The case for medical marijuana
"I am for managed, controlled research into marijuana. I am not into smoking ganja. Smoking has its own dangers, but I have always maintained that marijuana has strong medical uses." Dr Henry Lowe chemist and cancer researcher in another opening salvo at the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) for not decriminalising ganja use expressed at the recent Gleaner Editors' Forum.
The latest round of marijuana (new US acronym,(MJ)) adulation has resulted from the volte-face by Dr Sanjay Gupta, the CNN celebrity doctor, endorsing the virtues and properties of medical marijuana now legal in certain US states. Dr Henry Lowe makes a clear distinction between marijuana and smoked ganja, which remains harmful to health.
For years, Drs Manley West and Albert Lockhart have legally used marijuana in the preparation of a number of outstanding products, for the treatment of glaucoma and asthma, which have been successfully marketed at home and abroad. However, it should be noted that the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the psychoactive ingredient in ganja has been previously extracted. The success of these products demonstrates that marijuana possesses beneficial qualities and is employed legally with official approval.
The repetitive reference to the US regarding the GOJ's attitude to decriminalising ganja is not without concern, of possibly being decertified as the president can act without further ado, if it is considered Jamaica is not playing by the rules. Our present economic plight is not consistent with mounting any challenge to the US at this time. Each year a report is presented to the US Congress on the state of Jamaica's compliance with UN conventions, of which Jamaica is also a signatory. In the event of a negative report, the US — within its sovereign right — can declassify the beneficiary territory and withdraw its voluntary aid.
The following summarises some of the international legal agreements governing the control of narcotic substances which relate to decriminalisation and/or legalisation of cannabis, to which Jamaica is a signatory. These are the Single Narcotics Convention, the Convention of Psychotropic Substances, and the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. As stated earlier by a previous Attorney General Michael Hylton: "Jamaica would be in breach of its treaty obligations if Parliament were to remove criminal sanctions with respect to these activities."
A national poll conducted by the print media would be useful to determine the current attitude to decriminalising or legalising ganja. The two polls in 2001 by The Gleaner/Don Anderson poll and the Observer/Stone poll asked: "Should personal use of ganja be legalised"? The respondents indicating "no" were 53.3 and 48.3 per cent, repectively. The GOJ should commission such a survey before attempting to decriminalise ganja.
The US National Drug Control Policy reports: "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. Now being challenged, is the US Federal Supreme Court, that is examining their past rulings on constitutional grounds that states: "Marijuana remains in schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act because it has a high potential for abuse, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and no currently accepted medical value".
Doctors at the University Hospital of the West Indies found, after a three-month study of trauma victims, that ganja was the most prevalent substance found in their bodies, occurring in 50 per cent of victims of road crashes and 55 per cent of victims of violence-related injuries. By comparison, alcohol was found in 43 per cent of crash victims and 27 per cent of violence-related injury cases. The study was published in the West Indian Medical Journal, December 1999.
The belief that once decriminalised, ganja use would decline is not 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, that is still subject to criminal sanctions.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has reported: "Congress has designated marijuana as having no medicinal value. The Federal Supreme Court affirmed this designation." In June 2005, the US Federal Supreme Court, by a six-to-three decision, designated that state-grown marijuana is illegal, and producers, users and abusers will be prosecuted.
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, of which there is one in every parish, 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 programne. If the programme is successful no criminal charge is recorded. It must be emphasised that the forgoing commentary relates to the use of smoked ganja and casts no aspersions on the value of medical marijuana for the treatment of specific illnesses.