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Are we really ready to decriminalize?

guest column


by Wayne Campbell


In a society where there is an undeniable association between the construction of masculinity and the smoking of marijuana, the intention of the Jamaican government to decriminalize marijuana might just go up in smoke.


In jurisdictions where decriminalization has occurred, the recreational user of marijuana does not face prosecution for possessing or for using small amounts of the drug. Therefore, it would be illegal to trade, sell, or possess large quantities of the drug. As a result, the resources of the state and law enforcement are usually shifted and used to target the suppliers and dealers of the drug.

There is a marked difference between legalization of marijuana — which is the route of both Uruguay and the state of Colorado in the United States — and decriminalization of the drug. Colorado is the first state in the United States to legalize the cultivation, sale and recreational usage of marijuana. Consequently, individuals over the age of 21 are allowed to have up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

Legalization makes an act completely acceptable in the eyes of the law and is, therefore, not subject to any penalties. Decriminalization simply means that an act is no longer regarded as a crime, but is still subject to penalties or fines, much like getting a speeding ticket.

The (2006) National School Survey conducted by the National Council On Drug Abuse found that 24 per cent of adolescents had used marijuana at some point. We can surmise that eight years later the percentage of Jamaican adolescents who have smoked marijuana is much higher. According to The West Indian Medical Journal (2004) the initiation of marijuana among Jamaican students begins as early as age nine years.

This is rather unbelievable and distressing. At age nine our children should be preparing for the Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) not smoking a ganja joint and getting “high”. Can you remember what your interests were at age nine?

Disturbingly, the (2006) National Council On Drug Abuse Survey also revealed that students perceive marijuana to be the easiest illegal drug to access. I am not surprised at all by this finding, since it appears that on almost every street in the society there is a house or person that sells ganja.

Additionally, there is a clear association between using illegal drugs, such as marijuana, and behavioural problems. This causal effect continues to be a concern for all our schools. A significant number of our teenage boys may well be addicted to the smoking of marijuana.

We need to ask ourselves what message is being sent by the pending decriminalization of marijuana, especially on the male student population who are reportedly more attracted to or already hooked on the drug. Have we done an assessment to determine adolescent attitudes towards marijuana use in an era of decriminalization? Are we going to put more resources in our schools to assist the administrators to tackle the seemingly losing battle that is being fought daily to save and rescue those students who are addicted to marijuana?

Once a student becomes addicted to this drug the evidence is very clear for everyone to see. Evidence includes a marked decrease in one’s school interest and aggression. Also, in more instances than not, the user develops a care-free attitude towards deportment.

Already the Jamaican society is beset by many social problems: issues such as the high dropout rate, especially among our adolescent males, and a high crime rate which is threatening our economic viability. We all can only imagine, with immense trepidation, the myriad issues, especially in regards to the further social disintegration within the society, that such a move is likely to unleash.

There is no doubt that marijuana is highly addictive. The use of this drug significantly impairs bodily and mental functions. And, we know what makes marijuana so addictive! The tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the chemical compound found in marijuana, which makes the drug so addictive.

Low doses of THC help reduce pain and nausea. It also helps to stimulate appetite. Larger doses result in the “high” feeling which is an altered perception of the user’s concept of time and space. It is important to note that for medical purposes synthetic forms of THC can and are in fact produced in laboratories.

The argument to decriminalize has been heavily dotted by beliefs that ganja should be allowed to be used for sacramental purposes. It bears thought.

True, if you ask the average person to think of and name a “marijuana religion”, immediately Rastafarianism would come to mind. But, the use of marijuana in religion dates back to the second millennium BC, and the practice continues to this day.

The Jamaican-born Rastafarian movement is perhaps the most documented and well known modern religion that uses marijuana for spiritual purposes. Many Rastafarians believe that marijuana or ganja aids in the worship of God, and in meditation. Furthermore, they believe that marijuana is the “tree of life” mentioned in the book of Genesis in The Bible.

There is a long history of marijuana associated with Hinduism, since about 1500 BC by some records. It is most commonly consumed in a drink called bhang, mixed in with spices, milk and sugar, and consumed during Holi and Baisakhi, key festivals of the Hindu religion. The marijuana plant is associated with the god Shiva, and many Shiavites smoke it in clay pipes called chillums, believing it to be a gift from Shiva to help humans reach a higher spiritual level.

Marijuana is also used by yogis to enhance their religious experience.

Like in most religions, marijuana use is controversial and divisive in Buddhism. The tenets of Buddhism advise against intoxicants, but in many sects of Chinese Buddhism, marijuana has been used in initiation and mystical rituals since the fifth century BC.

Some Tibetan Buddhist priests believe it to be the most holy of plants, and there are many written records that suggest that the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Siddhartha, lived primarily on marijuana seeds and leaves in the years before his enlightenment.

Reason enough to decriminalize? You tell me.

Jamaica’s position at 18 degrees north and 77 degrees west makes the island an ideal attraction for many tourists. In 2010, Jamaica earned US$1.98 billion from tourism.

In addition to the land and sea experience, it is no secret that many tourists visit our country to sample our marijuana. Hollywood, over the years, has stereotyped the Jamaican male as a dreadlocked, sex-crazy, marijuana-smoking individual who just hangs out on the beach. Are we as a society willing to sacrifice our values to truly validate such tourism interests?

Are we convinced that the advantages of such an important move will outweigh the disadvantages?

What are truly some of the advantages of decriminalization? Such a move will no doubt free millions of dollars now being used to prosecute recreational users. It may also be argued that decriminalizing marijuana is likely to see give wiggle room to a substantial amount of law enforcement resources which could be used to prevent more serious crimes.

We need to bear in mind that after Colorado “free up di weed” there was a drastic increase in the number of persons using marijuana. There was also a marked increase in the number of deaths from drug overdose. Undoubtedly, there is going to be an initial increase in persons experimenting with marijuana once it is decriminalized. Are we prepared for this as a society?

Research has shown that many users of marijuana go on to use more serious forms of drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Should we decrimalize a harmful drug, which is known for its psychoactive effects, we then need to ask ourselves are we ready for such consequences as a society? If the answer is in the affirmative then by all means “free up di weed!”


(Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to Taken from the Jamaica Observer.)

One Response to Are we really ready to decriminalize?

  1. Olutoye Walrond April 21, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I have no interest in promoting de-criminalisation or legalisation of marijuana (never used it), but I find this article lacking in objectivity and sometimes in fact.

    That the writer is opposed to decriminalisation is obvious; that he has made a case for his stance is not obvious.

    Dispute No. 1:
    the decriminalisation movement has absolutely nothing to do with tourism; no one ever suggested this connection. Why, then, does the writer introduce it?

    Dispute No. 2:
    “Research has shown…” No case worthy of acceptance can afford to rely anymore on this much-abused clause. What research, conducted by whom, when and where?

    Dispute No. 3:
    Legalisation has led to an increase in deaths from drug overdose.
    Would this be deaths from overdose on marijuana or other drugs?

    Dispute No. 4:
    Marijuana “…is highly addictive.” A simple check with medical authorities via the internet will reveal that only about 9% of persons become addicted to marijuana.


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