NCDA supports ganja decriminalisation
JAMAICA'S plan to decriminalise ganja has won support from the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA). But the agency's blessing is on condition that the proposed policy will ensure that young people between the ages of 15 and 25 are fully protected.
"The National Council on Drug Abuse has got to be a responsible agency, and we do recognise that marijuana can have detrimental
effects on young people," NCDA Chairman Professor Wendel Abel told the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange yesterday.
"Certainly, studies have indicated that young people, especially adolescents between the ages of 15 and 25, are very vulnerable to the effects of marijuana," added Abel.
He said the studies have shown that marijuana use can cause cognisant impairment and can affect adolescents' intellectual development.
"And we do know that young persons, especially those with significant family history of mental illness, may be vulnerable to the development of mental disorder," Abel, who is also a psychiatrist, said. "Therefore, with the process of decriminalisation, we strongly advocate that our young people are protected so what we want is a regulated industry, and it should be regulated from many points of view."
According to Josh Stanley, founder of Strains of Hope — a non-profit organisation located in Colorado, United States geared at helping people across the region to access cannabis — there are, in fact, side effects to the use to marijuana.
"It is not all rainbows," Stanley, who was also a guest at the Monday Exchange, said. "Smoking of anything is not going to be healthy. A child's brain develops during the adolescent years from 15, which is when they start getting interested in the stuff, and 25 when brain development ends, so some early studies have shown that it impairs brain development in adolescents. And it also impairs you should you be driving. So it's not all rainbows."
In 2001, the Government of Jamaica appointed a ganja commission which consulted extensively over a period of time and made several recommendations, including that the drug should be decriminalised for private personal use, for religious sacramental purposes, and for medical purposes. However, no decision has been taken by the Government.
"The position of the National Council on Drug Abuse is that, given the reality on the ground, the historical use, and certainly for medical purposes, [and the fact that] the majority of the country feel that it should be decriminalised, we certainly support the approval of medicinal marijuana in Jamaica. We also think that we should consider looking at decriminalising for private personal use and also for religious purposes," Abel said.
The regulation surrounding the legalisation, he said, should not only ensure that young people are protected, but that resources are channelled into public education, especially directed towards this particular group, so that the population at large is able to make informed decisions.
The NCDA chairman is also advocating strongly that resources be channelled into treatment and support services such as a drug court, guidance and counselling units and other agencies and entities that work with young people on the ground.