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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Senators: Joint select committee needed for ganja bill

Opposition Senator  Taharqa Obika. FILE PHOTO
Opposition Senator Taharqa Obika. FILE PHOTO

While senators agreed decriminalisation of marijuana is a step in the right direction, some said a joint select committee (JSC) is needed to treat with concerns in the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019.

Independent and Opposition senators raised concerns citing regulatory issues, health effects and the accessibility of the drug to youths and schools as some of the more pressing issues which a JSC could settle.

“Our society would be better off with a system where the government has a hand in providing proper controls for the use of marijuana,” said Opposition Senator Taharqa Obika.

He called for regulation adding that, like alcohol, marijuana could benefit from government control and influence.

“When there is no regulation, people going all these places to get marijuana. It doesn’t tell you how potent, or otherwise, what you are consuming is. But if you regulate it properly, as they do in Jamaica, you can get your choice of marijuana.”

Independent Senator Paul Richards called on government to not get carried away with the positives of decriminalisation, saying that even in some of the exemplary areas where the narcotic is legal, there have been some negatives.

He said, in Colorado the number of fatal accidents, where one or both drivers were intoxicated with marijuana, increased by 80 per cent from 2013 to 2015, and marijuana-related road deaths increased by 66 per cent in the four-year period where it was decriminalised.

He also referred to several reports which speak about the detrimental effect of marijuana on the brains of people under the age of 25. He said those with a predisposition to psychosis could be negatively affected.

“Let us not underestimate the possibility of these situations happening, and us totally missing the mark in our initial objectives. We have to put systems in place to deal with these things otherwise we will end up in a poorer state than when we actually started.”

Temporary Opposition Senator Rishi Tripathi was concerned that children may have access to “legal” weed and take it to their schools, the same way they may carry a cigarette or alcohol to impress friends.

“They want to show off for their friends. What happens then?”

Ndale Young, government senator, said while debates are being held and a JSC could be convened, youths, even the ones they are trying to protect, are at risk of being jailed and having their lives destroyed.

He recounted a situation where a person he met, named Shaquille, was in and out of correctional institutions because he was once caught with a joint of marijuana.

“With no disrespect to the honourable members opposite that say we need a JSC, having the revenue authority deal with how we are going to regulate is much different to the decriminalisation that is needed now.”

After two years of consultation, the bill was passed with the support of Opposition MPs in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

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