Ganja stakeholders to step up campaign

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter

Saturday, January 18, 2014

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CANNABIS stakeholders yesterday expressed the need for a more aggressive campaign to push Parliament to move further and faster towards legalising the growing, distribution and use of ganja (cannabis, marijuana) in Jamaica.

Ganja Law Reform Coalition (GLRC) chairman Paul Chang felt that a more robust campaign and show of support would encourage parliamentarians favourable to fundamental changes to legislation affecting the use of the drug, and suggested the need for a young parliamentarian to step up and take the lead, with strong public support, including street demonstrations from stakeholders, including the GLRC.

"We need a young MP to break the party ranks and put forward proposals for more meaningful legislations than the half steps that they are taking," Chang told the opening session of the Cannabis Stakeholders Conference, held in the multifunctional room of the main library of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mona.

Obviously shrugging off commitments by Minister of Justice, Senator Mark Golding that Cabinet has been considering amendments that could lead to automatic expungement of ganja sentences, as well as Government MP Raymond Pryce's successful resolution to decriminalise the possession of small portions of the drug, Chang said he is hoping that increased agitation would show a groundswell of support for more substantial changes, and lead to a conscience vote in Parliament. But he insisted that it required young MPs being more forceful inside Gordon House.

"Government only works when you make them work," commented Louis Moyston, lecturer and researcher, who was the main speaker at the opening session.

"I am saying to them (Government), we are going to inform you about what is taking place; we are going to inform you about the potential; and we would like you to work with us, so we can achieve a better future," he stated.

Dr K'adamawe K'nIfe, strategic planning and entrepreneurship specialist in the Department of Management Studies at the UWI, noted that Jamaica spends over $100 million each year fighting ganja use, while some 2,000 youth are being annually for smoking it.

He suggested a more formal approach to the programming of the use of ganja in the future, which would examine its role in the agriculture sector, its bio-diversity and the development of business models.

Moyston also examined the "Historical Background of Cannabis in Jamaica", noting that historical incidents, like the 1938 labour riots, were attributed to ganja smoking, and since then more severe penalties introduced, leading up to the 1970s when some were relaxed, including mandatory sentences, while in the 1980s Edward Seaga confronted the US on the issue and relaxed enforcement.

Yesterday's conference was the latest development in an attempt by advocates of the legalisation of ganja to force the government to take quick action, to follow nations like Uruguay and US states like Colorado, to legalise use of the drug for both medicinal and recreational purposes. It was organised by the GLRC, the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force, and the National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja.

The forum examined a range of issues touching on the legalisation of ganja and was to weigh in on the options, in light of global developments. Its decisions will be published in a communiqué and position paper. However, the media were only allowed into the opening session, which lasted approximately one hour, under the chairmanship of Professor Archibald McDonald, principal of the UWI, Mona.

A position paper, developed by a Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force, led by Delano Seiveright, was also discussed. The paper outlined the products and business opportunities that could be developed from a cannabis industry, including food, personal care, wellness, beauty, clothing, travel and leisure, spirituality, construction-paper fibres, seed oils, essential oils, seed nut, leaf, whole-plant, charcoal, environmental-soil rehabilitation, spas, restaurants, coffee houses, shops, guest houses and clinics.

Among the guests were Wanda James of the Cannabis Global Initiative, a renowned advocate based in Colorado, and her husband, Scott Durrah, who is also a renowned leader in the US movement.

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