Daniel Thwaites, Contributor
Current ganja laws criminalise huge numbers of youths, and commit another large chunk of the populace to a daily outlaw existence by the time they light up after morning tea. It has to change. Tiad fi lick weed inna bush; tiad fi lick pipe inna gully.
Thankfully, there seems to be bipartisan consensus that things must change. Senator Tom Tavares-Finson and Justice Minister Mark Golding have both been making very sensible sounds. Delroy Chuck was steering in the right direction when he was at the helm. It's just common sense. Particularly in Jamaica, these laws against what is religious practice for some, folk tradition for the many, and cheap joyride for the bored middle class have failed utterly.
Decriminalisation, which would involve a fine if ganja is found on someone, is just a start. Ultimately, legalisation of small amounts, and regulation of its sale, should be the goal. Isn't the Government looking for more tax revenue? Aren't we anxious to increase the tourist traffic? Then legalise and tax blunts, while restricting and policing its trade and use in public. Educate about its dangers. Don't criminalise a whole country.
It's actually astonishing and annoying how strongly branded 'Jamaica' is for weed, and many Americans hear the name and reflexively ask about it. So that's when I wheel out my bush-doctor psychology to counterattack for the annoyance, and to raise business. I say to them in utter seriousness: "Do NOT go to Jamaica and smoke marijuana. It is SO strong it will blow your brains, probably make you psychotic, and there's a good chance you will NEVER recover and get back to normal."
Naturally, most people want to depart for Montego Bay immediately. In fact, that's how I learnt how amazing this 4G telephone technology really is. One young attorney was able to book a flight within minutes of my warning.
In fact, I think criminalisation has been counterproductive in another way as well. It's perversely helped to make weed sexier. Illegality can sometimes misfire and give something an undeserved allure, particularly where there's culture-wide 'oppositional defiant disorder'.
This is how the Scottish Highland kilt came to such prominence. An Englishman named Thomas Rawlinson invented the kilt, that symbol of Scottish identity, around 1727 as an outfit for iron factory workers. However, after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, George II outlawed kilts with the Dress Act, mistakenly identifying them as revolutionary kit. The ban lasted less than 40 years, but in that time kilts became wildly popular, and have since been part of Scottish identity. Why? Because they were illegal, and, therefore, a perfect way to annoy the authorities.
CORROSIVE IMPACT OF DRUG LAWS
There's also the corrosive impact of drug laws on the relationship between police and civilians. The law basically gives the State a ticket to open every bag and purse, search every pocket, stop every car, and invade every home in the island.
This is probably a good time to mention that I don't blaze the high grade, and I don't have any plans to start. I've never seen anything positive come from it among friends who do, plus I reckon that my grip on reality is already tenuous enough. In fact, years ago I had a traumatic experience in London. I happened by a 'Legalise Marijuana' sit-in around Trafalgar Square and briefly joined the crowd of rusty-looking vagrant types blocking progress to the National Gallery and sending plumes of ganja smoke into the air. Imagine seeing Caravaggio's 'Supper at Emmaus' while buzzed? You end up screaming: "Watch out for Judas!" Then the guards come. Then you let them know (in no uncertain terms!) that you're just trying to save Jesus. It's embarrassing.
I don't want any part of that. My feeling is that ganja should be controlled, like alcohol. Of course, I'm aware that weed has many who preach on its behalf, and it does have great proselytisers of its positive properties. One hears that it 'settles the nerves', etc. Good luck with all that. Please settle your nerves away from my nerves for the time being. Weed smoking as some sort of lifestyle commitment strikes me as a bad choice.
I recall a fellow student from back in high school who had never done a lick of preparation for our CXC history exam. So he settled on a stone behind the St George's upper-forms bathroom with a massive spliff roughly an hour before test time. I think he got an 'unmarked' for spelling his name wrong.
But I also remember that my granny would buy a bottle of white rum, stuff stalks of the bud into it, and then, well, I was never sure what she used it for. Maybe rubbing, maybe drinking, maybe both. At least on one occasion she blithely flew to Brooklyn with a bottle. This was her medicine. I probably shouldn't have told you that, but really, she is safely in the bosom of Father Abraham and beyond the reach of mankind's law. She wasn't bothering a soul, and it's ridiculous that anyone would criminalise her.
There's another thing. Suppose one day after living on the straight and narrow I want to retire to my little cottage and burn some trees? The Government presumes to tell me that I cannot groom a stalk of sensimilla in my backyard. Like the vast majority of my countrymen, I simply do not accept that the State has any right to tell me that. On my property, in my house, burning my own bush, with my own fire? Why should the State be so anxious to protect me from myself? No! Maybe Government needs to smoke the herb and get a humble thought. Babylon couldn't stop dis one.
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites, Lundgren & D'Arcy in Westchester and Bronx counties in New York. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.