EDITORIAL - Follow Colorado on ganja
The sky hasn't fallen in either Colorado, Washington State or anywhere over the United States. And it won't in Jamaica.
It is high time, therefore, that our Government end the procrastination and legalise marijuana, starting with the decriminalisation of the possession of small amounts by individuals for their personal use.
Apart from the evidence that the world won't collapse from such a move, it might make good economic sense for Jamaica - as Colorado is showing.
Having last year approved the legalisation of ganja and ganja-based products, including the licensing of shops and cafés where they are sold, the Coloradans this week voted for an imposition of 25 per cent tax on these products.
Additionally, in the city of Denver, the state's capital, voters, in a local ballot agreed to a 3.5 per cent city sales tax in ganja shops.
At the state level, the first US$40 million from the 25 per cent tax (15 per cent excise, 10 per cent sales) will go towards the funding of public schools, an area in Jamaica that is badly in need of additional capital injection to enhance the quality of education outcomes.
Of course, the employment of 'sin' taxes to the public good, as is the case in many other countries, is not unusual to Jamaica. For instance, the tobacco industry provides about a quarter of the financing of the National Health Fund, which subsidises the cost of medicines for people with a variety of lifestyle diseases. Further, the taxes from the gambling industry provide most of the cash for the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund, which contributes to health, the arts, sports and education.
The problem for Jamaica, which is not only a significant producer of marijuana, but, according to anecdotal evidence, of the hemisphere's finest, has been:
a. fear of the global, especially United States, response to the legalisation of the drug; and
b. domestic social attitudes to ganja. It is most widely, and openly, used by people on the lower socio-economic rungs.
There are fewer reasons, these days, to harbour major concerns about the first of these factors. Apart from Colorado, Washington State, another member of the American federation, has legalised ganja. Another 16 have either decriminalised the drug and/or allow its medicinal use.
Indeed, it is in part the recognition of this trend, that while marijuana possession and use remain federal crimes, the central government has indicated that it will not interfere in those states where ganja has been made legal.
Yet in Jamaica, despite these developments, and a decade after the Chevannes committee, established by another People's National Party administration, recommended the decriminalisation of ganja, our Government continues to drag its feet on the matter. According to the justice minister, Mark Golding, a submission for the Cabinet is still being drafted by his ministry.
In the meantime, thousands of young men, mostly unemployed or poor, are brought before the courts for possession of ganja, found guilty, and left with criminal records. It blocks up an already over-burdened court system with relative trivia.
Jamaica has already had pharmaceutical successes from marijuana with drugs for glaucoma. Further, the declared quality of Jamaican ganja and the mystique of the brand gives a competitive advantage, which we should leverage.
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