San Francisco. The very evening I arrived in downtown San Francisco, I was shocked to see the big marijuana sign on the moving bus. In bold, colourful letters, the sign celebrated the words, Marijuana Is Here. And indeed, it is, very much so.
Next January, recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in California. San Francisco has a city hall Office for Cannabis. The city’s main daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, has established a new supplement called The Green State, filled with articles on the use, commercialisation, cultivation secrets and research on marijuana for the “cannabis curious.” (GreenState.com)
Its neighbour city, Oakland, is advanced in marijuana policy. Recognising the ethnic disparities in the application of federal “punishment” laws over the years, Oakland has set out new regulations which not only decriminalise marijuana use but also ensure that ethnic inequity in opening marijuana businesses, in getting government grants, etc do not occur. Preparing for its own decriminalisation next January, San Francisco is using Oakland as its “blueprint.” And so the big San Francisco bus moves with some pride, it seems, in saying “marijuana is here.”
The criminological dilemma for our country, and the Caribbean for that matter, is that marijuana is already widely used by many people. And defiantly planted too. The police and courts are kept busy – while the supply side grows because the demand side also grows. And in-between, corruption also grows. Jamaica and St Vincent seem to be smelling the coffee, so much so, that for the rest of the Caribbean, it is beginning to look as just a matter of time. Its supporters point to a new foreign exchange industry, health tourism, jobs, increased taxes, etc. No doubt such a vision energised UNC MP Dr Fuad Khan to publicly call for the “decriminalisation of marijuana” here.
While the use of marijuana for medical and then recreational use is being loosened and decriminalised in 30 states, the abuse of (prescription) pain-killing opioid drugs, according to US government data, has reached epidemic proportions – and still rising.
Last week, President Trump declared it as a public health “state of emergency.” Government data revealed over 64,000 died from opioid overdose last year, making the overdose the leading cause of death for those under 50-years. In 1980, the death figure was 5,000. In the pleasure-seeking culture, opioid use went up to heroin use, then to a deadlier drug, fentanyls.
This is an extreme case that occurs with or without marijuana being decriminalised, claim California marijuana growers, and it should not confuse the “positive effects” of marijuana. Quite a large and growing group across the US, marijuana users and planters point to abuse of alcohol and cigarettes – the latter stuffed with carcinogenics–with both being weapons of mass addiction. It is not use, they claim, but abuse.
So the debate will go on and on, but more and more likely, vocal pressure groups are bringing more and more legislators around to decriminalisation, if not total legalisation. And, even so, for minimal amounts while relieving police and judges from an overload of drug cases. Decriminalisation of marijuana and its connection to judicial sentencing and racial inequity are now serious concerns in criminology.
By far, “black and brown” persons are the highest proportion who face the courts for marijuana use – a fact which received serious policy notice by both Oakland and San Francisco legislators. As a 2015 book entitled Weed the People: The Future of Marijuana claimed, marijuana use is now “a human rights issue.”
In all this, health reservations still exist. Among the anti-marijuana experiments is one by Yasmin Hurd in which she used rats to show not only the addictive powers of marijuana (through tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive compound), but how parents could pass on the addiction to offspring. In this, she cautioned that we really did not know enough about marijuana. (The Great Health Experiment in Weed the People.) But again, the marijuana advocates will say, that was “a rat experiment.” Meanwhile, however, the marijuana bus is moving ahead with its daring sign–making marijuana a challenge for legislators.