Ganja break - Fewer children in custody since decriminalisation of the weed
Local human-rights activists are confident that one of the positive spin-offs from the amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act is that fewer of the nation's children will find themselves in custody for possession of the weed.
While declaring their objection to children smoking, the human-rights activists noted that before the law was amended to allow for the decriminalisation of ganja and making the possession of two ounces of the weed no longer a criminal offence, scores of children were placed in custody for possession of the drug.
"Decriminalisation impacts the deleterious effect of institutionalisation of children for the possession of drugs," advocacy manager at human rights group Jamaicans for Justice, Rodje Malcolm, argued during a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum.
"Between 2011 and 2015, possession of dangerous drugs was the sixth largest out of about 25 categories of children who were in Department of Correctional Services facilities. That would be children who would have been taken out of school and family environments just for possession of a dangerous drug," said Malcolm.
He argued that the move to eliminate the capacity for incarceration for something like the possession of a ganja spliff has reduced the incarcerated population, especially of children.
"So they would have been in for a non-violent offence, like 71 per cent of all the children in the facilities, who would have had their psychosocial trajectory dismantled because they were put inside a facility.
"So we are talking about family environments and community environments, yet we are incarcerating the sweeping majority of the children in those facilities not for violent offences, but for community issues, for disorder, for behavioural and conduct issues," added Malcolm.
In the meantime, Carolyn Gomes, executive director of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition, highlighted the need for some form of control as it relates to all drugs that affect the psyche.
However, Gomes is adamant that "the decriminalisation of marijuana actually makes it easier to put controls around it".
DRUG TREATMENT PROGRAMMES
In his contribution to the 2016 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton had argued that the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act necessitate a comprehensive strategy to address the implications for various groups in the Jamaican society.
He noted that data from the National Council on Drug Abuse showed that 90 per cent of adolescents seen in its drug treatment programme are referred due to problems associated with marijuana use.
Tufton said treatment reports also reflected a 54 per cent increase in students enrolled in a ganja prevention programme called 'STEP-UP' since the decriminalisation.
According to Tufton, more rigid enforcement of the law and greater levels of education are critical to preventing abuse.
"We cannot afford to ignore the potential negative aspects of abuse. There has to be follow through on public education, particularly among young people, so as to not create more problems," said Tufton.
This was endorsed by human-rights advocate Carol Narcisse, who used the Editors' Forum to express her disappointment that there has not been more in terms of public education leading up to and following the decriminalisation of possession of a small quantity of marijuana.
"It is absolutely imperative the public education that is supposed to be going along with the decriminalisation happens," said Narcisse. "It is irresponsible that that it is not happening."