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The other side of the ganja gold coin

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, April 16, 2014    

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NOW that the euphoria accompanying legalisation of medical marijuana and decriminalisation of recreational cannabis in certain US States continues, it is appropriate to review the dangers accompanying this much-vaunted development destined to have a profound effect on users and potential abusers of narcotics.

The US issue of medical marijuana still has a number of legal conditions to address with the authorities, where the Federal Supreme Court still maintains that the use, production and distribution of cannabis is illegal. In light of the recent relaxation of the law by certain states, a revised ruling by the Federal Supreme Court is expected to regularise the national legal framework which is currently out of step with reality. For example, if a customer from another state outside of Colorado buys ganja for his use, the drug cannot be taken back to his home state and must be used in Colorado. To do otherwise is to risk being detained by Federal agents and charged with transportation of illegal drugs across state lines.

In Jamaica, medical marijuana has been a legal ingredient in the production of prescription drugs such as Canasol and Asmasol for the treatment of glaucoma and asthma, about which much has been reported in the current media that has featured Dr Henry Lowe who is building a manufacturing unit for medical cannabis products. Recreational ganja is not included.

The decriminalisation of ganja for recreational use is being scrutinised by the Jamaican Government. There is no plan, to the best of our knowledge, to legalise ganja for recreational purposes. Decriminalisation would permit the purchase and use of small quantities of the weed for personal consumption. Smoking ganja in public places or in the vicinity of schools would be subject to the same rules as for cigarettes, which prohibit smoking in public places. The protection of children is of the utmost importance as the drug is known to be addictive and seriously damaging in many ways to the health of users. More on this concern follows given the number and variety of potential health risks associated with ganja use.

Two popular fallacious examples frequently referred to need to be clarified. Firstly, it is often claimed that Portugal has legalised all illicit drugs. While drug use, possession, and acquisition are still illicit activities in Portugal, these acts have been decriminalised, not legalised. The second example is that the Netherlands has liberalised all illicit drugs. Factually, in Holland, it is illegal to sell all kinds of drugs. In dealing with cannabis quantity is taken into account. Coffee shops can sell up to five grammes per person a day and are not prosecuted. However, they are liable to heavy penalties for selling large quantities presumed to be for trade. Measures are taken to control the sale of drugs on the street, and importantly in private dwellings and public places other than coffee shops.

In the US, "more young people are now in treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcohol or for all other illegal drugs combined:

* Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 per cent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke. Marijuana may promote cancer of the respiratory tract and disrupt the immune system.

* Marijuana smokers have a heightened risk of lung infection.

* Long-term use of marijuana may increase the risk of chronic, cough, bronchitis, and emphysema, as well as cancer of the head, neck, and lungs.

* Marijuana is much more powerful today than it was 30 years ago, and so are its mind-altering effects. Average THC levels rose from less than one per cent in the mid 1970s to more than six per cent in 2002.

Sinsemilla potency increased in the past two decades from six per cent to more than 13 per cent with some samples containing THC levels of up to 33 per cent. (Department of Justice — DEA)

With public pressure to curtail tobacco use because of its effects on health, advocates of legalisation are promoting the use of marijuana. According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day. Marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, including the most harmful substances found in tobacco smoke. For example, smoking one marijuana cigarette deposits about four times more tar into the lungs than a filtered tobacco cigarette. The short-term effects include memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem-solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate, and anxiety. Marijuana impacts young people's mental development, their ability to concentrate in school, and their motivation and initiative to reach goals.

The belief in Jamaica, that ganja use would decline if decriminalised is wishful thinking. Numbers provided by the National Council on Drug Abuse show that drug abuse among 11 to 19 year olds, in a 2006 survey, revealed 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.

The recreational ganja lobby remains a minority, whose reason for wanting ganja decriminalisation is self-serving and not in the national interest and would not contribute positively to the primary goal which is the logistics hub project. Government has much bigger fish to fry.

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