Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Ganja in legal limbo

Published:Monday | January 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The news that the United States Coast Guard recently intercepted a boat in waters south of Jamaica and seized 4,000 pounds of ganja is a stark reminder to ganja legalisation advocates that reinforcement of narcotics laws is being vigorously pursued by America.

There is obviously no easing up as the Coast Guard boasted of its new cutter vessel which has enhanced its capability in the long ongoing war on drugs, which was started by President Richard Nixon in 1971.

Even though the legal landscape in the hemisphere regarding ganja use has been shifting in recent times, with strong arguments advocating the use of ganja for medicinal purposes, the United States (US) Drug Enforcement Administration has declared that marijuana has "no recognised medicinal use".

It's something of an inconsistency that though medicinal marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and adults can buy recreational ganja in Colorado and Washington, and advocates are agitating for legislative change which would see ganja being available for sale along the entire West Coast of America by 2016, ganja remains illegal under US federal law.

Emboldened by legalisation momentum in American states, Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and parts of Canada, a local lobby calling itself Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association has been calling on the local authorities to create a regulated ganja industry in Jamaica, saying it will boost the economy and aid medical research.

The debate on ganja legalisation has been ongoing for more than a decade. Again in 2013, it was reignited in the Jamaican Parliament on a motion from Government backbencher Raymond Pryce.

Experts believe that the Jamaican government was timid to act for fear that the impact of America's continuing war on drugs would fall heavily on our small country. How Jamaica, or any other country, could be punished for supplying a product that is regulated and permitted in 23 states of the United States is really puzzling.

There is support for the legalisation on both sides of the political aisle and baby steps have been taken toward decriminalising the personal use of small amounts of weed. However, there are opponents who recoil from all notions of changing the law to free up the weed, arguing that the links between ganja cultivation/distribution and criminal activity are much too strong.

Marijuana is medicine

Various opinion polls and studies indicate that marijuana has medicinal use. The American government itself has been studying its properties and has found that it has medicinal value. A report from the US Department of Health and Human Services states that cannabinoids are useful in the treatment of a wide variety of diseases, including stroke and trauma, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and HIV dementia. Cannabinoids are chemical substances that have cannabis or ganja as one of its active constituents.

As far as Jamaica is concerned, ganja is in a legal limbo at the moment. We submit that the issue requires careful analysis and a comprehensive debate because while America says it will not prosecute states where ganja has been legalised, it continues to be unsparing in its enforcement of narcotics laws outside of the country.

Ganja is, at the moment, part of the underground economy, but advocates say if the industry is regulated by government it would provide a legitimate source of employment and business opportunities.

Jamaica will have to be mindful of American hypocrisy in making its decision on marijuana legalisation, but to wait until it is completely legalised in America may be too late to gain economic and research benefits.