Peter Espeut | Ganja normalisation - who benefits?
When on July 15, 2013, the smoking of tobacco and tobacco products was banned in public places in Jamaica, I thought we had turned a corner into a better place.
It is a scientific fact that inhaling the tar and particulate matter produced by burning vegetable matter is not good for one's lungs. I am sure that over the years, smoking-related diseases and disorders have broken the pockets of many Jamaicans, and have cost the taxpayers of this country billions of dollars.
Those of us who choose not to smoke to protect our health are forced to inhale second-hand (and third-hand) smoke exhaled by others to the detriment of our health. Banning smoking was a win for the public and a win for the public sector. I certainly praised the then minister of health, Fenton Ferguson, for his very progressive move, and looked forward to more, but he suffered from self-inflicted wounds and soon disappeared from the health scene.
I could not believe that the same Cabinet that approved a ban on the smoking of tobacco and tobacco products in July 2013 could, in April 2015, decriminalised the possession of small amounts of ganja, which has implicitly encouraged ganja smoking because of the non-issuance of tickets and the false promise of an attendant heightened public-education drive. Everyone knows that a little ganja smoke goes a long, long way.
The act was rushed through the Jamaican Parliament with indecent haste, suggesting that lobbyists with deep pockets were at work. Both the National Council on Drug Abuse and the Ministry of Health objected, but it was pushed through anyway. The law provided that persons with ganja convictions would have their criminal records expunged (reopening the possibilities for them obtaining US and other visas), and that persons possessing less than two ounces of ganja - rather than being arrested - would be issued with a ticket.
As soon as the Act was passed, the criminal records were expunged, but here we are two years later, and the ticket books have not yet even been printed! Clearly the ganja lobbyists have won a famous victory.
Hundreds of people are killed each year on Jamaican roads, and driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and ganja is a likely factor. Yet this does not seem to have been taken into consideration when the decriminalisation of ganja was being considered. Is DUI illegal in Jamaica? Will the police be issued with equipment to test drivers for these substances? Well, if we don't even have ganja tickets as required by law, it is unlikely that we will ever have ganja breathalysers.
The growing, selling and exporting of ganja remains a major crime in Jamaica. Ganja dealers have made hundreds of millions of dollars, and the proceeds from drug dealing have been used to buy weapons that make Jamaica one of the most murderous places on earth.
Despite the connection between politics and garrisons, and the link between garrisons and drug-dealing, our security forces have never been able to make a connection between politics and drug-dealing. We may have to look overseas for help in this struggle.
In previous columns, I lamented that, in the absence of campaign-finance reform legislation, we probably will never know whether political donations had anything to do with the swift passage of the ganja decriminalisation legislation. I suggested that influence-peddling may have been at work. I don't think that there is any doubt about that now.
POLITICIANS IN THE BUSINESS
Persons highly placed in both the PNP and JLP have now come out of the woodwork associating themselves with the ganja industry. In May 2016, Paul Burke, former general secretary of the PNP, was described as the programme director of the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association. In May 2017, he was now described as programme director of the Ganja Growers and Producers Association.
Ganja lobbyist Delano Seiveright, a foundation member of the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association, and a JLP candidate in the last general election, has been appointed a director of the Cannabis Licensing Authority. Clearly, the ganja lobby has bipartisan elements and is receiving government support at the highest level.
The Ministry of Health, however, has stated publicly that it neither supports the smoking of cannabis nor its consumption as an edible product.
I know that there are persons who don't believe in climate change, but are there persons who don't believe in the negative effects of ganja use?
I still want to know how a product with such negative properties could have become mainstream so quickly. Is Big Money behind it?
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to email@example.com.