“Singers smoke it, doctors and nurses too, legalize it yeah, yeah, that’s the best thing you can do.”, are the lines from Peter Tosh’s 1976 hit, ‘Legalize It’. From then, weed legalization in Jamaica has been a topical issue among foreign authorities, the government and the people. Other reggae justice-driven icons namely Buju Banton, Eek-A-Mouse, Bob Marley and the likes have promoted Jamaica as having a great “ganga” positive culture. However, the laws aren’t as weed friendly as the world perceives it. Also referred to as “cannabis”, “herb”, “weed” and “ganga”, marijuana was decriminalized in February 2015 in Jamaica, which allowed the residents to use the herb for religious purposes and to grow up to five (5) plants on their premises without imprisonment. The law passed also reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of weed to a petty offense, but the amendment where weed has long been a part of daily life remained illegal. Debates exist that the country should capitalize on the world renowned reputation of the Jamaican marijuana, but it should not be legalized in Jamaica because it will result in more harm than good. It can be harmful to one’s health and wellbeing, and it has a high potential for abuse due to its availability.
Where health and well-being is concerned, marijuana legalization will result in more harm because people tend to use the herb for non-medical reasons, for a mere ‘high’ rather than a cure. One of the greatest disadvantages of this sort of recreational use is its safety, as there is no known of overdose for the herb, nor does it come with a clear definition of overdose. According to (Gramlich & Geiger, 2019), marijuana produces an intense brain reward that users value so highly, they are willing to pay high prices for the herb and suffer the consequences. One can, therefore, see that marijuana use has to be taken seriously because it is a highly potent drug that can result in some unquestionable side effects. The recreational use of marijuana can cause symptoms of mental health problems like psychosis, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression and sleep disorders. (Renhault, 2019) The team also further points to the retardation of one’s social and intellectual skills, and mental health issues that can develop overtime due to prolonged marijuana use. According to Robert, a Gleaner columnist, the people who use marijuana are those with social and family related problems, do poorly at school and work, and have financial problems. (Brouhard, 2019) One will argue that correlation is not causation but will the legalization do any justice for the students who fashionably wear the marijuana blunt behind their ear?
Marijuana legalization can also be harmful/ dangerous, because of the availability of the herb in the country. Since the government relaxed the law, the potential for the substance to become more available increases, which naturally results in increased usage. (Dupont, 2018) The revised laws allows those over 18 to buy the product – with proof of their medical need – however, we are reminded in a Gleaner article (Bentley, 2016), that the average first age of marijuana use in Jamaica is 12 years old. There is a worrisome reality concerning access to and availability of marijuana among the secondary school population where 50% of the students reported that it was available in and around school compounds. (Murdock, 2016) in the Jamaica Observer’s article, “Ganga Use Soars” also stated that there was a 54% increase in students enrolled in a ganga use prevention programme called ‘STEP-UP’ since the decriminalization, and a 50% increase in clients being treated in drug centres across the island for marijuana abuse. At a gentle tug on a leash, the figures are already frightening, so what if marijuana was legalized?
Regardless of all the evidence, people argue that marijuana must be legalized because of the perceived green friendly culture in Jamaica. Jamaican cannabis is already world-renowned, and people have been going to there for decades to smoke a spliff and listen reggae. Even though the US put tremendous pressure on Jamaica not to legalize it, as Rastafarian Bob Marley said, “None of them can stop the tide”.(Sommerset, 2018)
Their argument is that if it is taxed similarly to alcohol and tobacco, it will boost potential tax revenues and attract high spending tourists. No wonder (Pike, 2019), agrees that Jamaica has a whopping 98 per cent variation in its marijuana strains which could equate in billions of dollars when the local weed industry takes off.
There are others who also believe that the government should capitalize on the long standing reputation of marijuana, and if legalized, the economy will benefit from profits lost in illegal trade. However, as unlicensed vendors and higglers take advantage of the new permissiveness of the marijuana laws, it is very clear to us that once legalized, the commercial use of the herb will exploit people for profit and target younger children. Though it is difficult to ascertain the potence of marijuana, the idea of it being used carelessly among the youth in cookies, spirits and liquor is enough to reconsider the legalization. Are we going to sit idly by and see go to waste something that is a natural fit for sacramental and religious use?
Despite our past economic decline and the many prospects around the legalization of marijuana, it should not be legalized because of its harmful implications on health and wellness of people, and its potential level of abuse made possible by its availability as this is already evident in the country. An overwhelming majority of people for years, have pressured the government into fully legalizing the herb, however the best thing to do would be to create awareness about marijuana use in schools, and to encourage a more regulated use of the herb among the people which could hopefully keep them within the boundaries of accepting it being simply decriminalized.
- Bentley, R. (2016, October 9). Government To Tackle Misuse Of Ganja, Especially Among Youth. Retrieved from The Jamaica Gleaner: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20161009/government-tackle-misuse-ganja-especially-among-youth
- Brouhard, R. (2019, September 26). Very Well Mind. Retrieved from Can You Overdose on Weed?: https://www.verywellmind.com/can-i-overdose-on-marijuana-4140975
- Dupont, R. L. (2018, August 23). Marijuana Legalization Has Led To More Use And Addiction While Illegal Market Continues To Thrive. Retrieved from River Mend Health: https://www.rivermendhealth.com/resources/marijuana-legalization-led-use-addiction-illegal-market-continues-thrive/
- Gramlich, J., & Geiger, A. (2019, October 22). Fact Tank. Retrieved from 6 Facts about Marijuana: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/11/22/facts-about-marijuana/
- Murdock, R. (2016, June 29). Ganga use soars – Tufton urges review of decriminalisation’s impact on health services . Retrieved from The Jamaica Observer: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Ganja-use-soars-Tufton-urges-review-of-decriminalisation—s-impact-on-health-services_65611
- Pike, J. (2019, April 22). Travel Experts Say Jamaica Could be King of Marijuana. Retrieved from Travel Pulse: https://www.travelpulse.com/news/destinations/travel-experts-say-jamaica-could-be-king-of-marijuana-tourism.html
- Renhault, M. (2019, June 21). Can You Overdose on Weed? Retrieved from Popular Science: https://www.popsci.com/overdose-on-weed-marijuana/
- Sommerset, S. (2018, August 26). The Three Most Overlooked Marijuana Markets. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarabrittanysomerset/2018/08/26/the-top-three-most-overlooked-marijuana-markets/