Holness Government urged to be bold and legalise ganja

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

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CHAIRMAN of the University Diabetes Outreach Programme (UDOP), Professor Errol Morrison, last Wednesday called on the new administration to legalise marijuana.

Professor Morrison, who is also the director general of the National Commission on Science and Technology, said that while the decriminalisation of marijuana is a good move, it is not enough.


Last February, the Dangerous Drugs Act was amended under the People’s National Party Administration to give tickets for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana instead of making it a felony offence, to legalise the sacramental use of the drug by Rastafarians, and to establish provisions for the medical, scientific and therapeutic uses of the plant.


While insisting that he is not criticising the Government, principal of the University of the West Indies Professor Archibald McDonald joined Morrison in urging the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party Administration to be bolder than the last administration and legalise marijuana in Jamaica.


Both professors were speaking at a UDOP press briefing at the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, for UDOP’s 22nd annual International Diabetes Conference, which is set for April 28-30 at the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara Resort in Rose Hall, Montego Bay, St James. The conference, which will be held under the theme ‘Diabetes and the Nervous System: Is there a role for cannabis componds?’ will explore the role of marijuana or ganja in the prevention, treatment and management of diabetes.


Professor Morrison explained that, over the years, the UDOP has targeted the main problems in diabetes by combining local and foreign expertise to focus on specific topics. He said this year’s focus on cannabinoids is timely, because the debate on ganja, which has intensified over the last few decades, is of interest.


He admitted that the debate has not undergone much change, with some researchers identifying beneficial effects of the drug and others highlighting potential problems associated with its use, but said UDOP decided to focus on marijuana’s benefits since there is no question about some of the benefits of ganja use in diabetes.


"… We are saying: ‘look, if there are benefits the debate has not changed, the research is now more and more showing that there is support. We feel that decriminalisation, whilst a good move, is not enough’.


"We need to be able to afford the population, who can benefit, the chance to access this more readily and we don’t think that there is enough being done to advance what has started," Professor Morrison asserted.


"We need to see a legalisation of nutraceutical ganja, in the first instance," he urged, adding that, from the international perspective, there would be a lot of "raindrops" to walk through, but said that locally, Jamaica could be a mecca for health tourism.


While supporting Professor Morrison’s call, Professor McDonald asserted that the legislations and restrictions surrounding ganja and its use are all about economics, and not about protecting people from the evils of the drug.


He said that if one were to look at the fact that the Federal Government of the United States is the greatest funder of cannabis research in the world, or that they fund the largest research programme in the world out of Israel and have their own research programmes in the United States as they block researchers from doing the research, one would realise that a plan is afoot.


He pointed out that the United States recently exported ganja to Barbados, plus they have four patents on ganja and probably the largest ganja fields in the world, insisting that within this context the Jamaican Government needs to be bold.


He said that decriminalisation is a small step and Jamaica is taking a long time to move forward.


"I believe that the cannabis industry needs to be developed very rapidly. I believe that we are being too tentative, and the reason we are being tentative is fear of our brothers from the north," Professor McDonald said.


"Let me assure you that where we are now… the truth is the United States will not interfere with us, and this is why they are not interfering with their states," he said. "They realise that the word is out, they have the information on cannabis, they realise they can no longer protect that information.


"There are too many countries in the world, not just Jamaica, who now are doing research on ganja and have that information," he continued, adding that the Federal Government of the United States is not stupid and know that they can no longer continue ‘this deception’.


"So, if a country like Jamaica were to move forward, nothing will happen to us," he insisted.


He emphasised, however, that in moving towards legalisation, Jamaica needs to regulate the industry.


"We need to ensure that it is properly regulated, that is what is important," he said. "But we need to move now to legalisation, some aspects of legalisation, because as professor Morrison pointed out, another benefit to Jamaica (is it) could bring tremendous revenue…"


Meanwhile, Professor Morrison reiterated that UDOP hopes that the discussions at the International Diabetes Conference will help to demonstrate the potential benefits of ganja to move the industry forward.


 

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