420 Magazine Background




National Commission of Ganja reports widespread support for freeing the
island's sacred weed. Ganja was brought to the West Indies in the
mid-19th century by East Indian laborers who settled in Guyana,
Trinidad and Jamaica.

In Jamaica, from the 1800's until the early years of the 20th century,
ganja was an unregulated herb widely used as medicine, intoxicant, and
religious sacrament.

Even though it caused few medical or social problems, Judeo-Christian
church groups and
Jamaica's white ruling elite convinced legislators to criminalize it in
1913. The country later became a signatory to international
anti-marijuana treaties.

Prohibition has been a disaster for Jamaica. Tens of thousands of
Jamaicans have been harassed, jailed and even killed due to enforcement
of ganja laws. Yet, the island's climate, culture, and topography are
ideal for ganja cultivation, and Jamaica has become famous for potent
outdoor marijuana, reggae music, and herb-infused Rastafarian religion.

In 1977, after decades of counterproductive attempts to stop Jamaicans
from growing and using marijuana, the government set up an aptly-named
"Joint Select Committee" to study ganja and make new policy

The Committee rejected full legalization only because it did not
believe Jamaica could legalize herb and still be in compliance with
anti-narcotics treaties, but it unanimously concluded that "there was a
substantial case for decriminalizing personal use of ganja."

The Committee recommended "no punishment" for personal use of as much
as two ounces of ganja by users on private premises. It recommended
total legalization of medical marijuana.

American aggression

The United States government, and church groups, forced the Jamaican
government to ignore the 1977 committee's recommendations. US military
personnel and equipment, along with US spy agencies like the CIA and
DEA, then invaded Jamaica, using Jamaican police and soldiers as proxy
warriors waging a scorched earth campaign against the island's
burgeoning domestic and export marijuana trade.

The US put a naval and aerial blockade around Jamaica during the 1970's
and 80's, unsuccessfully seeking to interdict megatons of baled and
bricked Jamaican weed, much of which was being offloaded along
Florida's coastline.

During this period, America provided millions of dollars in funding for
the Jamaican government's counter-narcotics efforts. According to the
US State Department, America "has provided more counter-narcotics
assistance to Jamaica than to any other Caribbean country."

US officials have long complained that Jamaicans were making a
half-hearted effort to eradicate ganja. They allege that the country is
the Caribbean's biggest producer and exporter of ganja and a major
transit country for cocaine destined for the US and other international

In 1999, the US halved its financial support of Jamaica's
anti-marijuana efforts, in part because the Jamaican government used
"cutter teams" rather than herbicides and other poisons that the US
uses domestically and in places like Colombia.

Even while the US was scaling back financial and cultivation-killer
support, the DEA, ATF, CIA and other US law enforcers were increasing
clandestine operational activities in and around Jamaica. Like citizens
in Colombia, Canada, Mexico, Afghanistan, and other countries,
Jamaicans believe that the drug war is a way for the US to gain control
over the internal affairs of what should be a sovereign nation. Some
Jamaicans credibly suspect that US spy agencies and organized crime are
smuggling guns and cocaine into Jamaica, in an attempt to destabilize
the country and derail its
efforts to legalize ganja.

Although direct US involvement in eradication campaigns has dwindled,
US spy planes continue to conduct aerial surveys to precisely identify
and target areas of cannabis cultivation; they also target boats
traveling to and from Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean.

Study buddy

In 1999, Jamaican Senator Trevor Munroe told Cannabis Culture he was
pushing legislation to set up a "National Commission of Ganja" Jamaican
- - ganja journey.

In November 2000, Munroe's national Commission officially commenced a
nine-month cannabis study.

The Commission was chaired by the dean of the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Professor Barry

Chevannes was a lauded member of the research staff for an earlier
Jamaican ganja study, conducted by Vera Rubin and Lambros Comitas on
behalf of the US National Institute of Mental Health in the early
1970's. That pioneering and comprehensive study concluded that
Jamaicans used marijuana to enhance work performance and health, with
few negative effects.

Chevannes shared Commission duties with commissioners from a broad
array of ideological and professional backgrounds, including educators,
artists, clergymen, and a member of the National Council on Drug Abuse.

The Commission conducted hearings in every parish in Jamaica. It took
comment from hundreds of people =AD old and young, male and female,
artisans, farmers, professionals, managers, unskilled and unemployed
persons, police, clergy, and others who gave oral or written testimony
at home and abroad.

And, in what must have been one of the inquiry's most sought-after
duties, a Commission member was selected to make a trip to Holland to
see first hand how The Netherlands' de facto decriminalization policy

"We looked around the world for the latest information about ganja and
policy," Dr Chevannes told me in a recent conversation. "We believe
that our report is a significant step in developing rational policies
about this plant."

Popular plant

Researchers told the Commission that approximately one third of the
island's residents smoke ganja on a regular basis, and that ganja use,
once confined mostly to people on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic
ladder, is now practiced by people from all strata of society.

A parade of experts, including scientists, police, drug abuse
counselors and community leaders, testified that they supported
decriminalization of ganja.

The commissioners found medical evidence and expert testimony supported
the idea that cannabis is useful in decreasing severity of the
following medical problems: nausea, vomiting, insomnia, chronic pain,
appetite loss, glaucoma, muscle spasticity from spinal cord injuries
and multiple sclerosis, migraine headaches, depression, and seizures.

Cannabis Culture interviewed a pioneering Jamaican medical researcher,
Dr Manley West, who developed a cannabis extract =AD Cannasol =AD that is
now a registered medicine used to treat glaucoma --
Ganja medicine in Jamaica | Cannabis Culture -- Ganja medicine in
Jamaica. West and colleagues developed another product, Asmasol, based
on the Cannasol research, for the treatment of cough, cold and
bronchial asthma. West and the late Professor Sir John Golding
developed a protocol for using a cannabis preparation in the control of
pain in terminally ill patients. West has also developed a cannabis
medicine that treats motion sickness.

According to West, his cannabis products are safe and effective, but
the US government and its Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked
approval for using the products in America.

"They're depriving their citizens of useful medicines for financial and
political reasons," West complained. "Our products are medically safe
and very effective, and we have proven that by scientific methods."

Some supporters of ganja law reform told the Commission that the herb
had provided them with "deep personal benefits."

"These range from miraculous cures to relief from simple colds, but
they include well-known ailments and symptoms such as asthma and
glaucoma," the Commission reported. "There were many personal
testimonies of benefits from either smoking ganja or ingesting it as
tea or medicine steeped in rum. We heard the tale of a woman whose
beast of burden was cured from the ashes stuffed in a wound; of a man
stricken as a schoolboy with dengue fever, who drank
the tea and was cured overnight; of a former Jamaica Constabulary Force
member whose chronic hypertension, after nineteen years of prescribed
medication, completely disappeared with the now regular smoking of

Jamaican drug counselors told the Commission that ganja is not harmful
enough to justify criminal penalties, and that dishonest anti-ganja
propaganda made it harder for them to credibly teach young people about
drug abuse.

The president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, along with the
country's premier medical officer, told the Chevannes Commission that
laws criminalizing people for small amounts of ganja are "probably
having a worse effect than if it had been legalized."

US response

Last year, Chevannes made public the Commission's findings and

"We advised lawmakers to amend the laws to make private, personal
possession of small amounts of ganja legal," Chevannes said.

After Jamaica's Prime Minister publicly stated support for the
Commission's recommendations, the US embassy in Jamaica weighed in.

"The US opposes decriminalization of marijuana use," said embassy
spokesman Michael Koplovsky. "The US Government will evaluate if such
proposals violate Jamaica's commitments to 1988 United Nations
anti-drug treaty."

Other US officials said that if Jamaica loosened its ganja laws, the US
would respond with economic sanctions that would cause serious harm to
the already-impoverished country.

And according to US spokeswoman Orna Bloom, "The United States
government opposes the decriminalization of marijuana use because it
creates the perception, especially to our youth, that marijuana is not
harmful, which could lead then to an increase in its use."

In Washington, DC, Jamaican embassy spokesperson Neil Hamilton told
Cannabis Culture in March, 2002 that Jamaican legislators were "still
working on the details of the proposed ganja law changes."

"It's being discussed in our country, and between our countries,"
Hamilton said. "Washington has not formally threatened us about this.
We're committed to stopping drug exports, but we also want to
acknowledge the effects of the laws in our country, and the religious
and medical aspects of ganja use. And, we must acknowledge the
professionalism and scope of what Dr. Chevannes and his team did. We
hope we will see positive developments very soon."

Source: Cannabis Culture
Author: Pete Brady
Published: August 26, 2002
Contact: ccmag@cannabisculture.com
Website: Cannabis Culture | Marijuana Magazine
DL: Hemp BC – British Columbia hemp and marijuana news and research
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