SUPPORTERS of marijuana decriminalisation scored a victory this week with the submission of a report by the Caricom Regional Marijuana Commission to heads of government. According to media reports, the commission has called for the ban on marijuana to be dismantled across all member states. It’s high time.
There’s no doubt marijuana abuse can be harmful. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April linked ganja to car crashes. And smoking has real health risks, particularly for the young.
Yet it is clear the current ban has failed to prevent young people from accessing the drug. According to the National Secondary Schools Survey 2013, 42.5 per cent of students found marijuana easily accessible while 51 per cent reported drugs being near schools. And that’s just young people.
The truth is marijuana is not nearly as harmful as the law currently regards it. Many scientists have said the drug is no more dangerous than booze.
Legalisation does not mean a free-for-all. The State would still regulate the trade, much as it regulates the sale of beer or prescription drugs.
All that criminalisation of marijuana has achieved is the mushrooming of a black market which has disrupted economic patterns and diverted exorbitant sums from the Treasury.
Our region’s so-called war on drugs has seen billions pumped into giving police the guns and helicopters they need to clear ganja fields and provide dramatic photos of the yields of their drug raids. All to no definitive end, with the cycle continuing, turning and turning, as Yeats wrote, in the widening gyre.
On the other hand, decriminalisation could present lucrative economic benefits. Jamaica has already begun to mull the possibility of earning US$2 billion in foreign exchange a year from a legalised, regulated industry.
Little wonder a bill to decriminalise cannabis for personal use has already been passed in Antigua’s House of Representatives, while Jamaica decriminalised small amounts since 2015. Elsewhere in the Americas, Uruguay introduced a legal marijuana market in 2014, while Argentina decriminalised personal possession in 2009. Nine states in the US now allow recreational use, while 31 allow medicinal use.
With more and more countries all over the world looking to cash in, we stand to lose by demurring.
It is time to remove marijuana from the first schedule of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which wrongly classifies it as being as dangerous as narcotics like heroin and cocaine.
With 94,000 cases pending in the magistrates’ court, do we really need to be wasting time prosecuting people who get high?