Columns

Much ado about ganja

Anthony GOMES

Monday, August 25, 2014    

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AT a time when the country is battling to get Chukugunya under control and with the "Sword of Damocles" and Ebola hangs over our heads in this hemisphere, we find the rush to decriminalise ganja incomprehensible and inexplicable. It is no wonder that Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, when visiting the island in the 1900s, referred to Jamaicans as having "a calypso mentality".

It bears repeating that leading members of the medical fraternity holds no objection to ganja being decriminalised for medicinal use, but there is no support for cannabis being "freed up" for recreational purposes.

Marijuana has been in use medically in Jamaica for years in such products as Asamol, Entimol and Canasol for the treatment of glaucoma, and soon to come is a new product for motion sickness. These popular medicines were the work of Dr Henry Lowe, Manley West and Dr Albert Lockhart. According to Dr Lowe: "I am for managed controlled research into marijuana. I am not into smoking ganja. Smoking has its own dangers, but I have also maintained that marijuana has strong medical use."

The pros and cons of the ganja debate have been copiously documented and 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 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." While fully supporting the passage to facilitate further research into the use of ganja for medicinal purposes, De La Haye is convinced that making it more accessible to the public for smoking would be courting disaster.

What we hear now is the shrill voice of John Q Public to "free up di weed, do not prosecute innocent spliff smokers through the courts". And the Government, in its innocence, has caved in and is trying to create a legal path to disrupt the current system of adjudication in a simple matter. Simple matter? Yes, because the Drug Courts were invented to provide the same result -- in that a first offender is taken before the Court and given a warning but without a charge, so there is no criminal record. Only hard-core offenders are brought back to the Court and offered a period of rehabilitation and given a charge sheet. It is a sad time when the Government is "bending over backwards" to satisfy the strident demand of illegal smokers, by manipulating the existing law to render it impotent in its present form by substituting a "summons" instead of a charge. No doubt we shall see more of these creative manoeuvres in the future, particularly in relation to financial malfeasance.

On to the next phase of the ganja "gold rush" with all the features of the wild west of years gone by. There are potential customers from all over the globe wanting to get a "piece of the action". This is where the Government needs to be on the alert, as there will undoubtedly be some rapacious individuals who, with their keen eye, will try to muscle-in during the free trade agreements for their own benefit.

Ganja farming and distribution are being talked about wildly, and the number of politicians and others calling for decriminalising ganja is astounding, given the parlous state of the country's economy. Such time spent should be devoted to jobs and stimulating growth instead of relishing in the thought of what types of "spliffs" could soon be on the "high" street, downtown and elsewhere.

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 are 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 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".

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