Pubdate: Wed, 18 Feb 2015
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2015 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Alphea Saunders


EXECUTIVE director of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), 
Michael Tucker, has warned that the misinformation circulating among 
Jamaicans at this time about marijuana could be dangerous.

"Misunderstanding and misperception is very dangerous in an 
environment like this," Tucker told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"There is no legalisation on the table right now... It's not 
acceptable or legal for any and everybody to grow or sell marijuana. 
In fact, it's not even legal to buy it. So there is a lot of 
misunderstanding about what really is happening... more needs to be 
said, and people need to know what is really happening," he stated.

Tucker said that the NCDA is quite concerned that people are still 
confusing decriminalisation with legalisation. "There is this 
nonsense about 'weed free up', despite it being illegal. It is 
illegal to grow it and it's illegal to sell it. Despite people not 
going to be locked up for two ounces or less, it is still illegal. In 
an environment where there is misunderstanding about what is really 
happening people think that they can start to plant ganja with the 
possibility of selling it in the near future, is all a myth," he argued.

He pointed out that the only matters being addressed in the 
amendments now before Parliament are medical marijuana; making the 
possession of two ounces or less of ganja a non-criminal, 
non-arrestable offence; and expunging the records of individuals who 
were charged in the past for a ganja-related incident -- if the 
charge was $2,000 or less.

Tucker said a concerted push must be made to educate Jamaicans about 
the facts surrounding the changes to the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) 
Act, or "ganja Bill".

It is an undertaking for which the NCDA will need funding, but Tucker 
is confident that the resources will come. "We have heard it from the 
minister, we have heard it from everybody to see to it that part of 
the legislation speaks to the NCDA getting additional resources from 
licensing, or wherever else, to do that work, and we are counting on 
our ministers to keep their word," he told the Observer. The agency's 
expected budget for the 2015/16 fiscal year is $116 million.

In the meantime, Tucker said there is no doubt that the NCDA will 
have to deal with more cases of substance abuse.

"Yes, we anticipate there will be more cases... we also anticipate 
that we will be able to do the work along with the support of the 
people we have trained, and the network that exists," he said.

The executive director, however, sought to assure that the agency has 
been beefing up efficiency among its pool of officers across the 
island, in partnership with counsellors. He informed that just last 
week, 25 counsellors in Kingston and 30 in Montego Bay wrapped up 
specialised training in how to help adolescents with substance abuse issues.

Last year, the NCDA saw 1,500 substance abuse-related cases, 784 (or 
52 per cent) of which involved individuals under 18 years old.

As set out in the legislation, if a person found in possession of 
ganja in a small quantity is a minor, or an adult who appears to be 
dependent on the drug, they are to be referred to the NCDA by the 
police officer issuing their ticket.

The Senate last week pushed through the ganja Bill, despite concerns 
on some provisions, including the lack of institutional preparedness. 
It is anticipated that deliberations will begin in the Lower House 
following the budget debate.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom