Fri | Oct 22, 2021

PM, speed up the weed - US based professor warns Holness Jamaica could be forced to import medical ganja

Published:Saturday | April 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones

A leading international proponent of marijuana policy reform is calling on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to take the reins in developing the country's legal ganja industry or risk embarrassment.

According to founder and outgoing head of the United States-based Drug Policy Alliance and former Harvard and Princeton academic, Dr Ethan Nadelmann, the development of the ganja industry continues to stall here as the country misses out on significant economic opportunities while other nations proceed expeditiously.

"It seems to me it is the obligation of the prime minister to not throw roadblocks ... his responsibility is to ensure the effective and expeditious implementation of the law," Nadelmann told The Sunday Gleaner.

"It is important to move forward with the licensing scheme with the Government playing a cooperative role. The Government needs to want to make this happen," he said.

"To continue to delay is to risk embarrassment in the eyes of other countries that are doing this properly."


Potential adverse effects


Local health experts have warned the Government against focusing more on outselling our competitors without due consideration for potential adverse effects of the weed on Jamaicans, especially our youth.

"We cannot be found guilty of chasing profit at the expense of the health of our people," warned the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) in a release last week.

According to the MAJ, the Government's policy framework must expressly prohibit the use of marijuana by minors and provide stiff penalties for those found guilty of providing it to minors, and sanctions/penalties for minors caught using it.

"Even with all that is at stake financially, the safety of our people is of paramount importance, especially that of our children," added the MAJ

But Nadelmann argued that Jamaica could pay a hefty price for the slow pace at which the local industry is being developed.

"Jamaica has an opportunity, but it seems like it is beginning to let it go and that is just a shame given Jamaica's substantial and fairly positive association with this (marijuana)," he said.

"If Jamaica doesn't move forward quickly you could well find yourself importing medical marijuana from the US and Canada or Israel."

Amendments were made to Jamaica's Dangerous Drugs Act in 2015 which saw the decriminalisation of possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.

Changes were also made to allow adherents of the Rastafarian faith to smoke ganja for sacramental purposes in locations registered as places of Rastafarian worship.

According to Nadelmann, amending the Act, which also laid the groundwork for establishing the local medical marijuana industry, was a massive step in the right direction, but he has been left disappointed with how things have progressed since.

"This was from two years ago and it was a bold reform which was consistent with what was going on elsewhere in other parts of the world, especially in the western hemisphere, and so it looked very promising and there was a lot of excitement around, with the belief that Jamaica would move forward quickly.


Countries importing, exporting


Nadelmann argued that other countries, including Israel, Australia, Chile and Argentina, have forged ahead with the development of its medical marijuana industry, with some countries now allowing for the import and export of medical marijuana, but Jamaica, which is renowned for top-quality weed, is lagging behind.

He also dismissed the MAJ's concerns that since the decriminalisation more children have been using the weed.

"Ganja in Jamaica is available to anybody who wants it, and that has been true for a very long time and is not going to change if Jamaica develops a medical marijuana industry," said Nadelmann.