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'Decriminalisation of marijuana is irresponsible'

Published:Monday | February 11, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

The head of the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), which has responsibility for that nation's military affairs in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, is disagreeing with voters in his homeland who have opted for the decriminalisation of the use of marijuana in two states.

"I think it's dumb ... it's irresponsible in my opinion," declared Marine General John Kelly, commander of USSOUTHCOM, which monitors narco-trafficking throughout the region.

"I guess, rather than learning from other people's mistakes, the people in my own country want to make their own and then learn hard lessons," he said.

Kelly's comments were in response to Gleaner queries about his position on the decision by voters in the two states to back the decriminalisation of the use of marijuana for both medical and non-medical use.

In the groundbreaking move, Colorado and Washington voters last November passed referendums on legalising marijuana for recreational use, though the drug would remain banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

In Colorado, Proposition 64 to the state's constitution makes it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to possess marijuana and for businesses to sell it.

State laws bringing the voters' desires into reality have yet to be written and passed, but already there are reports that federal officials are considering legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine the initiatives.

A mistake

Kelly, who was in the island for a brief visit last week, told The Gleaner: "I think countries that have decriminalised or legalised drugs of any kind in the past, at least to date, have all come to realise that that was a mistake."

Noting that federal law takes precedence over state law, he said: "In this case, the US is signatory to a number of international agreements on drugs, so I am confident that the Federal Government will work this out with the states, but it remains illegal in the United States."

He added: "As I understand it, enforcement at the state level is on hold until the Federal Government acts."

Kelly also lamented that many Americans claim they only use drugs on weekends recreationally.

"A lot of people are fooled to think that drug use can be recreational. This is one of the biggest issues with which the country (US) has to contend."

The general argued that the proceeds from illegal drugs generate enormous profits that are corrosive to countries.

"In some cases, drug trafficking is used to literally buy governments in this region, not Jamaica but (others) in this region, because the profits are so outrageously high ... ," he said.

Kelly said the focus of USSOUTHCOM revolves around cocaine coming out of Latin America through Central America into the US.

He said the primary routes are to the far west in the vicinity of Guatemala, Panama and Mexico.

Noting that not much is shipped in the vicinity of Jamaica, Kelly said: "We work very closely with your government. We share intelligence with them to make sure that if we ever see the cocaine trafficking start to shift direction, we could alert the Government, law enforcement and the army but we have a pretty clear picture of the drug routes."