Tufton concerned about herb houses and misapplication of public policy
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has indicated that his ministry will be seeking a meeting with the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) and other stakeholders in the local medical marijuana industry to gain greater clarity on the processes being used by businesses to screen clients before supplying them with product.
Tufton was reacting to a Sunday Gleaner probe that found loose screening processes at local herb houses licensed to sell marijuana for medicinal purposes, and confirmed similar findings in a National Council on Drug Abuse report.
"In recent years Jamaica has seen an increase in legal herb houses with branded ganja applications claiming to provide solutions to a variety of ailments from clinical to emotional," Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.
"Before the new law, ganja was easily had on most street corners in Jamaica, but access and usage was always secured as a cautious experience, but today access is formal and the motivation or temptation for trial is wrapped in sophisticated packaging and a relaxed environment," added Tufton, who has long been cautious about the decriminalisation of marijuana and the potential negative impact, specifically on children's brains.
The minister said the realities of Jamaican culture and experiences is that the ganja industry has been more about achieving leisure and relaxation and, to a lesser extent a sacrament for religious purposes, than it has been for medicinal purposes.
"The truth is that that reality has moved from underground, where it was deemed illegal, to formal smoke or herb houses where it is now legal, branded and more sophisticated.
"While there is value and justification in the decriminalisation, so as not to criminalise our cultural practices and people, we should be clear about what it is we are trying to achieve and be mindful about protecting the vulnerable like our children."
Tufton said it now appears there is conflict between policy and practice.
"For starters, the evidence from public health [officials] suggests that the legal herb houses are more about recreational smoke than about medicinal [use] and the rules of engagement, which includes talking to a doctor remotely on an iPad, is farcical with no medicinal benefit," he argued, noting that there were also questions around the types and strength of herb varieties being promoted with no relation to the vulnerabilities of individuals.
"Personally, I cast no moral judgment on an individual's right to choose under the law to smoke ganja or drink alcohol for that matter, but, from a public health perspective, I think it’s important to be clear and transparent about what the rules of engagement are and that we follow them," he said.
"If herb houses are for recreational purposes, the policy should reflect that and appropriate protection to safeguard the vulnerable should be strictly enforced. If they are for medicinal purposes then proper clinical guidelines should be applied and right now we do not think they are."
He said another concern was the growing trend of individuals "smoking anything and everything" in public spaces, which the minister argued not only threatens to undermine the country's anti-smoking laws but could potentially impact the health and safety of the public, particularly users of public thoroughfares.
"There are too many public displays of ganja smoking in public while driving or riding or at the workplace. We are concerned that this may also contribute to accidents on the road or at the workplace, similar to the risks associated with excessive consumption of alcohol."