, El Salvador and Ivory Coast.

Jamaica is a signatory to the Single Narcotics Convention, the Convention of Psychotropic Substances, and the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Former Attorney General Michael Hylton is reported as saying that "Jamaica would be in breach of its treaty obligations if Parliament were to remove criminal sanctions with respect to these activities".

If marijuana should be decriminalised, the Government must be mindful of the dangers of the drugs and the potential effects it may have on our children — our future generation. We should take the necessary steps to protect our children and not expose them to illicit drugs which are scientifically proven to be addictive.

In a society with so many problems and concerns, one of the happiest moments for me was the bold decision to ban smoking in public spaces. Smoking causes so many ills. My concerns are numerous:

1) Medical marijuana research must be separated from decriminalisation and/or legalisation of cannabis.

2) Smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception and judgement. Smoked marijuana contains cancer-causing compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents. There is irrefutable evidence internationally that cannabis can make you mad. We can therefore expect increased psychotic illnesses presenting to our mental institutions.

3) Marijuana is not just responsible for the countless number of youngsters on the corner having a police record, it may be responsible for them being on the corner in the first place.

4) General indiscipline in society will increase. How many people will view it as legalising marijuana as opposed to decriminalisation? Increased availability will lead to increased incidence and prevalence of cannabis use, with the associated negative consequences. Can we afford that at this time?

This assertion is supported by recent numbers furnished by the National Council on Drug Abuse.

Drug abuse among 11- to 19-year-old youths in a 2006 survey shows that alcohol accounted for 71 per cent of abusers, and 24 per cent in the case of ganja. This suggests that alcohol is the most abused drug because it is legal and readily available, as opposed to ganja, which is still subject to criminal sanctions.

5) Do we have the industries to capitalise on the medical use? Jamaica can benefit from research and subsequent development of useful cannabis products, like canasol and asthmasol.

The beneficial components of cannabis can be derived from unsmoked products.

6) Research to determine whether there is a link between smoking and mental alterations and crime.

7) Is it that it won't be criminal to be in possession of an illegal substance?

8) We are still struggling with adequately funding health care in general, including mental health and tobacco plus alcohol-related consequences. The big question then is: Does society really need to be struggling with a third legal intoxicant? If we relax cannabis prohibition, how do we deal with underage smoking when we still have no effective control on underage alcohol or tobacco use?

9) How much have we been budgeting for adequate prevention messages for any substance use?

10) If we are saying 'stop smoking cigarettes', how can we, in the same breath, be supporting the use of cannabis, or any other smoked product for that matter? Smoking anything, even paper, or cho cho leaf for those of us from the country, is hazardous to your health.

Due diligence has shown that in Jamaica the Drug Courts were established by The Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act 1999, and reported to be producing good results. People detained for possession of small quantities of ganja are put before the Drug Court and given a warning.

There is no criminal record, and if detained a second time the person appears again at the Drug Court, and may be referred to a Magistrate's Court if they do not agree to enter a rehabilitation programme. If the programme is successful, no criminal charge is recorded.

The Drug Court treatment system provides care for those affected with Cannabis Use Disorder, with no criminal record on successful completion of that programme. Diversion of these persons from the regular court system and offering treatment without a criminal record takes care of the argument about charging a man for a spliff. What we need is the political will to extend this programme.

The Government should be keen to educate the public on the usage of marijuana and the effect it has on the economy as well as on an individual's health and on the society at large.

Certain factors such as violent crimes, drug addiction, economic constraints and exorbitant health bills stemming from drug addiction need to be evaluated. Moreover, the Jamaican Government must decide whether morals, values, and stability of the state are worth renouncing for the marijuana dollar.

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