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?

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