Pubdate: Sun, 6 Sep 2009
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2009 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Diane Abbott


There has long been a worldwide debate about the need  to legalise
marijuana. Perhaps the most important  argument in favour of its
legalisation is that  marijuana is far less damaging to a person's
health  than alcohol and cigarettes.

Here in Britain, the statistics show that many more  crimes are
committed by persons under the influence of  alcohol than marijuana.
Almost as significant is the  argument that it is the illegality of
marijuana which  causes criminality. If it were legal, the argument
goes, the gangs and the violence associated with the  drug would
disappear overnight. Supporters of  decriminalisation have also
pointed out that despite  the so-called "War on Drugs", consumption of
drugs  around the world has never been higher.

But opponents of decriminalisation reject all these  arguments. The
church, in particular, makes a strong  moral case. However, there is
no opponent more  vociferous than the United States of America. And it
  has used its power in the United Nations to crush any  attempts to
decriminalise the drug anywhere in the  world and rubber-stamp its
favoured policy of crop  eradication and the "War on Drugs".

So it is interesting that, despite long-standing US  opposition,
governments in Latin America are currently  taking significant steps
to decriminalise the drug.

The American-led "War on Drugs" has always been  unpopular amongst the
masses in Latin America. Crop  eradication has meant decimating the
income of small  rural producers who rely on the money to survive,
send  their children to school, etc. In Bolivia coca, the raw
material for cocaine, has been in production for  centuries. Bolivian
peasants traditionally chew the  leaves. It has been seen as a part of
their culture.  The current president, Evo Morales, was a peasant coca
  grower. He rose to fame campaigning for his fellow  growers and
against the wildly unpopular crop  eradication policies that the
government was pursuing  under pressure from the Americans.

Now, in Argentina, the Supreme Court has ruled that it  is
unconstitutional to punish people for having  marijuana for personal

The court ruled, "Each adult is free to make lifestyle  decisions
without the intervention of the state." In  Mexico, the government has
decided to stop prosecuting  people for possession of small quantities
of marijuana,  cocaine, heroin and other drugs. These persons will be
referred to clinics instead. Last year in Ecuador the  president,
Rafael Correa, pardoned 1,500 "mules" who  had been sentenced to jail.
His late father was a  convicted mule. And Brazil is also considering
partial  decriminalisation.

Earlier this year Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former  Brazilian
president, collaborated with two former  presidents of Colombia and
Mexico to produce a report  "Latin American Commission on Drugs and
Democracy".  This called for new approaches to the drug problem.
Cardoso says, "The tide is clearly turning. The 'War on  Drugs'
strategy has failed."

Latin America has long been ravaged by the violence  associated with
the drug trade. Worse, the power of the  drug cartels has undermined
democratic institutions.  Reformers argue that the only way to reduce
the  violence and restore stability to Latin America is to  legalise
the production, supply and consumption of  drugs.

Interestingly, the last time Mexico tried to  decriminalise the
possession of small quantities of  drugs it was met with ferocious
opposition from the  United States. So they had to reinstate the law.
This  time the United States has said nothing. Maybe, under a  new
president, even the Americans are beginning to  realise that the "War
on Drugs" strategy has failed.

It should be noted that many people who support the  decriminalisation
of marijuana do not support  legalising harder drugs like cocaine and

But the arguments for decriminalising marijuana are at  least as
strong in Jamaica as in Latin America. Many  argue that, just like
Bolivia, modest consumption of  the naturally grown product is part of
the culture. If  the United States is really dropping its fierce
opposition to decriminalisation, maybe it is time for  Jamaica to
reopen the contentious debate on legalising  marijuana.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake