Pubdate: Thu, 11 Dec 2003
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2003 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


We hear, and fully appreciate, the opinion tendered by Mr Hylton, the
solicitor-general, that Jamaica would most likely be in breach of some
international agreements if it were to move ahead with its plan to
decriminalise the use of marijuana.

According to Mr Hylton, another complicating factor -- and perhaps the most
critical in a practical sense -- would be the likely American response if
Jamaica were to go this route.

Jamaica would possibly be held to be non-compliant in America's war on drugs
and made ineligible for US aid. And US pressure need not end in the absence
of direct US economic and other assistance.

All these, of course, are important considerations as Jamaica decides on
which, if any, of the recommendations it will accept from the National
Commission on Ganja, whose report is now being reviewed by a joint
parliamentary committee.

Indeed, the commission's key recommendation is for the decriminalisation of
the private use of ganja in small quantities. It is a recommendation which,
we believe, makes good sense, particularly in the cultural and social
context of Jamaica.

Let's be clear, this newspaper does not believe that ganja smoking is good
for people. We do not promote or support its use. And the support which we
give to the decriminalisation of ganja is not extended to other psychotropic
and narcotic substances. In fact, we support a firm and resolute fight
against cocaine and other narcotic drugs.

The point, though, is that the evidence, scientific and anecdotal, does not
seem to suggest that ganja and the so-called hard drugs, such as cocaine,
are in the same category.

Ganja does not have the addictive, mind-bending properties of cocaine. But
more important, are the deep social cleavages that have been opened and
widened because of the historic response by officialdom in Jamaica to the
use of marijuana.

Culturally, Jamaicans, in substantial majority, do not view ganja as a
"drug" -- not in the same way that they would consider cocaine or other
substance drugs. Rather, ganja is perceived as a multi-purpose plant that
has medicinal and other values. Smoking its leaves is seen, by and large, as
another way of utilising the plant.

The merit, or otherwise, of such an argument is not the only fundamental
issue, especially if the smoking of marijuana is considered in the context
of Jamaica's broader social reality.

The bald fact is that it is especially poor people who live in inner-city
communities who are disproportionately arrested and jailed for smoking
ganja. It is not because they smoke more ganja than people in the middle and
upper classes, who, we assume, light up as frequently.

The fact is that social conditioning predisposes those who represent
authority to enforce laws more vigorously among those who are poor. One
upshot is that a vast number of inner-city and rural youth are arrested and
jailed for breaking a law which their middle-class counterparts ignore with

Such disparity in the law fuels resentment in inner-city communities which
believe that their residents are unduly targeted for a 'crime' whose
enforcement, in any event, has no legitimacy in the wider society. The
bottom line is that inner-city youth develop criminal records which hamper
their lives.

Several countries, notwithstanding the concerns raised by Mr Hylton, have
begun to take rational decisions relating to ganja smoking. Jamaica has to
do the same in the context of its reality.

We just have to do a better job explaining our rationale while at the same
time making clear our intent is not a free-for-all on drugs.

Except for the views expressed in the columns above, the articles published
on this page do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the
Jamaica Observer.
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