Richard Crawford | Deal in facts, not fear, when talking ganja
A recent presentation in Parliament by Senator Dr Saphire Longmore dealt with the issue of the ganja industry and its potential for development. She also noted the absence of a necessary public-education programme to explain the danger of smoking or use by young people under 18 years of age.
Her presentation was supported by a letter to The Gleaner by Shirley Richards headlined, 'Don't be fooled by 'harmless' ganja', which used a 1999 study by Professor Archie McDonald, which stated that 50 per cent of trauma cases at the University Hospital of the West Indies were related to ganja, and a Gleaner article of November 2005 covering a study by The University of the West Indies experts stating that "ganja, alcohol and hopelessness were contributing to the country's murder rate".
So, is it reasonable to ask if ganja and other drugs are linked to this soaring murder rate?
Some of these extraordinary questions have been raised over time, and recently in Jamaica as we grapple with our crime and murder problem. In most instances, however, ganja has been headlined, disregarding other real social issues where 25 per cent of our children live in poverty, are malnourished, affecting their learning capacity, and are themselves victims of these brutal crimes and anti-social behaviour which we wish to protect them from.
Stakeholders in the ganja industry understand these concerns, and more, as they have been around for some time. Ongoing scientific research into the ganja plant has debunked many previous beliefs, but events show that smoking or overuse of ganja by youths under 18 years of age can lead to certain negative developments and should be avoided by all persons in this age group.
In a Gleaner public-education programme, Weed Ed and #Ganjafacts, the statement was made that ganja has been shown to have negative effects on a developing brain by interfering with cognitive abilities such as thinking, memory and learning. This position is respected and accepted by researchers and other ganja advocates across the globe.
The Weed Ed publications, however, explore the industry today from its historic base and the latest research and scientific outcomes, and provides a balanced, updated view of the industry which all should read. A recent issue even advised parents how to interact with their teenagers if they suspect that they are smoking weed. Be good listeners, avoid fear and scare tactics, do not harass the child, seek professional help.
It is interesting to note that child and teenage smoking of ganja in Rastafarian family circles is strictly forbidden. Children are exposed to the culture, and religious practices and the use of ganja by the elders is to bring about a cohesion and peaceful coexistence among members in the community. UWI lecturer Jalani Niah wrote a recent article on this issue of the use and benefits of ganja in the Rastafarian family.
The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has called for more state intervention to discourage the use of ganja, particularly by the society's youth. The NCDA said 70 per cent of the 12-65 national age group has easy access to ganja, and for the first time, acknowledged that 50 per cent of secondary-school children said illegal drugs were sold in and around school compounds.
This situation has existed for some time, and school authorities as well as the ministries of Education and Health need to rid the schools of vendors who are selling many products that are harmful to students, instead of assuming that school problems and exam results are merely due to youngsters smoking ganja.
This was brought to the attention of the NCDA previously and it was proposed that the Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica (GGPJ), the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), and The Rastafari Millennium Council launch a joint national public-education programme on the uses, pros and cons of ganja and the new industry. The proposal was rejected by the NCDA, and a campaign started instead which portrayed the Rastafari community in a negative light - this has not been successful.
We agree that a national public-education programme is needed and it should concentrate on, and be based in the schools focusing on the plant, its properties and the potential for additional opportunities and careers of research scientists, botanists, agriculturists and other high-paying jobs badly needed in Jamaica and around the world, as well as destigmatising ganja and its value.
The public needs to be assured that all licensed ganja investors, producers and participants support the legal restrictions of no smoking of ganja by anyone under 18 years of age. In fact, teenagers are not allowed in dispensaries and retail outlets.
Persons under 18 years of age who are found in possession of two ounces or less are referred to the NCDA for counselling.
Other facts about ganja in Jamaica may be found on the CLA website at www.cla.org.jm.
Industry stakeholders are demanding that the funding of a public-education programme and proposals to make the industry become more productive, including the small farmers, be put in place now by the authorities. We need to look at the present facts and situation in Jamaica which is similar globally, and carve out our own niche and build our competitive advantage for success in the industry.
- Richard 'Dickie' Crawford is a political analyst and representative of the Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica. Email feedback to email@example.com.