Sat | Jan 19, 2019

George Davis | Ganja, law and propaganda

Published:Tuesday | December 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In his journal article 'The Law and Cannabis in the West Indies (1973)', H. Aubrey Fraser noted that between 1962 and 1972, approximately 11,140 Jamaicans were hauled before the courts for possessing ganja. Over the same period, 2,091 Jamaicans were prosecuted for smoking the herb. For possessing, smoking, cultivating and committing ganja-related crimes under the nebulous police heading 'other', 14,405 Jamaicans, mostly, if not all, men, had earned a criminal record over the first 10 years of our country gaining independence.

Between 1962 and 1972, Jamaicans were not only being criminalised at home for the weed. Scores of our countrymen were either locked up or fined for breaching the provisions of the Dangerous Drugs legislation in places such as Barbados, Dominica and Guyana, with 33 prosecuted in The Bahamas alone over the 10-year period. Perhaps perversely, only one case of cocaine use/possession (the police record didn't state which) was prosecuted in Jamaica over those 10 years, with that prosecution occurring in 1972.

I share those numbers to show how independent Jamaica, by way of a spliff, began her life by prolifically making criminals of her men, mostly those under the age of 30. The spliff has perhaps created more criminals in Jamaica than the gun, knife and chequebook combined. The same spliff has retarded the progress of more promising, young Jamaican men than any other blight on the progress of humankind ever has.

Everyone knows a footballer, track athlete or cricketer who never got the scholarship or signed the potentially life-changing contract, simply because of their intimate relationship with the herb.

Arthur Hall's Sunday Gleaner column of December 2, 2018, speaks about several young men who were rejected for stevedoring jobs because of their use of weed. Do we blame weed for the missed opportunities of our young men, or do we blame the young men for using a substance that most of them have no medical need for?

Jamaica and the Caribbean's marijuana history could have been very different were it not for the intervention of a famous Egyptian in cannabis academic circles, Dr Mohamed Abdel Salam El Guindy. Dr El Guindy, a physician by training, was secretary of the Royal Egyptian Diplomatic Ministries in Brussels and Paris. Attending the International Conferences on Opium and Dangerous Drugs from November 1924 to February 1925 in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr El Guindy, Egypt's delegate, tabled a proposal that was to have a profound effect on the way the Western world, through its colonial powers, viewed and treated marijuana.

For the sake of clarity, the conferences in Geneva did not have ganja on their agenda. Britain, China, Bolivia, Canada, Australia, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Greece, et al, had all gathered to talk about how to treat with raw opium, morphine, heroin and coca leaf. Dr El Guindy's proposal to add ganja to the list of dangerous and mind-altering drugs, as defined by the Hague Convention, was not the business of those delegates who were focused on what they knew to be dangerous drugs. Dr El Guindy spoke about how ganja was perhaps more harmful than opium, noting that his government had banned the cultivation and use of the substance in Egypt from as far back as 1884.

Said Dr El Guindy, "taken occasionally and in small doses, hashish [ganja] perhaps does not offer much danger, but there is always the risk that once a person begins taking it, he will continue. He acquires the habit and becomes addicted to the drug, and once this happens it is very difficult to escape."

That proposal, presented as straight opinion by Dr El Guindy and lacking the support of the kind of scientific evidence that should attend to a matter of such importance, was nonetheless adopted unanimously as a resolution at the conferences. The ratification of that resolution by Britain ushered in dangerous drugs legislation throughout the West Indies and made it a criminal offence to be engaged in any activity related to ganja.

Imagine how the future of thousands of Jamaican men could have been so different had it not been for that fateful intervention more than 90 years ago. Perhaps without Dr El Guindy's unsubstantiated claims, only the export, and not the use, of marijuana would have been a crime in places such as Jamaica.

Selah.

- George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.