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EDITORIAL - Ganja lessons for US

Published:Thursday | September 18, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Jamaica is again ranked as a major illicit drug-producing or transit country in the US State Department's annual report on global trends in the illicit narcotic trade - not for the first time.

The report which was recently submitted to the US Congress pinpoints 22 countries whose activities in drug production or trafficking "significantly affects the US". Jamaica and her neighbours Haiti, Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and Caricom sister territory Belize are on that list.

This annual assessment by the US appears somewhat hypocritical in light of the growing commercial value of marijuana to American farmers and economy. For despite its illegal status, it is estimated that some 22 million pounds of ganja is produced in the United States annually. The majority of the ganja comes from California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii and Washington.

Conservative estimates of ganja's production and value rank ganja as the fourth largest cash crop in the United States, worth upwards of US$40 billion. Some have even estimated that it has exceeded wheat and corn as the number one cash crop. Cultivation typically takes place on marginal lands, but it is also grown indoors in trailers, closets, basements and attics. But most shocking of all is the fact that a significant portion of ganja is grown on public lands, often in protected areas such as national forests and wildernesses.

Activists for ganja legalisation often seek to strengthen their arguments by citing the exemptions created by some American states for medical marijuana, and also the legalisation of the sale and possession of ganja in Colorado and Washington and the economic potential those states stand to gain.

But even the federal government is itself involved in ganja cultivation. Many questions were asked earlier this year when it sought to increase its annual production from 46 pounds to 1,400 pounds to provide for "scientific, research and industrial needs". Persons wanted to know what use would be put to the increased amount of ganja.

Take the drug methamphetamine, which goes by names like 'meth' and 'ice'. Meth labs, stationary or rolling, have been detected in several states of the United States and they exist solely for the illicit manufacture of the drug.

By citing these statistics, we are drawing attention to two things: the significant challenges that a country faces in trying to stem the flow of illicit drugs and the fact that America has lost the moral authority to chide other nations for their inability to arrest the drug trade. After all, the United States spends some US$10 billion annually on eradication efforts, with dubious results. While 10 million ganja plants were destroyed in 2009 and 2010, only about four million plants were eradicated

From whatever angle the issue of illicit drug is examined, health, economic, environmental or social, it is clear that the problem does not concern just these 22 countries marked by the US. It is a problem that concerns the family of nations. Ingenuity, corruption, greed and profitability are factors that encourage the trade.

However, by legalising the use of ganja in some states while seeking to eradicate the production of the crop in other countries, the United States is sending mixed signals that have caused bewilderment to the rest of the world. The majority of Americans support legalisation of marijuana. The US Congress should take some lessons from the Prohibition ban of the 1930s.

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