Towards Legalisation: Revisiting The Ganja Debate

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The following is an excerpt from the Gleaner Editors Forum held on November
27. Guests were Dr. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the U.S.-based
Drug Policy Alliance, Paul Chang and Paul Burke, members of the local
National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja:

ON THE POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY OF LEGALISING GANJA, GIVEN JAMAICA'S CHRISTIAN
CULTURE

MR. BURKE: Legalisation is a big step, but you will recall in 1978 or 79
there was a Joint Select Committee chaired by Dr. Ken McNeill, and it
actually recommended to Parliament that there should be no legal sanctions
for two ounces of ganja for personal possession. As you know, we got caught
up into the politics of the general election of 1980 and the Parliament
never debated that recommendation, but there have been calls for it over the
years and I have not heard the church in any strong concerted position.

MR. CHANG: The Church's considerations were taken into consideration by the
Barry Chevannes Commission and the recommendations came about, the Roman
Catholic Bishop, the Rabbi, all the institutions.

MR. BURKE: I think people recognise that decriminalising is not going to
necessarily encourage it. One of the things that everybody, whether in
the=A0 commission's support, whether it is our own comments, is that there
needs to be a massive public education programme just about substances,
their potential harm, all of those issues.

So I think the Church would be concerned if it=A0 thought it was going be -
I think they recognise that people in Jamaica smoke ganja. I think you would
know that up to 1972 there was an 18-month mandatory sentence if you were
caught smoking ganja and you could not stop Jamaican people=A0smoking ganja,
even with an 18-month mandatory sentence.

ON THE MORAL EQUIVALENCE of LEGALISING OR DECRIMINALISING GANJA AND DOING
THE SAME WITH PROSTITUTION

MR. CHANG: I haven't really thought about it. I guess I am a libertarian and
prostitution has always been here and always has been and we not going to
change that either.

DR. NADELMANN: The philosophy I spoke of before of harm reduction is a way
of thinking about issues like that, about how one deals with the vices, the
immoral activities like gambling and prostitution, and I think our bottom
line is which policy would result in the least amount of accumulative harm
to people.

The argument is, if you make it legal there will be more of it going on, and
then the question is, is that true? And, if it's true, to what extent is
that a price worth paying, if legalisation of prostitution would result in
30 per cent more prostitution than you have today.

But dramatically there is AIDS, hepatitis, violence, criminal things,
etcetera, then that might be the trade off worth making.

ON HEALTH CONCERNS

MR. CHANG: There are some toxicity levels in terms of marijuana.

In terms of all the psychoactive substances, marijuana is the least toxic
and most benign.

MR. BURKE: We accept that a lot of the information about ganja was just
based on ignorance, but we also accept that all substances can be abused and
can be harmful, it depends on the individual, the use of it, their own
personal state of mind, their physical condition, their whole metabolism. We
make the point oftentimes that some of the people we see smoking ganja most
visibly are the people who are some of the people who are most aggressive,
antisocial in the society. If we believe it is only they who smoke ganja
alone, we are making a mistake. You would not expect a teacher to be smoking
ganjaa in public or a bank manager or a professional, but they do.

DR. NADELMANN: In the United States, there is a whole range of organisations
that are promoting alternatives to the war on drugs.

One of them is called Religious Leaders for Adjusting Drug Policy and these
are clergy, African-Americans, white Americans, Muslims, Jewish, Christians.
They are not pro-drug in any respect.

They are not advocating that people use ganja.

What they are arguing is that locking up, arresting in the United States a
million-and-a-half people a year, locking up a half-a-million people today,
that's not consistent with fundamental principles that they derive from the
Bible and from their faith.

ON INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS AND POSSIBLE SANCTIONS

DR. NADELMANN: Think about it in terms of three forces.

One is the actual international treaties, the 1961 Single Convention and the
1988 International Anti-Drug trafficking Convention, then thirdly think
about the U.S. Governments as a political force, and in between think about
the UN control agencies, what are called the Commission Narcotic Drugs and
then the International Narcotics Control Board or INCB, whose job it is to
make sure the treaties are observed. With respect to the first, the biggest
consensus is that if the changes in law=A0 only involved possession or
perhaps the transfer among friends, that is the non-commercial transfer,
small amounts, then that does not implicate the treaties.

Secondly, with the international control agencies, basically view them as an
extension of the U.S. Government. The Europeans move forward on cannabis,
they move forward on the issue of prescribing heroine to drug addicts,
pharmaceutical heroine is made in the countries, they move forward on the
issue of clean needles to stop AIDS and hepatitis.

Typically, what you see is that this issue of the international conventions
weighs much heavier on smaller developing nations than it does in Europe,
but it does mean that first the international agencies have not weighted
against possession.

ON JAMAICA'S RELUCTANCE TO MOVE FORWARD

MR. BURKE: There is fear of a backlash.

I know, also, there is a general confusion as to what really contributes to
crime in this country, and I think for a long time the whole marrying of
drug money, which is created in effect by keeping the drugs illegal, as
against people who want to use substances for their own personal use. I feel
that there has been indifference. They never had a sense of urgency, and
really our parliamentarians are responsible for a lot of the social problems
that have been created over the years, by keeping ganja illegal. I strongly
believe that the decriminalisation is just a step towards legalisation,
because with decriminalisation people would still be able to be arrested,
detained, harassed, fined, maybe even confined, but at the end of the day
you won't have a criminal record, and if that is what is going to happen, I
believe that once the momentum starts there will have to be more reforms.

So I am willing to live with the decriminalisation as a first step, as an
interim measure, as a transitional matter.


Pubdate: Mon, 22 Dec 2003
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2003 The Gleaner Company Limited
Contact: feedback@jamaica-gleaner.com
Website: Jamaica Gleaner