Tufton says misconceptions about marijuana must be dispelled

Monday, June 19, 2017

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MINISTER of Health Dr Christopher Tufton says misconceptions about marijuana (ganja) must be dispelled to stem misuse of the drug, especially by children.

“Dispelling those perceptions means all hands on deck. It means public education; it means [those] in the court system or are providing counselling, being aware. You have to give that lecture almost every time you have to deal with that problem, until it seeps through, until it gets into the minds and the mindset and the psyche of the society,” he said.

He was speaking at a Children's Drug Treatment Programme seminar at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston on Saturday.

The minister noted, however, that he is mindful, given cultural practices and other factors, that it will be difficult to change individuals' views about the substance.

“In Jamaica, we have culturally accepted as a norm, the consumption of certain types of substances, marijuana, of course, being almost a part of us in terms of general acceptance, availability and so on,” he said.

Dr Tufton said the administration is concerned about the health of the public who use such substances which has the capacity to create negative side effects on the person and the society in general.

He noted that by “relaxing” the regulations under the Dangerous Drugs Act, which allowed for the decriminalisation of ganja for medicinal, religious, scientific and therapeutic purposes, individuals interpreted that as a “free for all” where it is now acceptable to have it in their possession, as well as smoke it freely.

Under the Act, the use of ganja is not legal. It is now a non-arrestable but ticketable offence to possess small quantities of ganja amounting to two ounces or less. This attracts a fine payable outside of the court, but will not result in the person having a criminal record.

The legislation also prohibits the smoking of ganja in public spaces, subject to specified exemptions.

The health minister lamented that under existing local and international regulations, there is no clear distinction between those who smoke for pleasure and those who are seeking medical relief, and is a concern Jamaica has voiced to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“WHO classifies marijuana as a narcotic and we have said to them, you need to reclassify with the evidence that is supporting it as a medicinal raw material and establish clear guidelines to guide the global health fraternity as to how we go about relaxing laws to benefit from what benefits there are, but at the same time, protect our society from the obvious challenges, particularly among the most vulnerable — children,” he said.

Dr Tufton therefore welcomed the staff seminar for the Children's Drug Treatment programme which will help to provide information and to support the enforcement of the law.

State minister for national security Pearnel Charles Jr also highlighted the importance of the seminar in “advancing us forward in building the capacity and exposing ourselves to the kind of information and training that will allow us to properly put together a strategy to solve the problems (relating to drug abuse)”.

For her part, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla noted that the Drug Treatment Court for children, which started as a pilot in September 2014 at the Kingston and St Andrew Family Court, is “one of the many success stories that have emerged from our court system”.

She noted that previously, the drug treatment programme only catered to adults from its inception in 2001, but was extended to children after the Kingston and St Andrew Court expressed the need for such a programme.

This, as it was found that children who come before the court, whether for criminal activities, in need of care and protection or are uncontrollable, are sometimes addicted to drugs.

“[There was] a recognition of awareness that some of our youths are at risk of becoming hardened criminals and drug addicts at younger and younger ages unless there is some urgent and fundamental intervention,” she said.

McCalla further informed that so far, eight children graduated from the first programme and there are now some 30 participants in that system.

“St James has also established a children's drug treatment programme and that is ongoing,” she said.

Additionally, five adult Drug Treatment Courts have been established across the island to date.

The Drug Treatment Courts were designed to provide judicial supervision to drug dependent offenders who have consented to participate in the programme. They benefit from a course of treatment and regular monitoring by the court to ensure that they abstain from drugs.

The courts also receive assistance with evaluation of the offenders under the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Community Empowerment and Transformation Project, Phase 2 (Comet II).

The Children's Drug Treatment Programme Seminar was intended to engage and equip individuals and agencies affiliated with the well-being of children, especially court practitioners from the family courts and children's courts from across Jamaica.

— JIS

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