Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jun 2014
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2014 Stabroek News
Page: 6


Last month the University of the West Indies hosted a three-day 
Cannabis Conference at its Mona campus, co-sponsored by UWI and the 
Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force (CCMRTF). 
Scientists and researchers from several countries addressed the 
likely economic implications of decriminalization, as well as the 
drug's sacramental uses in Rastafarian culture, and the commercial 
exploitation of its unquestioned medicinal benefits. Building on the 
Jamaican government's earlier gestures towards decriminalization, the 
conference ended with a 12-point roadmap that could, with sufficient 
political will, produce new legislation within a year. When Caricom 
leaders gather in Antigua next month they may wish to consider 
similar policies.

Jamaica's progress towards decriminalizing marijuana offers the 
entire Caribbean a chance to turn its back on decades of ineffective 
policy, much of it enacted under pressure from the United States. The 
tentative approach to ending the costly and ill-conceived 
prohibitions ushered in by the US-led "war on drugs" is suggestive of 
how fraught the issue has become with political considerations that 
have no relevance to the sort of practical questions considered at 
the UWI conference.

Within North America the recreational use of marijuana is hardly a 
taboo subject (Barack Obama is the first president to freely admit 
"inhaling") and the economic benefits from decriminalization, or even 
full legalization, are considerable.

Nine years ago, the Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron published a 
comprehensive report on The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana 
Prohibition. The report, which was endorsed by three Nobel 
prize-winning economists, indicated that legalization could save 
US$7.7 billion in law enforcement costs each year, more than half of 
which would be passed on to local governments. It estimated that if 
legal marijuana was taxed at rates comparable to alcohol and tobacco 
it could produce a further $6.2 billion.

In Canada - where 60,000 citizens face possession charges each year - 
politicians are considering full legalization of marijuana, although 
many are still waiting to see what lessons can be learned from the US 
state of Colorado, where legalization recently took place after a 
ballot initiative. In the meantime the federal government is actively 
promoting the commercial production of medical marijuana and early 
applicants for a production licence include a former Ontario health minister.

Whether it is decriminalized or even legalized, marijuana will 
continue to offer the same benefits, and pose the same risks, as 
ever. Each year legal drugs like alcohol destroy thousands of 
families, cause pointless traffic deaths and provoke needless 
violence. There is no reason to expect that marijuana will be any 
different. What will end with a mature drugs policy, however, is the 
pointless overcrowding of prisons with non-violent offenders, and the 
sort of hypocrisy that has allowed FIFA, on behalf of its sponsors, 
to press Brazil into overturning its prohibition on the sale of beer 
at its football venues.

Many questions about the sale, distribution, taxation and use of 
drugs still need to be settled in Jamaica, and anywhere else that 
decides to decriminalize or legalize drugs like marijuana. But until 
our politicians start to talk openly about the real costs of benefits 
of reforming our outmoded drugs policies, few of these questions can 
be asked, much less answered.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom