Build a ganja industry by all means, but let's

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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The old practice of locking up people and making criminals of them for smoking ganja, a plant which grows naturally, was immoral in this newspaper's view.

For that, among other reasons, we welcomed the 'ganja law' passed in 2015, formally known as the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015, which made possession of small quantities of ganja (2 ounces or less) a non-arrestable, but ticketable offence that attracts no criminal record. In effect, the law allows adults to use ganja in their own private space – not in public.

That law also allows for ganja use by Rastafarians – since they consider the weed a sacrament. It also allows ganja use for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes, including development of a legal ganja industry.

We are constantly hearing of the enormous business/economic potential of ganja and its derivatives, and we believe Jamaica has as much right as any other country to exploit that potential.

We believe the day will come when Jamaica will go beyond simply decriminalising ganja; a day when the plea from the late, legendary Mr Peter Tosh for the State to “legalise it” will be realised.

That day when ganja is legalised in Jamaica is still some distance away, not just because the government must stand by international obligations and conventions to which the country is signatory but for basic geo-political reasons. The hard truth is that until Washington approves, Jamaica dares not go down that road.

For that reason, we watch with interest the work and progress of the pro-ganja lobby in the United States.

All that said, Jamaicans shouldn't kid themselves into believing that ganja use is all good and totally harmless. The truth is that ganja is an addictive substance and, as is the case with alcohol and tobacco, it has the potential to do harm.

The danger from the weed becomes even more pronounced when children smoke it. We note the repeated warnings from the leadership of the Ministry of Health, as well as the Ministry of Justice, that children are increasingly at risk of becoming ganja addicts.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says decriminalisation of small quantities of weed has caused serious misconceptions with some people believing it is now a “free for all”. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many teenagers are of that view.

Dr Tufton calls for education at all levels so people can get a better understanding of what's allowed under the ganja law of 2015.

Crucially, it seems to us, schools, parents and community elders must ensure that children understand that ganja is not for them.

The longstanding cultural acceptance of ganja among large segments of the population — to which Dr Tufton refers — brings added difficulty, but responsible adults must move mountains to protect children.




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