Pubdate: Sat, 27 Dec 2003
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2003 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Livingstone Thompson, PhD



I WAS hoping that I would have found in the Report of the National
Commission on Ganja, 2001, a serious and well-argued case to support
the well-known and popular view that the use of ganja in small
quantities should be decriminalised.

However, after reading the Report, I have to conclude that the
Commission, notwithstanding the hard work put into the project, missed
a critical opportunity to lay the question to rest once and for all.

The Report, unfortunately, suffers from a number of defects. This, I
believe, was due to the fact that the Commission was overwhelmed: "the
overwhelming majority of persons appearing before the Commission feel
that ganja should be decriminalised". (p.16) The Commission seemed to
have forgotten that the case had to be made, since the issue was a
matter of changing the law. If the lawmakers were themselves
sufficiently convinced that the law should be changed, they would have
already brought the recommendation to the Parliament. The question at
stake, then, is whether the Report makes the case.


The first defect that the Report suffers from is that nowhere in the
report is the actual text of the law relating to the use of ganja
quoted, although we are told that it relates to "Sections 7C and 7D"
of the Dangerous Drugs Act. The Report therefore proceeds on the
assumption that everyone knows what the law says. This may seem to be
a simple matter but if a case is being made for a certain provision to
be changed, then do we not need to know exactly what the provisions
states? I have never seen the text of the law that relates to the
possession and use of ganja but I know what the reaction of the police
is to possession and use. Given that the police sometimes act outside
of the provisions of the law, it would be helpful if we saw in black
and white the text we want to rescind.

The second defect of the Report is that it did not help the reader by
giving a historical account of what may have led to ganja use and
possession being made a criminal offence. We are left to speculate
about those reasons, which presumably are no longer relevant. What we
are told is that, "up until the early years of the 20th century it
[ganja] was widely used as a folk medicine and did not appear to
constitute a major social problem". However, apart from the fact that
we are living in a different historical period, which has the benefit
of further scientific research, I do not know from this Report why the
use and possession became a criminal offence.


The third defect in the Report is that it does not offer any serious
critique of the scientific evidence presented. The terms of reference
required that the Commission "evaluate research and studies". However,
Chapter 2, which deals with the Medical Science Literature does not
show evidence of critique. Rather, what we see is a cataloguing of the
different opinions, some of which appear contradictory.

For example in dealing with the effects of cannabis the Report states
that, "intoxication with cannabis leads to slight impairment of
psychomotor and cognitive function". (p.9) However, at another place
in the same section the Report states that, "several studies have
shown that cannabis is known to impair psychomotor performance in a
wide variety of tasks". (p. 10) The difference may be simply the word
"slight" but in science, "slight impairment" is different from

Similarly, The Report states that it is felt that, "cannabis use is a
weakly addictive drug but does induce dependence in a significant
minority". (p. 11) However, it goes on to quote Anthony and Helzer, in
asserting that, it is estimated that about half of those who use
cannabis daily will become dependent". (p.11) Without any assessment
of these two positions, we are left in the silence of the report to
take a "significant minority" to mean fifty per cent. The absence of
critique leaves the reader at the mercy of Zimmer and Morgan, who the
Report quotes seven times (in two and a half pages) in the section
dealing with the effects on the brain. I feel as if I am being
brainwashed - no pun intended!


The fourth defect I see in the Report is that it does not explain why
juveniles should not be allowed to use ganja where adults could be
allowed. If it is good for medicine, if, as the Report in relying on
Zimmer and Morgan claims that marijuana use "makes no significant
contribution to high school student's academic performance", (p. 12),
then what is the problem with juveniles using it? What is rather
ironic is that the Report seems to want it to remain a criminal
offence for juveniles to use ganja in small quantities but not adults.
I cannot understand this reasoning.

The Report claims that it would be "remarkable indeed, if the
Commission did not receive depositions from the Rastafari community".
(p.29). However, by juxtaposing the constitutional issue relating to
the use of ganja in religion with recreational use, the Report has
further complicated the issue. I call this a complication because it
would seem that we are now dealing with the right of individuals to
freely practice their religious faith, which right is protected by the
constitution. It would seem from the prohibition that the denial of
the free use of ganja in religious ceremonies is an infringement of a
fundamental right. How is it then, that the Report does not raise that
more important constitutional issue?


Presumably the use of ganja as part of a religious rite by the
Rastafarians preceded the law against marijuana use. Or is it the
other way around? It would be helpful if the chronology were given
here because it may well have shown that the Rastafarian argument for
sacramental use was an attempt to circumvent what they perceived as an
unjust law. In this regard the Report is not helpful.

My problem, then, Editor, is that I was looking to the Report for help
to make the case for decriminalisation. However, buoyed by the popular
view that ganja should be decriminalised, the Commission simply
reported that most people can't see the reason why its possession and
use in small quantities should be a criminal offence. Let's say we now
know what we suspected, that that view was widespread. Then, as Mrs.
Beverly Anderson-Manley loves to ask on the Breakfast Club so we must
now ask, "so where do we go from here"? One thing that is sure, we
shall be overwhelmed as usual with ganja smoke this Christmas, whether
we like it or not!

I am, etc.,


President of the Executive Board of the Moravian Church in Jamaica
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake