Pubdate: Mon, 10 Dec 2012
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2012 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Chris Burns


WHILE respecting the rights of individuals to enjoy a safe and healthy
environment, this column has been advocating legislative and judicial
reforms in the way we treat users of marijuana (ganja) in Jamaica. In
fact, this column has been bolder than just advocating common-sense
amendments to the present laws that govern the cultivation,
distribution and possession of the plant. It has suggested that the
production and use of the weed (to qualified adults) be part of any
recuperative health tourism plans we might be contemplating.

Before today ends, there are bound to be some politicians referring me
to Parliament's work on the subject or to the late Professor Barry
Chevannes' National Ganja Commission which was established in the
2000s to, among other things, "review the most up-to-date body of
medical and scientific research..." on marijuana. Yet, as good as
these talk shops and working groups have been, we have not moved a
step closer to exercising our independence in the matter of
decriminalisation and legalisation.

We are cowards, and perhaps are too beholden to the United States,
Britain and Canada to act in our own best self-interest in a matter
that quite frankly is none of their business, once we know how to
manage the industry. Jamaica has an opportunity and an obligation
(almost) to be proactive in eking out its place in what could very
well become a legal and global marijuana market.

Jamaica can either continue to "spell and guess" as its uncle up North
continues to make advances in changing the face of the marijuana
market - state by state. It would be an ugly reality if, as a heavily
indebted country, Jamaica allows our big and powerful Uncle Sam to
cause us to destroy all our ganja plants as "he" wages an endless war
against drugs without tackling the problem of demand in "his" own family.

That aside, though, before any serious consideration can be advanced
to promote this kind of recuperative health tourism product, our
government would have to get serious, by developing the requisite
testicular fortitude to make urgent and far-reaching changes to some
of the current criminal laws on our books specifically dealing with
ganja. Suffice it to say, most of these laws are "as old as
Methuselah" and should have no place in a modern society. These
changes could be beneficial in many ways.

In the first instance, if the government decriminalises the possession
and use of small quantities of the weed for recreational, health and
religious purposes, or allows the cultivation of the weed - in
designated areas - there would be an immediate decline in the number
of marijuana-related court cases that clog up the court system. The
police would have more time investigating, prosecuting, fighting and
preventing serious crimes, and catching hardened criminals.

There is more: the country would experience some measure of economic
growth as a direct result of a well-managed and properly regulated
internal marijuana industry. Research and development work on the
medicinal value and use of ganja would continue to attract scientific
researchers from around the world; thus giving us pride of place in
the lead toward discovering new drugs to treat many illnesses and
diseases such as glaucoma and cancer.

The immediate economic benefits would be most evident in the reduction
in rural unemployment, increases in the standard of living for many
rural families and an opportunity for their children to get a decent
education. According to an April 2010 CNBC television report,
"Economists, reformists, law enforcement authorities and the
pro-marijuana lobby have come up with a variety of estimates; when
combined you'd get a range of US$10 billion to over US$120 billion a
year" for the marijuana trade. Therefore, even at two per cent of the
marijuana market, Jamaica would earn significantly.

The same report stated that, "On price and volume, various reports and
studies conclude a typical marijuana cigarette, or joint, contains
between 0.5 - 1.0 grams of the drug and can vary from US$5 to US$20.
Marijuana possession became legal under state law last Thursday in
Washington State, USA. Washington State's Office of Financial
Management says the measure may generate as much as US$1.9 billion in
revenue over five fiscal years."

It is not always about money, but as Mr Seaga once said, "It takes
cash to care", and as insensitive as that may have sounded then, Mr
Seaga was spot on, to an extent. As a country, we must be bold in our
approach to solve the problems that affect us most and we must be
creative in charting our own course. If we have a product like
marijuana that we can grow, sell, and manage, if we put our minds to
it, then we should exploit it. The time has come for us to quit
following behind people by aggressively killing our ganja plants,
while they are taking steps to establish a well-organised and
regulated market, albeit on a state-by-state basis.

One does not have to be a ganja smoker to understand the foolhardiness
of our actions over the years as we cow-tow to the mighty hands of our
northern brother. Individual states in the United States are
collecting taxes from the sale of marijuana to fund education, finance
infrastructure development, drug abuse programmes, and to conduct
scientific research; we should begin to do the same and hop off these
endless studies and chariots of inactions. The time has come to free
up the weed, but we must be responsible in how we liberalise the
trade, and ensure that only responsible adults have access to the weed.
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