EDITORIAL - Messages beyond the presidential ballot

Published: Monday | November 12, 2012 Comments 0

Post-election analysis in the United States has focused, mainly, on the victory of a political theory that privileges ethnic diversity over a white male hegemony, and socially responsible governance over ultra-laissez-faire Big Business.

However, there are important subtexts within the larger narrative of President Barack Obama's second coming as commander-in-chief.

First, Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay politician to be voted into the US Senate, which represents further signs of the growing maturity of the American body politic and society in general.

Most important, Ms Baldwin, who came out of the closet in the mid-1980s, did not run on a gay-rights agenda ticket, but on the more substantive platform of her political vision for her state, Wisconsin, and the country at large. Said she in her acceptance speech: "I didn't run to make history. I ran to make a difference."

Her election must be viewed as a triumph of ideas over insular, small-minded discrimination.

But there was also traction on an issue of which this newspaper has been an advocate - repealing anachronistic legislation on marijuana.

Voters in Washington state and Colorado used ballot initiatives last Tuesday to legalise recreational use of ganja. Although the vote puts the two states on a collision course with federal law, which proscribes the possession of weed, the plebiscite symbolises a defining moment, and a defining movement.

Scaremongers prattle that decriminalisation will lead to the degradation of society, with children and adults, en masse, being allowed to puff away on a constant high. Of course, this newspaper advocates no such thing.

Similar to the recommendations of Jamaica's National Commission on Ganja 11 years ago, the measures in Washington state and Colorado would make it legal for adults aged 21 and over to possess an ounce of weed. Legislative enforcement, therefore, would be targeted at persons with excessive amounts, as well as large-scale smugglers who are often involved in other crimes, such as gunrunning and the trafficking of more dangerous narcotics like cocaine.

Cyclical nightmare

As history has shown, the criminalisation of marijuana possession, particularly of small amounts, has been a failed government policy of Kingston and Washington.

But the advocacy of powerful lobbyists and the social stigma of ganja have combined to keep both governments in a cyclical nightmare: expending billions of dollars and wasting millions of man-hours chasing persons with a handful of the drug and carting them off to prison. There, otherwise law-abiding citizens are transformed into hardened criminals because of their incarceration alongside inmates convicted for murder, rape and other serious crimes. Criminal contagion worsens.

The Jamaican Government, across different political administrations, has for more than a decade ignored the enlightened prescriptions of the Barry Chevannes-chaired National Commission on Ganja, preferring to watch the clock in its apparent love affair with legislative paralysis.

Lawmakers should seek to oil the rusty wheels of the legislature so that mostly poor young men are not locked away and their future shattered by a criminal record for a spliff. Funds should be poured into public education initiatives; rehabilitation programmes for addicts, particularly of hard drugs like cocaine; and, perhaps, medical research.

The scattershot war on ganja can be likened to a dog chasing its tail. We expect the Jamaican Government to refuse to be as easily wagged as man's best friend.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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