Sat | Dec 3, 2016

More than two ounces of weed

Published:Monday | February 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM

When the People's National Party (PNP) set about preparing itself for governance following general election defeat in 2007, it set about creating a document which it said would direct the way it operates should it form the Government again. That document - the Progressive Agenda - was presented to Jamaicans with much fanfare, even though critics said the concept was not worth the paper it was written on.

The Progressive Agenda, the PNP says, commits to "an approach to governance that will be data-driven, evidence-based, with measurable outcomes".

The PNP has since come to power, and has set about implementing reforms, both economically and socially. Its latest push is in the area of ganja decriminilisation or which a bill to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act is now in the Senate being debated.

I raise the issue of the Progressive Agenda not out of ridicule, but rather out of concern that the Government may not be au fait with its own position that policy implementation be data-driven and evidence-based. Of particular interest is the provision in the bill to allow individuals to possess up to two ounces of weed for personal use. Why two ounces? On what basis did Justice Minister Mark Golding decide that was a fair amount of ganja for an individual to have and consume?

Unless it is not known to Golding and the Cabinet, two ounces is not two spliffs. Two ounces of weed is a lot, especially if the sticks and bush are removed, leaving only the buds.

According to the global weed price index, two ounces of medium-quality marijuana has a street value of US$800 in the Bronx, New York. This is much more than your average casual smoker will possess at any given time.

sending the wrong signal

We have to be careful in making law, not to send the wrong signal to the society. While proponents of prohibition will argue that the change in the law will not automatically lead to non-ganja smokers becoming smokers, we should not ignore our the propensity of our people to overdo things.

The Gavel is fully in support of making possession of small amounts of ganja a ticketable offence that does not attract a criminal record, but I am convinced that two ounces is too much to allow one person to possess. Not only does it fly in the face of common sense but it ignores the medical and social effects that ganja use continues to have on the country.

Dr Dayton Campbell, a medical doctor and the representative for North West St Ann, in an evidence-based approach, brought home the impact of ganja use on individuals when he continued to a debate on decriminalisation in the House of Representatives last year.

"A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and mental illness. High doses of marijuana can produce a temporary psychotic reaction (involving hallucinations and paranoia) in some users, and using marijuana can worsen the course of illness in patients with schizophrenia," he told his parliamentary colleagues.

study of trauma victims

Campbell also said a three-month study of trauma victims at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) showed that ganja was the most prevalent substance found in their bodies.

"Fifty per cent of the trauma victims had the marijuana in their system," said Campbell, as against 43 per cent of alcohol found in the bodies of crash victims.

"So we have this impression that it is drinking and driving that is the main reason for some of our road traffic accidents," said Campbell, adding that the data had proved otherwise.

The North West St Ann member of parliament also pointed out that cannabis use before sex posed a high risk factor for the acquisition and transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

There have been compelling arguments from psychiatrists such as Dr Winston De La Haye and Dr Geoffrey Walcott for caution to be taken in this regard.

mental-health issues

De La Haye, for example, points out that there are eight beds for inpatient treatment at the Addiction Treatment Services Unit, and each night, the unit fields calls from an average of five ganja users seeking admission for treatment with their mental-health issues, mainly schizophrenia, but it is unable to admit them.

That is not the sort of evidence that proponents of this freeing up of the weed will advance.

Angela Brown Burke, in her contribution to the debate in the Senate, noted that many members of the society are not in agreement with the changes proposed.

But drawing on the experience of states in the United States that have gone down this road, they have seen more taxes, more jobs and a large increase in tourism. She said in Colorado there has been a four per cent drop in the use of ganja by teenagers and an 80 per cent reduction in ganja arrests.

Brown Burke and company, however, may want to be guided by the a study in 1999 by Prof Archibald McDonald which found that 50 per cent of the accident victims in emergency room at UHWI had alcohol and marijuana in their bloodstream. Maybe, just maybe, there is a link between our high crash and crime rates.

One hopes that before the debate is closed, and the bill is passed, legislators may realise that two ounces of weed is no laughing matter, and will have a radical rethink of this position.

thegavel@gleanerjm.com