US vote refuels ganja debate
Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Members of the local pro-ganja lobby are welcoming Tuesday's vote for the legalisation of ganja in the American states of Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC as a major boost for their efforts to get the Jamaican government to free up the weed.
The outcome of the midterm elections, which saw the Republican Party take full control of Congress, also paves the way for Oregon and Alaska to legalise the recreational use of ganja and the establishment of a network of retail shops similar to those operating in Washington State and Colorado, both of which voted to legalise in 2012.
"It is time for us to take off the shackles and to move decisively at liberalising ganja in Jamaica," Delano Seiveright, director of the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Taskforce told The Gleaner on Wednesday.
"One of the biggest stumbling blocks has been the fear about how the United States would react to what we are doing and what we seeing happening is a clear indication that the United States people are moving in favour of legalising ganja on a wider and wider basis, whilst Jamaica continues to stall and not be bold enough to do what we need to do," he continued.
"The United States' attitude to ganja has changed significantly and is extremely favourable and US politicians are unwilling to buck the system at this time, given that there is widespread support for ganja law reform there."
However, while anticipating some positive implications for Jamaica, Phillip Paulwell, government minister and patron of the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Taskforce, was more cautious in his response to the US voters' decision.
He told The Gleaner: "I think it is making the process towards regulated medical marijuana industry that much easier but I won't comment on the recreational use as yet because the interest that I have in this thing is for the science and technology aspect."
The minister of mining, science, technology and energy went on to explain why his support for the ganja liberalisation advocacy does not extend to its use for recreational purposes.
"I believe that Jamaica can benefit tremendously from the value-added industry that can emerge from ganja and that has been my role as patron of the cannabis group and also in the sub-committee Cabinet has appointed. The focus has been on creating an industry of value-added products from marijuana and Cabinet has approved drafting instructions for the legislation and regulation to be done, to facilitate the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and also to create an industry of value-added production."
Meanwhile, consultant psychiatrist Dr Winston De La Haye who spoke to The Gleaner from Washington, DC, where he is collaborating with Drug Free America Foundation on an addiction adolescent training programme, reiterated his opposition to any move that would effectively make ganja more accessible, especially to teenagers.
He pointed to the fact that Florida residents had voted against legalisation known as Amendment 2, which prompted the following response from Calvina Fay, Drug Free America Foundation's executive director: "Today, the people of Florida strongly and wisely rejected efforts to make Florida the next front in the push to legalise marijuana nationwide. I am proud that Florida voters saw this amendment for what it really was: a backdoor entrance for the full legalisation of marijuana.
She continued: "The people of Florida have spoken. By rejecting this misguided amendment, they chose to safeguard our communities and ensure a safer and more prosperous future."
However, another Jamaican consultant psychiatrist, Dr Wendel Abel who has been a strong proponent of the decriminalisation of ganja, pointed to the fact that the effort to legalise the sale of and distribution of ganja in Florida was narrowly defeated, with 58 per cent support falling just shy of the required 60 per cent to make Amendment 2, law.
He said: "I think they were six or seven other states that certainly supported ... but the point is several states voted in favour and you can't pitch the discussion in terms of the minority. The voting pattern is consistent with the trend that we have been seeing in the USA where increasingly, more and more states are moving towards the decriminalisation of marijuana."