Light up the chalice and smoke at home
Now we can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, actually no, because now tens of thousands of casual users of marijuana and almost 30,000 Rastafarians are going to light up and bun down Rome.
With a stroke of his pen, the justice minister, Mark Golding, has literally given the green light to smokers of marijuana and for amounts two ounces or less, they will not be arrested. Rather, they will be ticketed, but if they fail to pay, non-payment can become a criminal offence.
Niah can smoke at will if he registers his place of worship with 'Babylon'; medical users can light up in designated places, the old Coptic farms can be brought back under production, but export and free sale are outlawed. Selah. However, universities such as the UWI and UTech can do deep research. NCU might only do so outside of the Sabbath. I can grow five plants at home, and if I live in a condominium, each of my neighbours can grow five for me; giving a different meaning to high-rise building.
It is not a novel idea. Last November, New York Mayor Bill Di Blasio took the step and police officers no longer arrest people for low-level marijuana charges, issuing tickets instead. Given that the majority of persons convicted for these offences were black and Hispanic, it was a major policy turnaround. Moreover, despite the stereotypes, proportionally more whites use marijuana than blacks in the USA. Yes! A greater percentage of white people smoke weed than blacks. Therefore, it was an avenue for racist behaviour from the cops themselves, especially since they had the stop-and-frisk approach.
Now, without the stigma of a criminal record, thousands of black Americans and Jamaicans who do nothing more than burn a little 'collie' and talk as if their larynxes got infused with goat DNA can enter the labour market and pursue their life dreams. However, let it be known, it is still an illegal drug, and if found in your blood, you are blocked from many things. By the way, American President Barack Obama admitted smoking weed and "inhaled frequently", but, of course, not on his recent trip here.
Decriminalisation is overdue, because the use of marijuana is surrounded by myths. One is that it is a gateway drug, meaning that users are likely to move on to other drugs. This is a gummy point, because inasmuch as a significant percentage of users of highly addictive drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin admitted prior cannabis use, most smokers do not move on to the heavier stuff.
Dr Winston De la Haye, consultant psychiatrist and deputy chairman of the National Council on Drug Abuse, has been a strong anti-ganja campaigner. He warned last year: "We are making decisions today that Jamaica and Jamaicans will pay dearly for, for many years to come." Nightly, the psychiatric ward of the University Hospital of the West Indies sees "four to five patients who need admission, primarily with cannabis-induced psychosis".
Australian psychology professor Joseph Rey has done studies that have shown up to a 15 per cent incidence of short- to medium-term psychological symptoms with experimental groups. In other research, it was discovered that the incidence of psychosis increased twofold among users vs non-users. Nonetheless, the overwhelming evidence is that the great majority of persons who smoke weed do not have any serious long-term, deleterious effect. Simply put, most individuals who use ganja will not become mad or 'wutliss'. It is to be noted as well that the majority of cigarette smokers do not develop lung cancer or emphysema. In fact, quite ironically, many persons who end up with those diseases have never smoked.
Nonetheless, although it is a minority of smokers who end up with psychosis or with lung cancer, I'm sure you don't want to be one.
Still, I urge medical doctors to make up their minds about the decriminalising of dangerous behaviour and the likelihood of the negative health outcomes if the legal prohibitions are removed. Didn't some doctors say that decriminalising anal sex will lead to a reduction of the risky behaviour?
It is not a silver bullet, as Obama said when addressing a Rastafarian member here.
Logistically, the issuing of tickets could end up being a nightmare for any cop who thinks it is his priority to divert his energies to the pursuit of smokers. How do you ticket the homeless? Are the police being told to leave Smoky Joe to damage his lungs, brain and other organs? After all, it is his democratic right to turn them into a microcosm of Riverton City and inhale all kinds of toxins mixed with tobacco.
So is it his right to drink alcohol and make himself a fool, staying in the bar long after the tough-faced bartender starts looking beautiful and go home penniless.
For the overworked 'boys and girls in blue', it might be a waste of time to walk around with scales to weigh the weed. True, Dibble can use his judgement and remember what it was like when he used to roll it himself as a civilian. But the drier the weed, the lighter it is. Therefore, different quantities of the 'Ishens' will constitute that two ounce. Worse, imagine Corpie taking the evidence of four ounces and stashing it; but the moisture evaporates and not only does the case fall apart, but the 'Supe' suspects that he loaded a kutchie of it.
But one overlooked fact is that the inability to criminally prosecute for small quantities of marijuana might deprive the police of a very effective tool in their investigation of other crimes. Marijuana possession might not be a gateway drug, but is it gateway behaviour? How many suspects of major crimes such as shooting, gun possession and murder have antecedents because of earlier arrests and convictions for marijuana possession?
It is not a free-for-all, and one should remember that the best world is a smoke-free one.
- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.