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Students taken to hospital with symptoms of psychosis after allegedly smoking ganja on 'decriminalisation day'

Published:Wednesday | April 15, 2015 | 5:42 PMDaraine Luton

At least two students were taken to hospital yesterday for suspected psychosis, brought on after they reportedly smoked marijuana to enhance their learning potential.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said in Parliament yesterday that he received troubling information from two principals that the 'decriminalisation day' for the weed coincided with maladjusted behaviours of students who, it seemed, believed that it was OK to smoke ganja.

"I got reports from two principals today of students feeling that ganja is now free and that they can now smoke it, and in one case, he [a principal] had to take more than one student to a nearby hospital for symptoms of psychosis," Thwaites later told The Gleaner.

"I don't know if they smoked at school or before school, but they presented at school with symptoms that required that action on his part," the minister added.

Psychosis is a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

The Gleaner has been reliably informed that one school principal has recovered vast quantities of ganja he has frisked from students on his school compound. The principal reportedly said that if he sold the weed recovered, he "could finance his school for a year".

The amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act, which makes possession of ganja under two ounces a non-arrestable, ticketable offence, came into effect yesterday. The new law essentially decriminalised the possession of small amounts of ganja for personal use and sets out a regime for the cultivation of the weed for medical purposes.

Contributing to the 2015-2016 Sectoral Debate, Thwaites said that while his ministry supports the decriminalisation of ganja, it was against the use of the substance and other narcotic substances by students, academic staff and other staff in schools.

"Smoking anything is bad for your health. No smoking of any sort is allowed in schools," the minister said.

Thwaites told The Gleaner that while he had been assured by the justice ministry that there was a strong public-education programme to discourage smoking, "we will have to mount our own, in addition to that."

"Many students, I am told, regretfully, feel that if they use ganja, they will do better in their exams," Thwaites said.

Meanwhile, Science, Technology, Energy and Mining minister Phillip Paulwell said in the same debate yesterday that he was getting ready to give the go ahead for two educational institutions to plant ganja.

The planting, however, is for research purposes, and is made possible due to the amended law.

"In anticipation of the law, two of our stellar research institutions - the university of Technology and the University of the West Indies have applied," Paulwell, who has the ministerial power to give permission for the cultivation for research purposes, said.

"I intend, today, to grant two licenses to UWI and UTech for them to engage in the cultivation of ganja for research purposes," the minister said.

"There are many countries now that have done very well in research for ganja. Jamaica wants to reestablish itself as a centre of excellence for the research in ganja. This should be the home for research and development in ganja," Paulwell said.

He, however, warned that the research licence was not to promote the smoking of ganja.

"This product has tremendous value in it, and, as we move towards enabling the commercialisation of medical ganja, the research aspect is crucial," Paulwell said.

In addition, the minister noted the comments of United States President Barack Obama who said at a town hall meeting at UWI last year that the decriminalisation of ganja was not a silver bullet to Jamaica's economic problem.

"I know President Obama spoke about the silver bullet, I see a silver lining in this area and let us go and maximise the opportunities that exist," Paulwell said.

He further said Jamaicans should have no fear about the ganja sub-sector being captured by powerful interests, arguing that everybody has a role to play; the small farmer and the large farmer.

"We have to ensure that unlike other things where we have lost opportunity, we collaborate and share information rather than compete internally, because even if you were to plant out every square inch of this country in ganja, the market for medicinal ganja is so big, we could not fulfil that market," Paulwell said.