Time come for ganja decriminalisation

Published: Sunday | December 8, 2013 Comments 0
Chevannes
Chevannes
In this February 6, 2013 photo, a Rastafarian named Bongho Jatusy smokes marijuana outside the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.-AP
In this February 6, 2013 photo, a Rastafarian named Bongho Jatusy smokes marijuana outside the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston.-AP
Lowe
Lowe

Delano Seiveright, Guest Columnist

Unsurprisingly, a recent survey showed the majority of Jamaicans in support of ganja decriminalisation - a fillip to the growing local and international movement pushing for sensible reforms to our laws that will reduce human-rights abuses, spur economic activity by complementing existing industries, and creating new ones, especially in research and development.

The Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices survey commissioned by the Professor Henry Lowe-led Bio-Tech R&D Institute and Pelican Publishers and executed by prominent pollster Don Anderson and his team over the last several weeks, I pray, would be the finale to a drawn-out debate that has carried us around in glorious circles.

Among the major findings of the survey are that 57 per cent of all persons claim to have used ganja at some time in the past; 55 per cent are in favour of relaxing the laws so that it is no longer a criminal offence to use ganja; and that a whopping 86 per cent feel that Government should support the use of ganja for medicinal purposes.

Already, Professor Lowe and his team have launched Jamaica's first medical marijuana company.

The results are not surprising, and the late Professor Barry Chevannes, who did substantive work through a National Commission, with solid recommendations on how to proceed, would no doubt be saddened to know that little progress has been made more than a decade later.

Among the recommendations of the 2000-2001 report were that: the relevant laws be amended so that ganja be decriminalised for the private, personal use of small quantities by adults; a sustained all-media, all-schools education programme aimed at demand reduction accompany the process of decriminalisation; and that its target should be, in the main, young people. And, importantly, that the security forces intensify their interdiction of large cultivation of ganja and trafficking of all illegal drugs.

Here is a clear case of substantive work being done and left to gather dust on a shelf somewhere in our mammoth bureaucracy - all while the country continues to grapple with our seemingly intractable economic problems and a failing criminal-justice system, condemning almost an entire generation to a life of penury and conflict.

USA PROGRESSING

Now while we continue to discuss ad nauseam, the United States and other countries are moving forward in their decriminalisation efforts, which will benefit their economies and criminal-justice systems.

Following my attendance of the Biennial International Drug Policy Conference put on by the Drug Policy Alliance in Denver, Colorado, several weeks ago, it was mind-blowing to see how the international ganja-law reform movement was picking up momentum, not only in the United States, Europe and Uruguay, but throughout the globe.

Many attendees expressed serious concerns that Jamaica was at high risk of falling further behind if it doesn't move to decriminalisation sooner rather than later. To them - many of whom are professionals in the fields of business, medicine, law, government and academia - Jamaica should be the epicentre of research and development and a global leader, given our internationally acclaimed powerhouse culture centred on Rastafari, reggae, and, of course, herbs.

Despite the lingering and overinflated concerns about international conventions and possible reaction from some global powers, it is inexcusable to them that Jamaica has made no progress in what could become a multibillion-dollar industry that can transform our economic landscape and create huge job opportunities.

After all, we have arrived at a tipping point for ganja-law reform, with nearly half the states in the United States of America, as well as Washington, DC, having exemptions for medical cannabis use, in addition to decriminalised non-medical cannabis use. Further than that, two states, Colorado and Washington, legally allow the sale and possession of ganja for both medical and non-medical use.

THE NEW NORMAL

Let us also note that Illinois, America's fifth most populous state, which includes the nation's third most populous city, Chicago, recently became the 20th state to legalise medical ganja use.

Things are becoming so normalised there that even a former congressman, Bill Delahunt, has applied for three licences to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts, with its former state Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees and former state Senator Andrea Nuciforo also applying for permits.

And while the federal government is unlikely to go the route of legalisation, the nation's deputy attorney general, James Cole, issued a memo in August saying the Feds would stand down in all but a handful of instances when it came to state marijuana laws.

Now as the momentum grows in the US, a recent Gallup poll found that 58 per cent of Americans are in favour of legally regulating cannabis, like alcohol. That represented a dramatic 10 per cent increase over the previous year's figures. Expect more states and cities to relax their laws in coming months and years.

Uruguay has been most aggressive so far in its approach. Just recently, the country's Senate Health Commission passed a bill allowing for the legalisation of the production and use of marijuana. The legislation, if approved by the full Senate soon, will also permit home use and smoking clubs, but all under strict government regulations.

This is being done as a means to curb drug trafficking and present an alternative to the 'war of drugs' which many argue have created more problems than it has managed to solve. A delegation of Uruguayan legislators was present in Denver and displayed a gutsy approach to their government's very proficient handling of the issue, especially in a context where the majority of Uruguayans are not so keen on legalisation and where most of the nation's marijuana comes from neighbouring countries.

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

On the flip side, Jamaicans are largely in favour of decriminalisation and are culturally attuned to what is viewed as quintessentially 'Jamaican'. The Bob Marley and other 'Jamaican' shirts all over the world are perfect examples of what Jamaica is. Imagine the big opportunities for agriculture, tourism, nutraceuticals, research and development?

I had the opportunity to tour legal marijuana production operations in Colorado and was floored by the high levels of professionalism and innovativeness involved. Inside one of those operations was high-tech equipment, complemented by qualified staff in lab coats walking around taking notes on clipboards during inspection of plants, all while raking in healthy profits and paying substantial amounts in taxes to the state government.

They were all shocked to know that Jamaica has made no progress thus far and bemoaned how we are losing out big time. In order to climb out speedily out of our economic rut, new and bold ideas need not be talked about any further, but get implemented. This is just one.

Alexander Bustamante, in 1938, was right when he said, "What Jamaica needs now is practical and sympathetic men interested in the country and not charlatans and self-seekers making long speeches about nothing ... ."

Seventy-five years on, independent and all, just look at where we are. Thankfully, the Government appears to be moving in the right direction. Let us encourage them along.

Delano Seiveright is a former president of Generation 2000, a JLP affiliate. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or delanoseiveright@yahoo.com. Twitter @delanoseiv.










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