Pubdate: Sun, 30 Apr 2006
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2006 The Gleaner Company Limited
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


THE DECISION by Mexico's Congress late on Thursday to decriminalise
the possession of small quantities of marijuana (ganja), cocaine and
heroin is sure to reignite the debate over individual liberty and the
extent to which drug use for medicinal or religious purposes should be

Mexican authorities want to focus their attention on large-scale drug
trafficking and major drug dealers but already there is the usual
frown of disapproval from their northern neighbours, the United
States, which sees any ease in the law as likely to harm anti-drug

Mexico is, of course, not the first country to move in this direction.
In the Netherlands, the sale of marijuana for medical use is legal and
it can be bought with a prescription in pharmacies. But the Mexicans
have gone one step further to apply the same liberal approach to
heroin and cocaine as to marijuana.

We, in Jamaica, will no doubt follow the developments with some
interest given earlier recommendations and lobbying by members of the
Jamaican National Ganja Commission appointed in 2000 by then Prime
Minister P.J. Patterson for the decriminalisation of ganja for
personal use by adults and in religious rituals.

The commission contended that the prosecution of simple possession for
personal use diverts the justice system from what ought to be a
primary goal, namely, the suppression of the criminal trafficking in
substances, such as crack cocaine, that are ravaging urban and rural
communities with addiction.

The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) and the Medical Association
of Jamaica (MAJ) both supported the idea that people should not be
deemed criminal for smoking a spliff. They recognised however the
importance of educating the public about the dangers of smoking in
general and the need to balance decriminalising ganja use with other
aspects of the law.

In an initial reaction, the U.S. embassy in Kingston stated its
disapproval of the recommendations and warned of possible sanctions
were Jamaica to go that route. The irony in the U.S. position is that
while federal law still prohibits ganja use for any purpose, several
states, including California, are already allowing persons to have
small quantities in their possession for medicinal purposes. Even in
Vancouver, Canada, although possession of marijuana is a criminal
offence, the city effectively has decriminalised it. Police rarely
bust the dozens of dealers selling the product in places where it is
as easy to buy as a six-pack of beer.

We note too, that there is no universal acceptance of the view that
personal use of ganja in small quantities is harmless. Indeed, some
doctors here and elsewhere contend that it is a gateway drug.
Decriminalising possession of the substance may just be the thin edge
of the wedge to more widescale drug abuse, they fear.

But among the diplomatic conundrums to be considered in
decriminalising ganja, is whether the U.S. or any other country has
the right to dictate to any country what its citizens grow and use for
their own purposes within their borders and not for export.

The decriminalising of the possession of any drug is a matter of
public policy which we here in Jamaica will have to address sooner
rather than later. 
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