Prof. Ramesh Deosaran writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
San Francisco. Ganja is the common name for the mind-altering drug (delta 9 –tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) derived from the green, jagged leaves and flowers of the marijuana plant (cannabis sativa). Once free to use by all, then prohibited with increased punishment, ganja (marijuana) is now being treated in many parts of the US as a child that has been so badly treated in the past that a range of compensatory measures by policy-makers is now growingly implemented or considered. Either for medical use or recreational use.
However, critics of its liberalised use are still around with authoritative, cautionary voices, for example the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA). The US Surgeons General remain divided on marijuana use but ironically have installed “smoking is dangerous” warnings on cigarette packs. This is the divided politics over the related research, with the nearby voices of the tobacco industry.
With some 30 states and ground-level political pressures increasing in other states, the elevated status of ganja now seems like an act of revenge on the past. The California cities of Oakland and San Francisco are prominent examples. From liberalising ganja use, the local authorities are now democratising its use with a vengeance into profitable businesses under community governance. The process is called “equity programming.”
From the late president Richard Nixon’s 1971 “War on Drugs” to former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 very punitive “Three Strikes And You Are Out” sentencing policy, disproportionate amounts of poor, young, black persons have been jailed for drug use. The “equity programme” now being provided in Oakland and San Francisco gives priority “selling rights” to the poor and those groups who have suffered from drug-related imprisonment.
From January 1, San Francisco is empowered to have ganja use for citizens’ recreational purpose – for fun, within specific limits in terms of number of plants in a home and minimal amount of the substance in possession.
Seventy five per cent of Californians last year passed the law (by Proposition 64) – referendum democracy. Local government in San Francisco and Oakland is heavily localised, that is, every district representative had a say in how many marijuana sale outlets could be accommodated, etc, and also how far such outlets could be from a school. This is local democracy without fear of citizens. For supporter or critic, this is the politics of ganja.
Ganja use for medical purpose is already legal in some 30 states – from Alaska in 1998, Hawaii and Colorado in 2000, New York in 2014, to Florida in 2016 and West Virginia in 2017. Given the grassroots’ power behind ganja use, it is being defined as a human rights issue. Policies now appear as revenge for past suffering and imprisonment, especially of poor, young Afro-Americans and Hispanics. Not only is ganja use being liberalised with controls but the sentences for exceeding controls have been relatively quite lenient.
Of course, if decriminalisation in the US now appears pleasing to its advocates, parts of Europe, especially Germany and the Netherlands, have been far ahead. Just as I was surprised to see the San Francisco bus proudly displaying the big sign “Marijuana Is Here,” so too, I was surprised to see roadside clinics and rehab centres in Hamburg, Germany providing free, sterilised needles to drug users. There, it is operated as public health issue.
Which brings us to the philosophy behind having ganja decriminalised, now worthy of serious criminological analysis. Critics disagree but advocates call it a “victimless crime,” an act that depends on personal responsibility, like alcohol, cigarette use and prostitution. A large part of such liberalised thinking came from British philosopher, John Stuart Mills’ book, On Liberty, where he stated: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
Known for having impoverished data and non-scientific policy attitudes, this country could do well in examining the ganja issue – possibly giving ganja researcher, the modest Dr Peter Hanoomansingh a start-up grant. All this –health issues, divisive politics, human rights and sentencing implications –make ganja, and its apparent mission of revenge, an intriguing subject for a university course, if not a national debate.