Ganja law scolding

Narcisse raps Jamaica for decriminalising marijuana without vital public education

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Health/Online Co-ordinator richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, October 10, 2016

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One of Jamaica’s top civil society advocates yesterday rapped the country for decriminalising the possession of small quantities of marijuana without the requisite public education.


In fact, Carol Narcisse, director Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network (JaMHAN), said the nation is likely to experience a "whirlwind" of mental health issues in the future.


Speaking to editors and reporters during the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters, Narcisse said public education on marijuana use is "desperately needed".


"We are derelict in our duty as a country in having decriminalised without the equal attention to public education that’s desperately needed," Narcisse said.


"There are persons in communities who tell me that the little children — especially the young boys — that everybody is now like ‘well, it decriminalise, so I can smoke’.


"And so we are likely to reap the whirlwind in not too long a future because we have not put the public education that was supposed to go along with the necessary change in the legislation," Narcisse predicted.


In April 2015, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, more popularly known as the ‘Ganja Law’, took effect. It makes possession of two or less ounces of ganja a ticketable offence; prohibits the smoking of ganja in public places; and makes provisions for the granting of licences as well as the establishment of a regulated industry for ganja for medical, scientific and therapeutic uses.


Though lamenting the lack of public education on the matter, Narcisse was quick to point out that she is not against the decriminalisation of ganja possession.


"I am not opposed to the change in the legislation. I think criminalising people and sending them to jail for a ‘spliff’ was absolutely ridiculous and crazy, but you can’t decriminalise without stepping up your awareness-building programme and we have not done that," she argued.


Interestingly, since the decriminalisation, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has recommended an in-depth review of the impact that amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act is having on the country, after citing a 50 per cent increase in the number of students now being treated for marijuana use.


According to Tufton, local and international studies confirm that there are potentially serious implications for the health and well-being of people who use marijuana.


Looking closer at mental illness and marijuana use, Narcisse has also charged doctors to include family history of mental illness on their checklists when examining patients.


"The closer your relative is who has a mental illness, is the greater your risk is of having a predisposition for developing the illness," she said. "It doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to [develop the illness]. In the same way that having a family history of diabetes doesn’t guarantee that you will have diabetes or cancer or heart disease or whatever, but it does increase your risk."


Narcisse insisted that when family history of mental illness is included it can be an important part of the counselling process.


"So that people… would have had an awareness that this family history puts us at risk. We need to manage our children in a particular way, we need to manage our stresses in a particular way and we need to encourage healthy behaviours, like not smoking ganja because you’re dealing with Russian roulette.


"If you come from a family that has mental illness and you start to smoke ganja, it’s a matter of the click as to when you could trigger your illness," she warned.


"And somebody needs to be telling young people these things and telling parents these things so that there is a greater awareness of the risk."


In the meantime, JaMHAN co-founder Jhanille Brooks agreed that with any kind of change in legislation there needs to be public buy-in and public education.


"When I speak to young boys, especially about the possible link between smoking marijuana and mental illness, they don’t get it," Brooks, a counselling psychologist and mental health advocate, told the Monday Exchange yesterday.


"And it doesn’t necessarily mean that smoking automatically predisposes you, but for example with schizophrenia, if you are already genetically predisposed and you are now a habitual weed smoker, that, like Carol said before, increases the likelihood of the disease manifesting and there hasn’t been enough education about that," Brooks charged.


She said while there hasn’t been enough public education, the efforts to do that also started late.


"It started after the hype of the possible changes in legislation happened, when it should’ve happened before," Brooks said. "…I think we were behind the eight ball on that one."

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