Plea for ganja legalisation

“I make my plea for a reasoned debate led by CARICOM’s political and civic leadership in the context of the legalization of marijuana for medical/health purposes in twenty (20) states in the United States of America. The USA is already miles ahead of all other countries, globally, in medical marijuana. It is already a huge industry with legitimate cultivation, research, production and distribution of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products”.

From the tone of this September 3 correspondence sent to fellow CARICOM leaders, it is not at all difficult to decipher where the Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves stands on the whole question of the legalization of marijuana.

In fact, his position has been clearly articulated. Gonsalves believes that the region has tried without success to come down on the side of absolute prohibition and that it is “high time” the region adopts a new approach.

“After all, the marijuana plant has a bundle of proven and potentially beneficial uses,” he said in the letter which was addressed to Trinidad’s Prime Minister Kamla Persaud Bissesssar, the current chairman of CARICOM, and copied to other heads of government.

He made reference to the work done by the Jamaican-born chemist and cancer researcher, Dr. Henry Lowe, whom he listed among distinguished Caribbean professionals who “have been raising their influential voices in favour of the legitimate utilisation of marijuana products for a range of medical and health purposes”.

Gonsalves also touched on the economic and commercial benefit that could be gleaned by countries such as Jamaica.

And while no mention was made of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one would imagine that he is already calculating the monetary benefit that could be reaped by his own marijuana producing country from the production of a range of pharmaceutical and other by products being developed across the world.

But what about the other leaders in CARICOM? Where do they stand on the matter?

Interestingly, when Gonsalves met in Port of Spain this week with his Trinidadian counterpart and our own Freundel Stuart neither was prepared like him to declare their hands.

The three leaders, who currently make up the CARICOM Bureau, would only agree to the need for the Georgetown-based CARICOM Secretariat to carry out more research work on the contentious subject.

Mind you, there are already loads of available written material about the medicinal use of the marijuana plant.

In the Canadian Medical Association’s Journal for instance you can get all the positive uses for marijuana to treat cancer pain for instance, to reduce nausea from chemotherapy, to mitigate the wasting syndrome of AIDS, and for the treatment of glaucoma, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and a variety of other disorders.

A few studies have also suggested that the medical use of marijuana is common among people with HIV/AIDS and those with certain psychiatric conditions.

Available research also tells us that compared with nonusers, those who used marijuana for any reason tended to be younger, more likely to have alcohol problems and more likely to have used cocaine in their lifetime.

In states debating new legislation, policy makers are grappling with questions that only scientific research can answer: For what conditions does marijuana provide medicinal benefits? Are there equally effective alternatives? What are the appropriate doses for various conditions? How can states ensure quality and purity?

In Jamaica, where the ganja debate has been raging for decades, we have also heard of the ill and wide-ranging negative effect of decriminalising marijuana.

“A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and mental illness,” medical practitioner and government legislator, Dr. Dayton Campbell recently warned in parliament.

He said high doses of marijuana can produce a temporary psychotic reaction (involving hallucinations and paranoia) in some users, and using marijuana can worsen the course of illness in patients with schizophrenia.”

Campbell also told legislators that a three-month study of trauma victims at the University Hospital of the West Indies showed that marijuana was the most prevalent substance found in their bodies.

He said 50 per cent of the trauma victims had the marijuana in their system as against 43 per cent of alcohol found in the bodies of crash victims.

“So we have this impression that it is drinking and driving that is the main reason for some of our road traffic accidents,” said Campbell, adding that the data had proved otherwise.

But here we go again in CARICOM. In a region, which prides itself on commissions and studies, the controversial topic of legalization of ganja needs to be the subject of further study.

The thing is, the whole debate is nothing new. The issue has been on the CARICOM agenda for more than a decade now after the initial call made by St. Lucia Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony for the setting up of a CARICOM Commission on Marijuana fell on deaf ears.

The only real dramatic development since then was that the famous American television surgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s once hard line against medicinal cannabis was reversed.

And it would seem that he in turn inspired the Trinidad Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s new way of thinking that the decriminalising of simple marijuana possession could ease the burden placed upon the judiciary.

So who knows, maybe Gonsalves could still have his wish after all.

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