Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance
Successive administrations are being accused of spinelessness in the pursuit of any venture aimed at legitimately utilising marijuana products in health and tourism to catapult Jamaica's limping economy forward.
Attorney-at-law and advocate for the decriminalisation of ganja Miguel Lorne did not mince words during a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week as Jamaican chemist and cancer researcher Dr Henry Lowe revealed how he was discouraged from pursuing work on the medicinal properties of the weed several years ago.
Lorne suggested that local politicians tended to wilt under the glare of the United States (US).
"As a consequence of the US wielding that big stick over our head, our politicians are in fear," argued Lorne.
More than a decade ago, several far-reaching recommendations for the decriminalisation of the use of regulated
quantities of the drug were presented by a commission chaired by the late Professor Barry Chevannes of the University of the West Indies.
The report of the National Commission on Ganja was turned over to the political directorate and a joint select committee of Parliament, chaired by Dr Morais Guy, was set up to examine the findings.
Although the recommendations received the approval of the parliamentary committee, successive governments have failed to act on them.
Since then, two parliamentarians from either side of the political divide - veteran politician Mike Henry and Raymond Pryce, the first-time member from the government benches - have pushed for decriminalisation of the weed.
Lorne, who as a Rastafarian has vested interest in the use of the drug as a religious sacrament, was critical of the Government for complaining about severe economic conditions while not using the means at their disposal to find a way out.
"All too often, the excuses governments proffer in dealing with most problems are related to economics," argued Lorne. "I think we are now, more economically dependent on foreign aid, grants, assistance, and loans."
He said it was for this reason that the Government did not want to rock any boat that might restrict some of the flows that it badly needs to solve its various problems.
"For the Government to see ganja as part of the economic security that can be derived by the country, they must see as we do, that ganja can give you much more money than we borrowed from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)."
For one, Lorne argued that in making use of the range of properties that can yield great wealth, Jamaica would not be forced to contend with the painful conditions that the IMF has laid down.
"With this sort of big Washington over our heads, if we are to go into hemp production, there is the feeling that ganja production is going to increase. Once production increases, export is going to increase. Export to where? The United States."
For his part, Lowe, founder of the R&D Institute who has recommended the establishment of a carefully managed medical marijuana centre in Jamaica, stressed that there was need for the Government to intervene with a managed development and utilisation of the resources of marijuana.
Lowe, a former permanent secretary, acknowledged that a government minister would not be in a position to unilaterally make a decree on the use of the weed as Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson did with the smoking regulations.
Time for action
However, he stressed it was time for the Government to act with dispatch in relation to making use of the medicinal component that could usher Jamaica on to the next plain in a variety of ways.
"One of the relevant ministers needs to consult, then put together and take the matter to Cabinet," said Lowe.
"I think Jamaica has a clear leadership role in medical marijuana. I am calling for the Government as well as the Opposition to look at the issue in giving leadership and getting this very important area looked at and acted on," he added.
Dr Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a US organisation promoting alternatives to the war on drugs, suggested that Jamaica's political leaders need not fear as the international climate is changing.
"The discouragement that was offered many years ago may not be offered today," said Nadelmann. "Many who were afraid to speak on the issue many years ago, will be less afraid today."
He added: "I think that we are no longer in danger of being threatened by decertification, with states in the US being able to achieve the status of full legalisation without interference, and Latin American partners going in that direction ... ."
Highlights from Editors' forum on marijuana
- Lorne: "For the Government to see ganja as part of the economic security that can be derived by the country, they must see as we do, that ganja can give you much more money than we borrowed from the International Monetary Fund."
- Lowe: I think Jamaica has a clear leadership role in medical marijuana. I am calling for the Government as well as the Opposition to look at the issue in giving leadership and getting this very important area looked at and acted on.
- Chang: "Are we in Jamaica going to sit idly by and see (go to waste) something that is a natural fit for Brand Jamaica - culturally, historically, economically - that is a natural fit to our tourism, especially our small and medium-sized hotels and small farmers (as well as) add serious tax revenues to Government and serious returns in investment to private capital?"
- Nadelmann: "I think that we are no longer in danger of being threatened by decertification, with states in the US being able to achieve the status of full legalisation without interference, and Latin American partners going in that direction."