Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Impatient for ganja-law reform

Published:Wednesday | December 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Jaevion Nelson, Columnist

How many more announcements about changes to the cannabis prohibition laws of the 1930s does one country need to be jolted into action to follow a similar course? It is pointless criminalising marijuana, which, according to The Lancet (2013), is the most popularly used illegal drug. Regulations akin to those for tobacco and alcohol use would be more functional.

In recent times, several countries have amended their laws that proscribe the cultivation, and recreational, medicinal and religious use, of marijuana as well as manufacturing of related products. Jamaica, however, does not appear slightly interested or bothered and has become complacent after making minor amendments in June to the extent that, among other things, persons (read: young males in inner-city communities) would not be locked up for possessing small quantities of marijuana.

People in many parts of the world are always amazed that though marijuana is part of our tourism product (yes, it is!), it is illegal, and that despite the reforms taking place globally, legal marijuana use seems improbable.

Playing catch up

I can appreciate the arguments posited over time why this might have been so, but it's mind-boggling why we are lagging behind (as we so often do) when the rest of the world - even allied governments - is reforming laws and taking advantage of its benefits.

Is this not enough for us to pursue a similar course? What will enlighten us to recognise the urgency with which we must change the laws, invest in marijuana research and development, and take steps to promote the cultivation of marijuana among subsistence farmers who have been providing thousands of Jamaicans (and tourists) with good weed over the years. We also need to protect them so they benefit economically (and not just from a high).

It might have been more prudent if the thieves who broke into Gordon House recently replaced the Mace with the cannabis plant and left a spliff for everyone and a chillum for the Speaker to symbolise our impatience for ganja-law reform. Heck, just hotbox the place! LOL.

I reckon there might be some work being done, but I am gutted at the snail's pace at which we are doing so.

Is it that there aren't enough persons in the 'articulate minority' championing reform? Is it that too few parliamentarians want reform and/or vocal about it? What is holding us back? Is it that years of research and the recommendations emanating from the Ganja Law Reform Commission aren't convincing enough?

What will open our eyes to the fact that we might (again) act too late - when we would have already missed out on capitalising on the economic potential of cannabis? When we're importing marijuana and related products for tourists?

One would think the actions by several governments and commentaries published would have prodded us into action, since our local advocates are seemingly inept or lack the wherewithal to persuade them. Or is it that 'ordinary Jamaicans' aren't convinced reform is necessary (since decision-making hinges on an ordinary majority).

Maybe the 'articulate minority' could protest in Washington, DC, instead of Emancipation Park, so the International Monetary Fund could include ganja reform as a conditionality. That seems to be the only way our Government acts (and with alacrity).

We have suffered enough from our tardiness. I sincerely hope our leaders aren't pandering to the fallacious arguments that marijuana is dangerous and will ruin people and their families when there are equally (or more?) 'dangerous' products being sold.

Some recommendations

Given the amendments to prohibition in many countries and what we have gleaned from countries that have done so years ago and those now experimenting with cannabis, I am recommending that Parliament:

1. Develop and communicate a clear plan of action to reform laws proscribing the cultivation or use of marijuana with timelines;

2. Invest money - maybe J$100 million - to conduct research and raise funding through the Scientific Research Council for additional research to develop (additional) sample products that we could introduce to the market; and

3. Set aside money to support small farmers who already grow and for those who are interesting in cultivating marijuana.

I hope there can be an official response to these important matters. Many Jamaicans are waiting with bated breath to hear what we will do.

Let us act quickly. There is plenty we can do in the meantime. Notwithstanding, I don't want to be 35 or 40 years old and still talking about ending the prohibition of cannabis use. The time for action is now!

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.