Anti-ganja laws archaic, says doctor

Jamaica Observer
Tuesday, September 04, 2001

SENIOR psychiatrist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) Dr Wendel Abel, feels that current laws prohibiting the use of ganja are archaic and have not done much to stem use of the drug which, he said, is increasing.

According to Abel, there is a 27 per cent prevalence rate for ganja which has increased over a 10-year period (1987-1997) from 19 per cent.

“Despite the harsh laws against ganja, the use of ganja has not decreased, and data shows that smoking of the drug has increased, and is on the increase,” Abel told the fourth annual Mona Academic Conference at the University of the West Indies at the weekend.

He argued that while ganja causes harmful effects, it was not as much as tobacco and alcohol. However, he said that studies have shown that ganja usage can have adverse health risks, such as impairment of short-term memory, and affect reaction time, a problem that could prove dangerous for motorists in particular.

“One ganja spliff produces five times as many cancer-producing agents as opposed to cigarette smoke,” Abel said, “and ganja smoking has been associated with small birth weight in pregnant women and premature death.”

The doctor said, too, that there was a link between smoking ganja and mental health disorders and listed cannabis dependence, cannabis intoxication, cannabis-induced psychotic mental disorder and cannabis-induced anxiety disorder as some of the problems.

Citing a recent one-year study started in 1998 involving the Psychiatric Unit at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, Abel said: “45 per cent of the males admitted to the Cornwall Regional Hospital for mental disorders had a ganja-related mental disorder.”

Last month, the National Ganja Commission recommended the decriminalisation of ganja in Jamaica for personal and private use, as well as for religious purposes.

The recommendation prompted the United States government to warn that Jamaica could experience certification problems when Washington does its next narcotics review.

Yesterday, the Patriots, a group of young intellectuals affiliated to the ruling People’s National Party (PNP), appealed to the government to be cautious when considering the recommendations of the Ganja Commission.

The group pointed to what it said was the possible local and international fallout from decriminalisation and said that the country cannot afford to ignore its obligations under international treaties.

“The country cannot afford to take the risk of attaining the dubious distinction of pariah status over such an issue,” the Patriots said.

The commission was set up last November by Prime Minister P J Patterson and instructed to hear testimony, review literature and evaluate the research and then indicate what changes, if any, should be made to the country’s laws in relation to ganja use.

It was also mandated to recommend diplomatic initiatives, security considerations and educational processes that should be undertaken along with any proposed changes.

Other recommendations made by the commission, headed by Professor Barry Chevannes, the dean of the social sciences faculty at the University of the West Indies, were for a public education programme targeting the youth to reduce demand for the drug; that the security forces increase their efforts of interdiction of large-scale cultivation of ganja and trafficking of all illegal drugs; and that the country, urgently, should seek diplomatic support for its position and influence the international community to re-examine the status of cannabis.