Possesion for Personal Use Should Not Be a Crime


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I write in support of Louisa Holder's letter captioned "It is time to legalise the production and use of marijuana" (06.10.23) and in protest against some of the retrogressive attitudes of leaders here in Guyana and the wider Caribbean.

Let me begin by saying, the way Caribbean leaders treat their people presents a strange paradox. The paradox becomes even more strange when we see Caribbean people's reaction, or lack thereof, to treatment by their leaders.

It is hard to come to grips with the fact that a people that has endured the rigours and agony of slavery and indentureship could have the capacity to treat others in any way inimical to the enjoyment of their basic freedom and rights; it is even more difficult to come to grips with the complacent attitude of the victims of this maltreatment and flagrant human rights abuses.

Let us take the marijuana issue as a starting point. The penalty for the possession of anything above 15 grams of marijuana is no less than draconian. How does one explain having to serve three years in prison among murderers, rapists and other hardened criminals for the possession and personal use of a plant that is scientifically proven to be less harmful (if harmful at all) and far more helpful to both humans and the environment than cigarettes and alcohol. There are many instances of persons going to jail for marijuana and coming out far from being rehabilitated, as hardened criminals.(This is a classic example of penalties against the use of marijuana being more harmful to the individual than the use of marijuana itself.) While many rationales can be used to explain this transformation, one of the chief reasons for this behaviour stems from a sense of being dealt with unfairly on the part of the victim.

Caribbean leaders and lawmakers should now reappraise their stance on the marijuana issue and seriously study its ramifications. Many European countries have done this and the result is far more laxity in the administering of penalties.

Let's look at some examples. In Austria, possession of marijuana is a criminal offence resulting in a fine or up to 3 months in prison. Compare their three months with our three years. In Belgium, possession for personal use was decriminalized in early 2002. In Sweden, Norway and Finland possession is a criminal offence resulting in a fine or up to 6 months in prison. In Denmark possession is a criminal offence but not punishable unless linked to other crimes. In Spain, Portugal and Luxemburg, possession is not a criminal offence and is punishable only by fines and treatment referrals. In France, possession is a criminal offence but only 10% leads to prosecution. First time offenders can be held for 48 hours and are cautioned and warned, while repeat offenders can be jailed for up to 1 year. In Germany, possession is a criminal offence but small amounts for personal use are not usually prosecuted. In Italy, possession is not a criminal offence. Anyone caught gets a verbal warning. Repeat offenders are interviewed by social workers and in extreme cases have their driver's licence or passport confiscated. Then there is, of course, the 'cannabis-shop' policy as in the Netherlands, Holland where there are around 900 ganja cafes, and elsewhere.

The 'cannabis shop approach is a boon to tourism. Caribbean countries, such as Guyana, which are struggling to boost the tourism industry, can consider adopting this approach. (If casino gambling can work, this approach can more than work).

The above list is by no means exhaustive and was enumerated to give Guyanese nationals a glimpse of the semi-civil manner (real civility would entail outright legalization) with which European leaders treat their nationals. We should now ask ourselves this pertinent question 'Aren't we worthy of the same or even better treatment by our leaders?'

In the Caribbean, Rastafarians are left alone to fight the battle against the marijuana law, although the benefits that could be accrued from marijuana being legal can in no way be limited to Rastafarians.

Although Rastafarians can be credited with waging a single-handed and formidable battle against the marijuana law, our ineffectiveness is underscored by our failure to go beyond the mental and spiritual benefits of the herb and to highlight the human rights implications along with the medicinal and industrial benefits. It is futile to fight a materialistic enemy with mere religio-spiritual appeals. Let's look at what two American presidents have to say on the marijuana issue vis-Ã -vis human rights. In a letter to Congress, Jimmy Carter stated, "I support legislation amending federal law to eliminate all federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana." Then he went on to state that the penalty against the use of marijuana should not be more damaging than the use of the substance itself. This in his words 'is a human rights abuse'. President Abraham Lincoln in support of the use of marijuana stated "Prohibition...goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control man's appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes...A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which this government was founded." (The principles referred to by Abraham Lincoln are those outlined in the Declaration of Independence, the first two drafts of which were written on paper made from hemp(marijuana) plant)

The movement for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana took on a unique expression in the Caribbean through the emergence of Rastafari. So, one can safely conclude that the marijuana movement in the Caribbean which is by and large synonymous with the movement of Rastafari is a purely Caribbean thing. It was not imported from Europe or North America, not even from Asia or Africa.

In the medical field, marijuana is known as a panacea. The fact that the healing wonders of this herb that Rastafarians refer to as 'the healing of the nations' have not been buried under the sands of time is illustrated by the following BBC report of 2001.

" There is scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis may be useful in treating a wide range of conditions. For instance, cannabis appears to be able to help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment given to cancer patients…Cannabis is an antiemetic, a drug that relieves nausea and allows patients to eat and live normally. Extracts also seem to benefit patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, stopping muscle spasms, and reducing tremors… There is evidence that cannabis may stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients. It may also help relieve the pain of menstrual cramps (Queen Elizabeth can testify) and child birth. Campaigners claim the herb is useful in treating depression and other mood disorders. Cannabis has been shown to prevent seizures in epileptic patients when given in combination with prescription drugs. The herb can also help in the treatment of patients suffering from glaucoma, a common cause of blindness, by reducing the fluid pressure in the eye. Claims have also been made for its use in treating asthma, strokes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, alcoholism and insomnia."

With the revelation of the above, Guyanese people are now forced to ask themselves 'isn't the denial of a people of one of the most natural ways to heal a multiple of ailments, one of the most flagrant and colossal violations of basic human rights?"

As if the denial of a people of the means to heal themselves both physically and mentally is not enough, the marijuana law also denies us the means by which we can feed, clothe and house ourselves by outlawing the industrial use of hemp. Industrial hemp is very low in THC, the ingredient that causes highness. The THC level in industrial marijuana is so low that no one can get high from smoking it. This particular kind of marijuana is ideal for industrial uses and it renders the raison d'etre behind the illegalization of marijuana as baseless. The following quote from Rasta Heart by Robert Roskind is informative in this area. (pg. 129)

"Of the over three million edible plants, hemp seed has the highest nutritious vegetable oil known, complete and high in protein. It can help feed the planet with a crop that grows anywhere without the use of fertilizer and chemicals. If its use as a fabric was encouraged, it could replace cotton, the growing of which accounts for almost 50% of agricultural chemicals that are polluting our planet.

Hemp provides four times as much pulp with at least four to seven times less pollution than paper made from trees. By switching back to hemp paper(used to make the American dollar at a certain time), we could save our forests and greatly reduce global warming and other problems created by deforestation.

Research shows that 10 to 20 percent of all pharmaceutical prescription medicines could be eliminated by using ganja, potentially saving hundreds of billions of dollars annually and decreasing the amount of poisons we take into our bodies through these 'better' medicines. Add to this the amount of over-the-counter medicines that could be reduced and ganja's benefit mounts even higher.

Cannabis hemp is the only annually renewable plant able to replace fossil fuels and thereby reduce their unhealthy and dangerous effects. It is the only resource that can make every country energy-independent. It is the planet's number one biomass resource, capable of producing ten tons per acre in four months. This can then be used for everything from fuel for vehicles and heating to making plastics… Finally, ganja makes hard physical work much easier, lessening the burden of the toiling masses while offering them relaxation without alcohol induced hangover."

Yours faithfully,

Ras Ashkar

Newshawk: User - 420 Magazine
Source: Stabroek News - Guyana
Pubdate: 15 December 2006
Author: Ras Ashkar
Copyright: 2006 Stabroek News
Contact: Stabroek News
Website: Stabroek News
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