Pubdate: Sun, 16 Dec 2012
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2012 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Glenn Tucker
Note: Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist.


"Penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to an
individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear
than in the laws against the possession of marijuana in private or
personal use." - - President Jimmy Carter, message to Congress, August
2, 1977

I don't know if it has anything to do with the growing number of
American states that are voting to decriminalise ganja, but the great
ganja debate is surfacing here again.

In April of this year, I successfully infused myself into a
conversation two young men were having about the similarities in a
recent experience that came to an end in the Half-Way Tree RM Court
that day. Both men were jailed when they were found with a ganja
spliff. They spent nine days in the jail, pleaded guilty and were
charged $100 each. So that should be that. But not really.

While they were incarcerated, both men lost their jobs. One's
common-law wife took their two children and returned to live with her
parents in the country. The other wondered aloud whether the
conviction would spoil his chances of migrating, as those arrangements
had already started.

Since the 1970s, there have been government-appointed commissions -
here and abroad - that have examined the use of ganja and made public
policy recommendations regarding its use.

Overwhelmingly, the conclusions of these expert panels have been the
same: marijuana prohibition causes more social damage than marijuana
use, and the possession of marijuana for personal use should no longer
be a criminal offence.


Ganja has been used therapeutically from the earliest records, nearly
5,000 years ago, to the present day, and its products have been widely
noted for their effects - both physiological and psychological -
throughout the world. Although the Chinese and Indian cultures knew
about the properties of this drug from early times, it was not until
the fifth century that this information became general in the Near and
Middle East.

Ganja is still extensively used in the Ayruvedic, Unani and Tibbi
systems of medicine in the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent. Mikuriya -
in his book Marijuana in Medicine: Past, Present and Future, lists
analgesic-hypnotic, appetite stimulant, antiepileptic, antispasmodic,
prophylactic, treatment of neuralgias, including migraine,
antidepressant-tranquiliser and anti-asthmatic properties as some of
the ailments that marijuana has proven to produce positive results.

In 1977, after decades of counterproductive attempts to stop the
production and use of ganja, the Jamaican Government set up a joint
select committee to study ganja and make policy recommendations. The
committee rejected full legalisation only because it felt Jamaica
would be in violation of certain treaties, but unanimously agreed that
"there was a substantial case for decriminalising personal use of
ganja". It recommended "no punishment" for personal use of up to two
ounces on private premises, and total legalisation of medical marijuana.


But the mighty United States stepped in, with the Church in tow, and
ordered the Government to ignore those recommendations.

Twenty-two years later, the US halved its support for Jamaica's
anti-marijuana efforts, primarily because we chose to use cutters
rather than the herbicides and other poisons it recommended.

That year - 1999 - then Senator Trevor Munroe was able to get a
National Commission on Ganja started. The commission conducted
hearings from a wide cross section of Jamaica's population. One
ex-policeman testified that his chronic hypertension, after 19 years
of prescribed medication, completely disappeared with the now-regular
smoking of ganja. The recommendation: to "advise the lawmakers to
amend the laws to make private personal possession of small amounts of
ganja legal". The prime minister publicly supported these

But Michael Koplovsky from the US Embassy burst his bubble with one
sentence: "The US opposes decriminalisation of marijuana use." Other
staff members were not so tactful. They stated that if we did any such
thing, the US would respond with economic sanctions. So much for
'sovereignty' and 'independence'.

Benjamin Harrison once said, "We Americans have no commission from God
to police the world." But that was a campaign speech. Benjamin
Disraeli said, "Colonies do not cease to be colonies because they are
independent." And he was addressing the House of Commons.


Every year, there are about 2.5 million alcohol-related deaths
worldwide, but any adult can walk into a bar and get drunk without
committing any offence. Around six million deaths a year are caused by
tobacco. But cigarette smoking is legal. I sought help to get the
number of deaths from marijuana and could only come up with this: "An
exhaustive search of the literature finds no credible reports of
deaths induced by marijuana."

Could this be one reason why these anti-drug campaigns are going
exactly nowhere?

In my interaction with young persons, I have formed the view that
contact with the police for ganja offences is having a negative
influence on young people's confidence in the police. Thousands of
persons in Jamaica are being damaged by criminal records, risks to
jobs, travel and relationships, to a degree that far outweighs any
harm that ganja could be doing to the society.

Prison should no longer be penalty for possession of ganja for
personal use. The available evidence indicates that removal of jail as
a sentencing option would lead to considerable cost savings, without
leading to increases in the rates of ganja use.

Reclassification of ganja from being a criminal offence would go a far
way in removing much of the friction between the police and
communities that currently prevents more cooperative

We need to accept that ganja has become a part of our culture. Any
dangers - if they exist - are magnified by driving its use
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D