Mon | Nov 20, 2017

Uninformed! - Ganja lobby hits back at Tufton for stance against recreational use of weed

Published:Thursday | July 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Paul Burke
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The country's main pro-ganja group has said that in three years, it expects the Government to change its uninformed view that it does not support the recreational smoking of the herb.

"The Ministry of Health does not support the recreational use of cannabis or any form of smoked cannabis products, even for medicinal uses," Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

"Smoking anything is hazardous to health," added Tufton, who said that the ministry does support using ganja extracts with ganja products for research. He was contributing to a motion brought by Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites on public-health issues, arising from tobacco and ganja use. It was approved.

But the Ganja Growers and Producers' Association does not believe Tufton's claims and say that a fully developed and regulated industry will mean allowing the recreational use of ganja.

 

NO BAN ON CIGARETTES

 

"I know of people who eat jackfruit, which is a super-rich food and has health properties in the same way the smoking of ganja has health and therapeutic properties, depending on how it is used," said Paul Burke, the group's programme director.

"There are people who smoke cigarettes and never get lung cancer, and there's no doubt about it that cigarettes can contribute to lung cancer, [but] you don't ban cigarettes," the lobbyist said. "It doesn't mean that by smoking ganja, someone is going to be harmed."

The World Health Organization has said that recent studies have confirmed acute and chronic effects of cannabis, including impairment of cognitive functions, but it has pointed to therapeutic benefits in treating issues like glaucoma and cancer.

Burke said that the association "has always accepted" that smoking weed for recreation could have harmful effects. "But there are many others who have been using ganja recreationally, and there are no harmful effects to them."

More fears about ganja than facts

Paul Burke, programme director of the Ganja Growers and Producers' Association, believes that it won't be long before the health ministry's position changes favourably on ganja.

"The ministry has always had this very conservative, and I would add, a not fully informed position on ganja. But in light of evidence coming out, including benefits of recreational use of ganja, in two, three years, the whole thing will have to evolve. Canada has reached there."

According to Burke, there are more fears than facts influencing positions on the use of the herb, which he said can only be addressed through a public-education campaign.

Tufton said that the National Council on Drug Abuse would be spearheading an "urgently required" two-year public-education campaign that he said should have been implemented when Jamaica changed its drug laws in 2015 to allow for a medicinal ganja industry.

He noted that the authorities have a major concern about the impact of ganja on cognitive functions such as learning and the country's problems with literacy.

Local health authorities have complained about increases in usage and abuse of the weed by Jamaicans, especially school-children, as well as the ease of access to ganja and related products such as cookies and sweets.

A National Council on Drug Abuse survey last year found that 70 per cent of the population has easy access to ganja.

Jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com