Pubdate: Sun, 01 Feb 2015
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2015 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Louis Moyston


THE report 'Ganja worry' (Jamaica Observer, January 29, 2015), 
presents the thinking of William R Brownfield, assistant secretary of 
the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, on the 
recent developments of the new ganja regime in Jamaica. He was quick 
to point out that this change will see increased export of the crop 
to the United States, and warned of Jamaica's legal obligation to the 
international treaties.

He speaks as if Jamaica is the only country moving towards change. He 
is obviously oblivious about changes all over the world, including 
its major ally Israel. The international treaties Jamaica has signed 
are not written in stone. They were prepared for a world very much 
different from the present. Their foundations were built on myths and 
anecdotal evidence. Since 1922, there have been many commissions and 
research projects providing scientific studies, dispelling those myth 
and anecdotal evidence. The time has come to reform those treaties. 
Who will lead the process in Jamaica?

Further, what is the nature of the treaties? How can we approach the 
discussion for reform? The history of international accords on drugs 
began with the Indian Hemp Commission of 1894. It looked at cannabis 
sativa and saw no evil in the smoking of the plant. It provides early 
history of the spiritual and medicinal uses of the plant.

What may have been a domestic concern with the British colonial 
leaders in India was followed by the Opium Convention of 1912. The 
latter was the forerunner to the Geneva Convention of 1925 calling 
for greater control over not just opium, but also, for the first 
time, cannabis was mentioned as "Indian Hemp".

The Hague, 1912, looked at the domestic control of drugs, while the 
Geneva Convention called for global control. The UN Single Convention 
1961 developed codification of narcotic substances and rules for 
international control (prohibition) of the drug for medicinal and 
scientific purposes, and also to prevent the smoking of psychotropic 
substances. This treaty called for the prohibition of the natural 
drug, such as cannabis, that is produced in the Third World (south). 
On the contrary, the 1972 Protocols on Psychotropic Substances speaks 
to the regulation of the synthetic alternatives of those drugs 
produced in the North.

One of the earliest studies of marijuana use took place in Panama 
(1916-29) among US military personnel in the Canal Zone. This was 
followed by the LaGuardia Commission (1944), Baroness Wooten Report 
(1968), and probably one of the most important studies, Ganja smoking 
in Jamaica (Comitas and Rubin, 1971). They all have one thing in 
common; they are all scientific-based and help to dispel the myth, 
lies and propaganda about ganja smoking. In the past, government 
policies held on fast to the myths. But, in today's world, many 
countries are developing new regimes for marijuana for many reasons.

Public policies worldwide

The international community is witnessing major changes in the law 
relating to cannabis. There is, of course, widespread activities 
geared at decriminalisation in some areas and legalisation in others. 
There are extensive cases in North America, South and Central 
America, and Europe.

The liberal approach for the Netherlands from 1976 was followed by a 
host of other European countries. Uruguay, on December 10, 2010, 
became the first country in the world to legalise production, sale 
and distribution of cannabis. The USA "war on drugs" has, therefore, failed.

At the 2012 US midterm elections was that watershed moment for pot 
politics in the USA. The 2014 US midterm elections gave rise to 
legalisation for recreational use in Colorado and Washington (state). 
In similar results, in these 2014 midterm elections, legalisation for 
recreational use has swept over Alaska, Oregon, Washington, DC. The 
medical marijuana community in the USA has shown immense benefits of 
cannabis for the sick. They have shown also the possibility of 
increased earnings through taxation from legal marijuana.

In some areas in Canada the struggle for change is led by the people, 
and in other areas by the Government. Canada has produced two useful 
studies that provide instructive approaches and to guide the 
preparation of papers calling for changes in the international 
treaties concerning cannabis, more specifically medical marijuana. 
Canada, like the USA and the Netherlands, is among the main countries 
in the 'North' planting cannabis. Plus, important changes have taken 
place in Latin America and Africa to join this thrust. Perhaps that 
country could become a major partner in this effort to reform the treaties.

Challenging the international treaties

There are some important observations made by the Canadian Special 
Senate Committee (2002) for profound changes in the international 
legal environment. The political justification of the position is 
preceded by three important observations of the international treaties:

1. There is a major problem regarding definition of the terms drugs, 
narcotics and psychotropics;

2. There is also the arbitrary and inconsistent nature of 
classification of drugs such as cannabis with heroin and cocaine; and

3. The concerns about the dangers of drugs and public health are not 
consistent in relation to the use of alcohol and tobacco. These are 
not controlled substances.

The international regime for the control of drugs is beyond any moral 
qualities; it even has racist roots. First and foremost, it is a 
system that reflects the geopolitics of North-South relations in the 
20th century [1961 treaty]. Indeed, the strictest controls were 
placed on organic substances -- the cocoa bush, the poppy and the 
cannabis plant -- which often formed part of the ancestral traditions 
of the countries where these plants originated [South]. The North's 
cultural products -- tobacco and alcohol -- were ignored, and the 
synthetic substances produced by the North's pharmaceutical 
industries were subjected to regulation rather than prohibition [1981 

The 1988 Convention forced countries in the South to apply 
extraordinary and excessive force on their own people. The 
conventions "forced developing countries to abolish all non-medical 
and non-scientific uses of the plants that for centuries had been 
embedded in social, cultural and religious traditions". This and 
other conventions have failed to cut worldwide production of drugs as 
they emerged at a time when there was no scientific knowledge of the 
effect of cannabis.

It is important, therefore, to interrogate the drug conventions and 
"the practices that emerge from their domestic implementation from 
the perspectives of international human rights law". This human 
rights perspective is important in promoting the international drug 
control law and also to "promote human rights-compliant 
implementation of the internal drug conventions at the domestic level".

Another observer notes that "the treaties were negotiated and adopted 
in an era when both illicit markets and understanding of their 
operation bore little resemblance to those of today". Who, then, will 
lead the charge to reform the international treaties?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom