Commentary: Jamaica’s new marijuana law, is it legalization or new marketing strategy?

by. D. R. Miller

Jamaica’s new congeniality push: When the Jamaican Parliament approved an act to decriminalize small amounts of “ganja” (marijuana, weed, pot) as it is locally called, many received it with joy. However, it will not change the economy overnight and it is more of a paper statement.

The historic amendments call for a licensing authority to be established to deal with regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical, scientific, and or religious purposes. The timing seems fine, as studies have added to the potential benefits to treat:

• Muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis
• Nausea from cancer chemotherapy
• Poor appetite and weight loss caused by chronic illness, such as HIV or nerve pain
• Seizure disorders
• Crohn’s disease

The announcement was welcomed by many bloggers. They believed it is now free to pull off the coastlines into local bars, on and off the beach for any amount. Contrary to that mind-set being formed, decriminalization has an uphill battle.

Compliance will be difficult to enforce. Before the law is fully implemented, and the first smoke is cleared, who will become eligible to sell, how it will be regulated, taxed and restricted and in what zones?

The legalization of marijuana can lead to some economic benefits as studies have shown. Quietly, few locals and possible dispensaries business dealers already questioning trust, safety, and price.

Denver, United States 1st January 2014: People lined up to purchase Marijuana from one of the first legalized outlet.

Tomorrow in Jamaica, one will not find long lines such as what occurred in Washington State and Colorado when the sale of marijuana was legalized in December 2012. Underground transactions will not finish and even before one departs the island, and the smell will not be restricted to certain areas.

It will still be easier to light up before departure than clearing customs with an America passport, or any other nationality. Poverty will not be eradicated, and the potential for monopoly will only create more haves vs have-nots.

The new legislation is not going stop criminals from committing other crimes, or decrease accident fatality. One is more likely to die in an automobile accident driving under the influence of alcohol than marijuana.

Ganja has been a topic of significant public debates in the US and other regions. One CBS study showed 80 percent of Americans approve the legalization

Potentially, Jamaica’s new law could dismantle some criminal enterprises associated with illegal drug trafficking and gang activities, where the murders rates remain high per-capita. According to several recent reports, in the Americas, Uruguay became the first nation to create a legal marijuana market in 2009. Argentina and Chile moved and decriminalized it later.

The decriminalization, especially for young people who might be arrested for simple possession, would cut a permanent criminal record that could have a long-term negative impact. The British Journal of Psychiatry noted that removing marijuana penalty does not lead to any new consumption. The criminalization of small amount of marijuana, as some argued, especially in the US, has led to an increase in the prison population, especially for minorities.

Did Jamaica just add marijuana to the tourist board in disguise?

It is the revenue stupid: The wave of pot legalization has become a lucrative business in America. Several marijuana products have been manufactured from brownies to body creams. An estimated $3 billion in tax revenue from legal weed across the US alone is reported.

On February 26, 2015, Washington, DC, despite objections from Congress, which has jurisdiction, allowed the decriminalization two ounces for anyone 21 and over, and six home plants allowed. The sale of marijuana is not allowed. The measures was passed in 2014. It is also not allowed in public housing or to be smoked in public. How many plants will be authorized in the hills in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean?

While some argue the negative impact in the long-run, the argument being sent out of the Jamaican national security department is welcome news: “People must not be fooled that it is a gateway for more trafficking that has always been a problem.” However, it falls short, as legalization will not change anything. The drug will still find its way in to the US and other regions, but perhaps now with an approved stamp.

Jamaica seemed to be pushing the scientific benefits:

• What studies led to this change?

• What impact to date has the use and sale of marijuana had on its prison population?

• How many people were affected from simple possession or foreigners being incarcerated for even a pound of ganja?

• How many young people are unable get employment due to a marijuana criminal record?

• What role marijuana has played in the over 1,300 sexual assaults cases reported in 2013 alone?

Certainly, some visitors legally diagnosed with a medical condition and prescribed marijuana for medical purpose will now make sure in combination with their passports to Jamaica a prescription card laminated and attached with all travel documents. It is now an excuse to add an ounce with a Red Stripe Beer order.

This new approach could detour some of Cuba’s potential visitors when the US normalizes relations. However, it sets a tone to motivate more young people to start trying out marijuana where the use has been low despite the perception.

Inside the Rastafarian culture that uses ganja for religious reasons, this is welcome news. This legalization will not increase the amount being used. However, liberation for many artistes dated back to late reggae superstar Peter Tosh’s 1976 song to legalize it. Moreover, several other songs have been recorded in support for continuous use of marijuana and the legalization. Finally, it has spun in their direction.

The Caribbean is not immune from other hardcore drugs. Tucked away in many hillsides and small districts, on white sands and behind some music shows, other drugs than marijuana have been quietly destroying some individuals’ lives. Furthermore, it has penetrated all genres of music, old and new, from reggae, soca, and calypso, rock, pop, and others.

Even before Bob Marley’s death in 1981, his name has been associated with ganja. His heirs, who have fought over his licensing on many products that bear his name from shoes and T-shirts, have cashed in on a brand of weed called “Marley Natural”

It will be on the market soon and perhaps on a rack after one has cleared customs. Subversive, not everyone is on board to potential island wide openness. Although anti-drugs advocates have been met with resistance that it is gateway drugs, a study by Yale School of Medicine says it may really be a gateway drug.

The Untold Stories: Despite the Positives: The scientific word is that cannabis has adverse effects. Smoking can alter one’s physical and mental health as well as interfere with social and occupational functioning. Often in the Caribbean region(s), when substance abuse is being discussed, it faces rejection, scorned on the surface as taboo. The lack of awareness is such as in the early stage of the AIDS epidemic and the anti-gay sentiments. These issues gained traction when it finally reached home, as close family and loved ones died from the disease.

Beyond the stages and dance halls, famous people’s lives have been cut short from substance abuse: Whitney Houston, actor Phillip Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendricks. Even Jamaica’s own, the late Gregory Isaacs, had a battle with illegal substances. Some of these artists were exposed to marijuana and later linked to speed, sleeping pills, cocaine, and heroin at some point in their careers.

Equally important, what happens when the names are less well known? If this new law reduces the systematic brutality that is often associated with the drug trade or gang members off the streets and beaches for a safer community then it is a good start.

The Overlooked: The legalization of marijuana could lead to other drugs being legalized. Jamaica and other regions must balance their approach.

More support is needed for people that are often overlooked, addicted to heroin, crack, cocaine, prescription drugs, and homeless due to substance abuse. These drugs are on a rise and dismantling communities. Yes! It is an island issue.

There are plenty of addicts gracing the stages. The only start to rehabilitation is to take personal responsibility. Imagine how many concerts would have been canceled if a drug test screening was required before an artiste performs.

Society has to move from the ideology that, since it is not affecting one’s own family, then it is muted. The dealers who sell poor people illegal substances, many still live in the same buildings on the beach, and backstage at major concerts.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse noted that illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, in any form, produce the same effects once it reaches the brain. It produces similar physiological and psychological effects, but the onset, intensity, and duration of its effects are related directly to the method of use and how rapidly it enters the brain.

Putting out the Smoke: It was once said that an individual was arrested with five huge bags of marijuana. When the evidence was presented, he pleaded guilty in the parish court, and told the presiding judge that he had five bags originally.

The point is being revisited to highlight how many bags will be reported when it is time for serious accountability on all levels, usage, buy, and revenue, regulation of shops, safety, and potential new addictions.

Jamaica is not Amsterdam: In 1976, the Dutch parliament decriminalized possession of less than 5 grams of cannabis. Many reports have noted that 90 percent of the customers in Amsterdam are foreigners. According to a recent report from the Amsterdam Coffee Shop, Mayor Eberhard van der Laan closed several coffee shops in 2014 believed to be near to schools.

It leads to more speculation about the Netherlands back tracking on its drug policies. Given ongoing reported corruption in the region, this new venture might have more potential problems and not its intended purpose.

As the islands continue to struggle and modernize and re-energize the reparations fight like the Jews who faced atrocities during the Second World War, and now have an organized Jewish Reparation Fund, the region will need scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, excellent universities, researchers, police officers, and not more weed producers.

The hope is that this new law is not simply a Xerox copy of what is going on elsewhere simply because it is popular. The jury is still out on this one. What next, prostitution?

Commentary: Goodbye, going once, twice, sold

By D.R. Miller

The New Coast: Recently a solemn promise was broken. A few of us halted all travel plans until we were convinced that the government had
the chikungunya virus under control. However, breast cancer took a dear family officer after 30-plus years in public service. 

Despite the earlier concerns, many of us went. Traveling the coastline, with the ocean dangerously few feet from the vehicle, while staring at beautiful homes tucked in hillsides, the temptation to pullover for a quick
swim, or capture the sunset, and walk barefoot from the cold left behind emerged.

However, a once simple pastime and custom for natives from a hot sunny day or a weekend with families to prime free beach areas to relax, is apparently becoming very difficult and just an idea.

The high criminal elements that are sometimes a deterrent has now been taken over by: segregation, isolation and the fight equality now seems more dangerous.

Even vacant lots that should have been designated as historic land and preserved are either leased or bought by foreign private investors.

Home prices are extremely high and few older structures that could use an upgrade, owned by the less fortunate people passed on from their ancestors, and dating back to British rule, many found themselves restricted to move freely.

As the mega-building rises, green land and trees are diminishing, thus contributing to the record high temperatures, while ignoring the environmental impact.

Where will be the new location?

The gentrification in disguise is a global trend, creating social stratification sold as transformation. Sure, a few job are created by new stores, and hotels.  However, some working conditions often look like a previous century, working in hazardous conditions for extremely low wages, unable to buy a small home in the communities they are serving.

What is the trade-off, and where are the unions to balance labor and human rights? The region is now dominated with massive imports. Locally grown products have dwindled to small corners like news racks covered with international news clips while local customs and identity get lost.

Locals at cleaning fish on the sea coast
Jamaica yellow yam
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown – Jamaica

Analyzing the region’s plight from the outside is difficult. Who are the investment banks in disguise, as famous faces who claim they are in love with the region while commercialization threatens native culture.

Credit: Mento Quintet by Richard Blackford: Maintaining tradition is important.

Obviously an incredible lack of knowledge or accountability about who are the human piñata lining their pockets. What is troubling, it seems an iPhone, Facebook, and YouTube seem to be more important to some, while the sand is being swept from under their feet.

When Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell was not selected as the 2015 Miss Universe, many mobilized in the street, online and voiced their displeasure. The same emphasis on these issues as to the plight of their nation — access to where one can live or swim free — is needed.

As many questioned Kaci’s skin colour to represent Jamaica, it only underscored the argument that a few are still stuck in an identity crisis to see even more dire issues.

Crowd gathered to with her beauty contact in Kingston, Jamaica

The quiet marriages while other basked in social media, but how long will these marries last.

Few months ago, I wrote about China’s penetration into the Caribbean markets for anyone who has access to a red carpet. The modernization of technology and infrastructures brought to this region and others should not be an economic long-term sentence for some.

Source: Pool/Getty Images AsiaPac)
Robert Gabriel Mugabe Zimbabwe and Chinese leaders
The Chinese delegation at a meeting with the president of Dominica

Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago , and Chinese President

This new colonization with local hidden alliances has not lifted the poor from poverty. Many still depend on handouts for survival while the middle class struggles. The lack of transparency, accountability and ignorance continue to slow growth.

Protia Simpson-Miller: Jamaica P.M and Chinese leader

One report noted that China uses its financial influence and CARICOM as its umpire to expand. Several projects, from medical centers to stadiums in St Lucia, Grenada, Dominica, and Jamaica, and others with cheap loans has some positive effects, but who are the real long-term beneficiaries?

McKinley & Company, a global consultant firm that operated in more than 40 countries, once noted that several companies have failed, especially in the energy industry, due to cheap imports from China over the past ten years. To the Chinese credit, education is mandatory.

They have tremendous control over the value of their currency in spite of questionable human rights issues. While the priceless seaports and other infrastructures are being sold, leaders should at least learn some of their business strategies, and even negotiate an energy efficiency deal to cut the dependence on fossil fuel, especially in Jamaica where an average customer pays about 42 cents per kilowatt-hour. Many factories should be mandated to clean up the air, but that will hit the élite who run the country.

Selling Our Souls: While many Africans sold slaves, they did not invent slavery. Today, the selling of native land is a rebirth of such dark period. The Europeans and others turn the plight of others into major businesses. Having few natives at the table today does not make it more acceptable.

In November 1927, Marcus Garvey was deported from the US. He fought for self-governance and despite pushback even from black leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois, who once described Garvey as “a little, fat black man; ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head.” The region could use him today as an ambassador. Patriotism cannot only be in the music that comes out of the region.

This paradigm shift along these blue waters is troubling.

Sunday, November 17, 2014, opened the world to an issue kept off air when CNN aired Anthony Bourdain’s Part Unknown. To some, it was uncomfortable, but viewers saw that Jamaica is not all about reported violence, marijuana, and a relaxed attitude.

Furthermore, few are willing to sell their souls and local government leaders seem muted. When personal financial gains ruin an entire community, conflict is inevitable. With high unemployment and poverty, and division, the criminal enterprise thrives and hopeless youths become radicalized, not necessarily from religious ideology, but stemming from polarization, isolation and the lack of opportunity.

New Charity Economy: Today, it seems the region has more charity organizations than small businesses to help the youths. However, not all charities are bad. In the US, one in six receives some type of food support and many school students go hungry each day. Philanthropist Jeff Levitetz recently funded several schools in Jamaica’s rural outpost “In Honor of his 96 year old Grandpa Charlie”, working with Coconut Creek’s nonprofit Food for the Poor. The charity aims to build or upgrade 50 schools on the island. Jeff’s grandfather has a personal love and affection for the Jamaican culture.

Jeff Levitetz, president of The Levitetz Family Foundation, proudly stands… (Food for the Poor / Sun-Sentinel )

In addition, US$166 million is pledged to Jamaica to addresses climate change. The irony is that the coastlines are being ripped apart by development, causing severe climate issue. Furthermore, despite millions donated, some charities do not serve the desired purpose, and the lack proper oversight leads to actions where donations are used to further personal needs.

When politics becomes more important than higher education that only a few can afford, it only creates a new generation of ignorance. Throughout local districts, several primary and high schools still lack a good library and other educational resources to properly educate the next generation. Yes! You can continue to blame slavery, and the lack of reparations. The arguments remain valid, and add several economic down slopes since independence to the debate.

Even 200 years ago, education was a necessity. Between 1835-1842, the region had a slave fund shortly after emancipation. While many in the US were denied access to education in that same period, the British government voted 30,000 pounds per annum towards the education of former slaves.

Early education attempt after slavery

The fund ended around 1845, as studies have shown for many of the British West Indies colonies. It played a pivotal part in training teachers, and building schoolhouses. It was called the Negro Educational Fund. As 200 years ago, very little funds came from the West Indian governments.

The once colonial power seemed to have more interest in educating former slaves than many leaders today. The disappearance of good governance to educate its people could learn something from 200 years ago. It seems handouts have become the normal way for survival for some, while the communities need a sustainable long-term foundation. New charities and awards checks are not capitalism.

New Approach: Few economies have rebounded since the 2008 financial economic collapse. The Caribbean still has an economic virus. The unemployment rate, inflation currency devaluation, and crime remain a problem. Despite these issues, the people remain welcoming, but they must not be fooled in a misguided perception that the few millionaires who own these shores are totally in love with the island’s relaxed vibes, food, and people.

Love does not hurt others.

When Ian Fleming (and James Bond) fell in love with Jamaica in the late 1950s, conflicts were not about access to one’s own land. The few who have the media are skilled at making noticeable linguistic shifts, while masking an urgent need to resolve the dangerous ideological faults even within their party. While it looks like capitalism on the coasts and inland; however, if it is one-sided, it defeats capitalism as a driving force to end poverty and inequality.

Today, we are left wondering how young police officers will be able to afford a home in area they will patrol to protect mega properties and address the untold stories, where hard drugs and young girls who struggle to find employment become nightclub dancers for a few dollars, controlled by pimps who force them into prostitution, sexually abused and exploited. They are not beach beauties that stroll the sand, they are victims that are often overlooked throughout the region.

Modernization is important; however, it should not take a nation back centuries, where only the rich and famous get to rewrite.

As Burning Spear, Jamaicam reggae Super Star once said in a song, “My island don’t sell out.”