Mark Wignall | Adolescent boys and ganja smoking
The two boys appeared to be about 14 and one was a bleacher. It was a weekday and I figured that they ought to be in school, instead of rolling spliffs and smoking weed.
"That thing not too good for you if you start smoking it early," I said to the bleached- face one.
"No man, mi cool," he said. "Mi a smoke it from mi a 12."
I was tempted to ask them about school, but I left the question hanging in my mind. On a makeshift stool another youngster, who I knew to be 17 years old, was cutting up in preparation for rolling his spliff. Again I intervened.
"Everybody seems to be using 'grabba' in dem weed. When I was a boy hardly anyone mixed tobacco with weed," I said. "It's not a very good combination."
He smiled and looked up at me. If I saw him five times for the day he had a spliff. Either rolling it or puffing on it.
"If yu nuh put di grabba in dey, yu nuh get di right vibes," he said with a wide grin. One day, the week before, he told me that he was good at electrical work and I suggested he go get involved in a programmed course and get certification. I gave him the necessary information.
"Mi soon go do dat," he said as an afterthought. Although I cannot say definitively that more adolescents are smoking weed when there is talk of a medical marijuana industry, smoking it at a young age does not seem to be a new problem. I have spoken to many older men who smoke weed and the vast majority have told me that they started in school.
A few of the traits that they have in common is severe undereducation, no tradable skills and involvement in menial work like mixing cement on a construction site. I have nothing against an adult smoking weed, but it does appear to me that early use at, say, 12 to 14 stunts one's learning ability. Put another way, they approach learning with an everything-is-everything attitude. I can well understand the ganja lobby not wishing to see any research which ties in increased adolescent usage to more relaxed laws on weed. There is big money to be made and even though weed and grabba (tobacco) are available at every corner shop and stall in Jamaica, the price does not appear to be falling.
It is still $50 and $100 for the bags and a piece of tobacco can be had for as little as $10 or $20.
As any economic gains barely filter down to those at the bottom strata of society and idle youth are amassed on various 'corners', the smoking of weed and grabba is seen as a mental palliative. It draws them together and they talk about girls and everything else, mostly just useless banter.
Males falling behind
Jamaica has long had our males falling behind our females and that reality seems to be affecting our boys, who sense that girls are remaining in school longer and are not necessarily seeking out the company of a group of idlers.
But if there are older men in say, their 50s and 60s existing now who began regular usage in their adolescent years and they attained little by way of schooling, it does appear to me in observing these youngsters that we are creating another generation of older men only fit for hauling blocks on a construction site.
I have not yet laid my eyes on any studies done on weed and adolescent use but, apart from the quantitative aspect of it, the optics are pointing to a dark future. Youth idling in groups of four or so are very prone to recruitment in gangs or just ad hoc robberies.
Peaceful communities like Padmore in west rural St. Andrew were once thought to be immune from robberies and hold-ups. Not anymore as just recently, two shops were affected with the operators being held up in broad daylight.
When I spoke to the principal of Padmore Primary, Keisha Hayles, her concerns were quite evident: "The school bus does give our children a sense of safety, but I don't know for how much longer the bus will be on the road. The costs to maintain it is proving too much."
In the meantime, another youngster is lighting up and puffing.