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Jamaicans in US support ganja decriminalisation but urge caution

BY HAROLD G BAILEY

Monday, February 24, 2014    

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New York, USA — The push by the Jamaican ganja lobby for authorities to decriminalise the use of the weed has won broad-based support within the Jamaican diaspora here.

However, there is also deep concern that the move should not impact negatively on relations between Jamaica and the United States. In that regard, many here are urging caution in dealing with the issue.

"We cannot afford to do anything that will anger the United States on this matter," said Joan Pinnock, an attorney and head of the Jamaica American Bar Association for the North East US.

She said that for medical and economic purposes: "I absolutely support decriminalisation of the use of marijuana... My concern, though, is that if this is done, many Jamaicans may think that the widescale and indiscriminate use of the drug is okay. We need to be reminded that while some states have legalised the use of marijuana to some degree, the Federal law against its use remains in place.

"As an attorney I have seen the consequences that our people have endured for using ganja. Every month there is a plane that carries mainly young men who have been deported to Jamaica after being convicted for the use of ganja. I fight to protect them, but it's not easy," she said.

Pinnock's views are shared by Irwin Clare, head of the Diaspora Advisory Board for the North East US.

Pointing to the US where 22 states and the District Of Columbia have varying laws allowing the use of marijuana, Clare argued that "Jamaica has a history of promoting decriminalisation of ganja and should not now be left behind on what seems to be shaping into a worldwide movement".

But he, too, suggested that the Jamaican Government be wary that US Federal laws do not recognise the use of ganja.

Dr Charles Anderson Sr, a Buffalo-based physician, also gave support to decriminalisation but urged more research on the harm ganja can do to the human brain.

The St Mary native, who is head of the Health and Medical Committee of the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organisations, said that there was no doubt that the indiscriminate use of ganja could have negative consequences,

"The good part is that it could be a medical bonanza," he said.

Decriminalisation has also found favour with Desmond Clarke, immediate past president of the Jamaica National Movement and Patrick Callum, head of G2K New York, the young professionals affiliate of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

Sharon Gordon, co-founder and chair of the Coalition To Preserve Reggae Music, is not worried about the US response to decriminalisation, insisting that: "Jamaica has waited too long to get this done. I don't feel we will have any problems with the Americans, given the trend the matter is taking here."

But Gordon said care must be taken that "our young people will not be able to use ganja freely".

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