The police and ganja reform


Saturday, February 28, 2015

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THE introduction of the Bill to reform the Dangerous Drugs Act has stimulated concerns and discussions about ganja cultivation and use in Jamaica. The police force appears to have a kind of renewed vigour in its fight against ganja. Some recent reports on ganja discovery by the police in St Elizabeth, and an interview with senior police officers on television about driving under the influence of ganja smoking, for example, have shown the police's reluctance to embrace change.

It is important to note that there were three major institutions in Jamaica that led the anti-ganja fight: the church, the newspapers of the day, and the police. The newspaper has changed its position supporting a new ganja regime. There is embrace from a wide section of the church movement in the call for progressive changes in the ganja law. The police force, however, has yet to make any serious response to this change. For too long the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) has used ganja as a scapegoat for the level of crime in this country.

It is important to examine the issues related to the concerns expressed by the police in St Elizabeth on ganja and guns; and also from the interviews of the two officers on ganja and driving. Since those remarks were made, the National Security Minister Peter Bunting made an important revelation at a community meeting somewhere in St Elizabeth. He informed the gathering about a decrease in certain types of arrests giving rise to increased jail space since the new amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Law. This position implies the need for further investigation into the areas where ganja is decriminalised and/or legalised. The mood with which he delivered the findings defined the importance of the change in that law and suggests a future of crime reduction.

Crime and weed

The police officer in the news from St Elizabeth said that anywhere there is ganja there are guns, and that he will rid the parish of both by the end of the year. One of the major reasons for the new regime is to take the crime out of the drug trade. This is an idea that the police should try to understand and discuss internally. There are those who have polluted the ganja trade with guns, but that ganja link is not the major factor associated with the importation of guns into Jamaica. The police have US partners on crime on committees. The JCF may serve its efforts best to use that forum to tackle the illegal guns from the point of origin. Many countries have reformed their drug laws to fight crime. Countries such as Italy, Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico, among others, have been working at tackling 'criminality' and the illegal drug trade. Is the mandate of the JCF to rid Jamaica of ganja, getting rid of ganja from the parish of St Eliabeth, or is it the mandate given to the JCF by the 1988 UN Convention's war against drugs?

There was once a police commissioner who made sworn statements to get rid of ganja from Jamaica because it was associated with various criminal activities. According to Police Commissioner T Calver, in the post-World War II era, "The use of ganja is associated with the prevalence of crime" such as sexual assaults on women and girls, and with offences against persons, of robbery, and larceny. He concluded that there is "an affinity between the smoking of ganja and the rise and fall of crime". As ridiculous as this idea is, its essence is very much alive in today's police thinking. The JCF must understand that it must be prepared for change. It missed this train in 1962. It should seize the opportunity now because its relationship with the public is not pretty. There is no trust or feeling of being protected.

On a general level regarding ganja and crime, it is important to be guided by scientific studies. Most or all scholarly studies on the relationship between marijuana use and crime have reached the same conclusion: that marijuana use does not cause crime. Some research reports state that almost all human studies show that marijuana decreases rather than increases aggression [violence].

During the anti-marijuana campaigns in the USA, violence and crime were associated with marijuana use. It was against this background that the LaGuardia Commission of 1944 reported that "there is no relationship between the commission of crimes of violence and marijuana". The Canadian Senate Commission Report on Ganja 2012 argues that criminalisation has no scientific basis, and that the dangers to society are to be found in the after-effects and the commission recommends the repeal of cannabis prohibition. It states: "The cost [is] to a significant number of individuals, the majority of whom are young people of a policy of simple possession and are not justified by the potential harm". It concludes that the greater harm is not in cannabis use but the application of the criminal penalties.

Road safety

The two officers of the JCF who spoke on a recent television programme about the dangers of driving under the influence of ganja smoking both hinted about tests for driving under the "influence", but could not justify their statements. They are raising issues that are not supported by evidence.

It is important for the JCF to look at the areas in the world in which changes are going on and study the situation. Washington State, for example, found that drivers would have to smoke an extraordinary load of ganja to have impairment in driving. Many doctors in this country, like the police, are posing as statisticians. Doctors should be researchers in their field; it is not the number of accidents associated with ganja in the blood that make the association. What was the nature of the accident? Was there any sign of alcohol in the blood? What is the blood level of THC that can cause impairment?

One report states that none of the many popular assumptions as to essential driving skills which may have surfaced are valid, and none have been supported by scientific studies. Another source argues there is no compelling evidence that marijuana contributes substantially to traffic crashes and fatalities. The report shows that from an observation project with subjects under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, those subjects with alcohol tend to do risky driving practices, while those who partcipate in cannabis use were more cautious in their approach to driving. Citing a police source, one writer informs that there is no increase of "green DUI" in Washington State. One reason for this, according to the report, may be that studies have shown that people react recklessly under the influence of alcohol, and cautiously when 'stoned' (high). It is easier to do an alcohol test, but at present there is no roadside test for cannabis. The Canadian Senate Report (2012) states that cannabis alone has little effect on skills required for driving. It then looks at the problem of combining alcohol and cannabis having greater significance versus the effect of cannabis alone. Plus, there are other issues that there are no standards relating to how much THC level is in the blood, and how this is related to impairment.

The ministers of national security and justice must set up a team to conduct public education on this new ganja regime. It is important that the relevant state agencies begin research on the developments in societies and areas where changes have been made and new marijuana regimes have emerged.




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