Ideas and Opinions - Decriminalize Marijuana II
It is usually a good idea when you are going to consider a subject like this one to start with the status quo.
The Status Quo
Government decided that a list of drugs are prohibited and it is a crime to have them in your possession. Its decision is based on the fact that these drugs are considered to be harmful. Marijuana is on this list.
Despite this prohibition, the marijuana drug trade is thriving and, it is becoming more profitable for those who are engaged in it. In spite of the rising cost and the risk of going to jail, people continue to buy it, to their own destruction.
It is estimated that about 15% of our population smoke marijuana. That is 40,000 citizens. It seems to be the drug of choice for most users of prohibited drugs. We should know the number of marijuana users. We should know how it is dispersed according to age groups. We should know on the average what each group spends per annum to satisfy their habits. This should be public knowledge. Who should provide it? Perhaps NDACC.
I have to generalize because, the exact figure is not known but, a significant number of our young citizens are sent to jail each year for the possession of marijuana. They are users, not sellers. They take their own money to buy a substance which will do them harm. For that act, should a wise and concerned government make them criminals for life?
The figure is not known what is the total cost per annum of incarcerating marijuana users. But, the annual cost per inmate at Kolbe prison is $7,000.
We have amongst us, a religious sect called Rastafarians, who use marijuana in their religious rites. Does their Freedom of Religion right give them special privilege? If not, why not? They are peaceful and productive citizens, who have a right to their faith. No one has the right to judge another person’s faith because it seems strange to him. Yet, the law should be obeyed. All laws should be obeyed, even if they are bad laws. It is part of the Social Contract.
A few moths ago there was a proposal in this newspaper, that the possession of a small quantity of marijuana should be a minor, instead of a criminal, offense. Reasons were put forward in support of the proposal.
Since then a Committee has been set up under the chairmanship of Mr. Doug Singh, former Minister of National Security, to gather the positions and views of all sectors of the society on the proposal, to submit to government.
Since the establishment of the Committee, I have seen and heard the views and positions of the National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC), the Amandala columnist “Right to the Point” and the Editor of the Reporter. I would like to comment on the aforementioned opinions and state my position.
The National Drug Abuse Control Council reiterates its strong position against marijuana because of its harmful effects, which are catalogued. It is consistent in its condemnation of marijuana, as it is of all prohibited drugs, which is its raison d’etre. The job of the NDACC is to make our citizenry keenly aware of the prohibited drugs’ harmful effects. I think it is the duty of the NDACC also, to make us aware of the harmful effects of the abuse of legal drugs, such as alcohol. Let me point out that there are more accidents involving persons who are under the influence of alcohol than any other drug.
All right thinking citizens are glad that there is an NDACC. It has a very important function. That is to reduce the consumption of harmful drugs, whether legal or not. We would like it to succeed in its efforts. Has it been successful? If the use of harmful drugs is increasing, in spite of the fact that there is a law criminalizing them, it would be fair to say that the NDACC is failing. Not a pleasant prospect.
NDACC has a very laudable objective. I take it that it is well financed and, that it has a well trained and committed staff. They should be doing better.
The NDACC thinks that if marijuana use were decriminalized, it would encourage young people who do not now use it, to begin. There is no logic in that view. It is saying that they do not now use it because of their fear of going to jail but, wouldn’t mind paying a fine or performing community service. What if the community service was to clean drains?
If you notice, only a certain class of people go to jail for possession of small quantities of marijuana for personal use. Do you suppose that only that class use it?
There must be a way for us to discourage the use of drugs which have harmful effects. That is the NDACC’s mission. They have to try harder.
Right to the Point
My understanding of Mrs. Audrey Matura-Shepherd’s position is that decriminalizing marijuana use somehow serves the interest of the gangs. If it encourages gang members to make marijuana their drug of preference, I think it would have the opposite effect on their main activity, which is predatory, emphasizing violence. On the other hand, if they are dealers, they will be in the same position as before.
My understanding is that marijuana has a tranquilizing effect. That would not be conducive to gang activity.
The Reporter editorial
If I thought that what the highly respected editor says would be the outcome of decriminalizing the possession of a small quantity of marijuana for personal use, I would not have supported the proposal.
My position, which is shared by all my associates, is that the punishment for the declared offence, which is a jail term and a police record, condemns many young people who might otherwise become productive citizens, to a life of crime.
The editor speaks with great conviction and passion of what will happen to the society if the government accepts the proposal. My response is, that none of us would be able to say with any degree of certainty how our society will react to the proposed amendment to the law, if enacted, if there was no evidence of what happened in other societies where a similar proposal was adopted. Such evidence exists, and that evidence leads me to conclude that the concerns of the Reporter are laudable but, its fears are unfounded.
I have just finished reading a discussion paper on Cannabis prepared for the Canadian Senate Special Committee on illegal drugs.
The question is asked on page 4 of the paper: - Is Cannabis use a cause of crime? These are the two answers: -
1. Cannabis use does not induce users to commit other crimes.
2. Cannabis use does not increase aggressiveness or anti-social behaviour.
Of particular interest to the evaluation of the proposal to decriminalize marijuana use is this statement on page 9 of the Discussion Paper, to wit: Studies indicate that more liberal policy approaches have little effect on actually increasing or decreasing use patterns of cannabis.