Ganja decriminalisation brings 'war on drugs' to Jamaica
'Old consensus on drug control collapsing, we are in uncharted waters...' BY DESMOND ALLENMonday, November 17, 2014
BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive editor - special assignment email@example.com
JAMAICA'S decriminalisation of ganja has placed the island in the centre of activities related to the 'war on drugs', ahead of the critical United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) where fire works is expected when the issue is discussed in 2016.
Last week, two of the leading organisations preparing the ground for changes in the rules governing drug control, spent several days in Jamaica and addressed a symposium on "The International War on Drugs: The Road to UNGASS 2016" held at the Mona Visitor's Lodge in Kingston.
Hannah Hetzer, policy manager, the Americas for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said Jamaica was now one of the countries the world was looking at after two major developments -- the decision by the Government to decriminalise small amounts of ganja and the Mario Deane case in which the young man was jailed for having a ganja spliff and subsequently beaten to death in a cell at the Barnett Street police station in Montego Bay, St James.
"The world is looking at Jamaica to be a pioneer in drug reform in the Caribbean," Hetzer told the Jamaica Observer, underscoring the country's important role in the Caricom Commission now studying marijuana reform.
"We are seeing an increasing momentum towards drug policy reform in the Americas, especially where marijuana is concerned," said Hetzer who worked on the successful campaign to get ganja legalised in Uruguay, the first country to do so. In this regard she credited developments in the US where up to last week the states of Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia (Washington DC) had joined Colorado and Washington in legalising medical marijuana.
She argued that the Caribbean, led by Jamaica, could get in "the forefront of a trend in a world in which legalisation was becoming the preferred option to prohibition". Jamaica could also emerge as a leader in medical marijuana research, she said, adding that products from ganja were being used to treat various medical conditions including epilepsy; multiple sclerosis; nausea; chemotherapy and post traumatic stress disorder, among others.
Steve Rolles, senior policy analyst at Bristol, United Kingston-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) came to Jamaica on the invitation of the University of the West Indies Centre for Leadership and Governance and the Open Society Foundations which sponsored the symposium, to speak about his organisation's vision of what the world would look like after the war on drugs. A lack of such a vision had stalled the earlier debate on the drug war, he said.
"TDPF is providing a vision of how the world can regulate the industry post drug-war. We have developed a fairly broad theoretical model which policy-makers can buy into but can localise for their different cultures," Rolles told the Observer.
He said the UNGASS discussions would likely involve organisations which were leaning towards drug policy reform as well those -- including the US, Russia and China -- who were opposed to any reform and wanted to maintain the status quo. His foundation was focusing on bringing together those countries who were taking "an open and honest approach" to the debate on the basis that there was strength in numbers.
He accused conservative agencies such as the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime; the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board, of trying to "close down the debate so that legalisation is not discussed at all in 2016".
Rolles also noted that Jamaica's decriminalisation of ganja had opened up the debate and also credited changes in the US for the momentum now being seen.
"The US used to be the bully of the world. Now that some American States are legalising, the geo-political discourse is changing. That bully role is becoming more difficult. We are moving to a place where the old consensus around the War on Drugs is collapsing and we are moving into uncharted territory. That is good. Change is always necessary and difficult.
"International drug control is going through puberty. It is in a troubled and confused state of its evolution. We hope that after UNGASS 2016 we can evolve a more mature system that is more flexible to the needs of member states and allow experimentation towards decriminalisation and legalisation," said Rolles.
Visiting Jamaica for the occcasion also were: Scott Bernstein, Open Society Foundations; Wanda James and Jeff Wells, Cannabis Global Initiative; Lisa Sanchez, Mexico Unido contra Delincuencia and Pien Metaal, Latin America Drug Law Reform. Big guns from the Jamaican ganja lobby and the UWI in attendance included Paul Burke; Delano Seiveright; Dr Henry Lowe; Dr Lloyd Waller; Dr Donna Hope; Dr Suzette Haughton; Nikky Hanson; Dr Stacy-Ann Wilson; Dr Chris Charles; Clyde Williams; Dr Andre Haughton and Dr Kadamawe Knife.
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