Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Putting cart before horse with ganja hoopla

Published:Saturday | April 18, 2015 | 4:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

If the reports shared with your newspaper by the minister of education, the Rev Ronald Thwaites, with regard to ganja smoking among students on the very day small quantities of the substance were decriminalised, are accurate, it would appear as if we have put the cart before the horse.

This issue of decriminalisation and the development of a medicinal-ganja industry has brought with it many and varied social, psychological, health and cultural challenges that needed to be addressed prior to 'Decriminalisation Day'. Prior studies done locally have revealed data showing that young persons have always had the view of ganja being the least harmful and easiest to get in terms of illicit drugs in Jamaica.

That sort of perception can only drive incidence and prevalence rates of ganja use among youth upwards. It is a view that will enable experimentation and sustained drug-seeking behaviour to continue among youth who are so inclined. It is important to note that, despite decriminalisation of small amounts, it is still illegal for youth under the age of 18 to possess ganja.

MISSINGPIECE

Prevention education is the missing piece going forward if we are to accept decriminalisation. A comprehensive, evidence-based approach must be employed swiftly so that we can short-circuit these skewed perceptions of our youth who will eventually be our adult citizens. The approach to decriminalisation has to be multivariate, as it is obvious that this ganja issue has far and wide-reaching effects.

The future of this country is dependent heavily on our youth, who oftentimes require us to protect them from themselves. Here at RISE Life Management Services, we provide counselling and testing services, primarily for youth abusing ganja, referred by school, family and the justice system.

Data collected from RISE's telephone-counselling lifeline 2014 indicated that 62 per cent of calls received were for ganja-related problems, affecting predominantly males in the 15-35 age group. The resources available to initiate both prevention and treatment work have always been sparse. RISE has always struggled to have this programme funded. However, thanks to the National Health Fund, which funded us in the past, and, currently, the CHASE Fund, RISE has delivered this intervention for the last six years and has funding until August 2015.

With that said, there is an urgent need to mobilise more resources so that islandwide drug-prevention education programmes can be initiated with this cohort. We need to act sooner, rather than later.

SONITA ABRAHAMS

RICHARD HENRY

RISE Life Management Services