The marijuana debate

Views on marijuana are shifting dramatically. Uruguay was the first country in the world to fully legalize in December 2013. Its dispensaries began selling weed in July 2017.

Canada is also doing so.

In the United States, marijuana is illegal at the national level. However, some states have fully legalized. Medical marijuana is legal in 31.

The old view that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no reasonable uses is held by fewer and fewer people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. This is the first FDA-approved drug containing a substance derived from marijuana.

So many products can be created from the various varieties of cannabis. There are drinks, sleep aids, edibles, creams and beauty products, medicines, construction materials, clothing, biofuel, paper, types of plastic composites and many other applications.

Countries are beginning to see marijuana as big business. Young people do not even understand why there is a prohibition.

The CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana recommended the declassification of marijuana as a dangerous drug in all legislation and the reclassification of it as a controlled substance.

“The commission is unanimous in its view that ultimately, legal policy toward marijuana should be informed, not by punitive approaches, but by public health rationales, within a human rights, social justice and developmental perspective,” the report said.

“A too-limited approach to law reform, including one that focuses only on medical marijuana, would be counterproductive and inimical to the goals of Caribbean development, as outlined in the SDGs (sustainable development goals) and endorsed by CARICOM.

“Consequently, there is consensus that all criminal penalties from marijuana laws should be removed.”

The Bahamian government has formed a committee to study the question. Moving to legalization of medical marijuana or full legalization are decisions that should come only after broad consultation, consensus and sound medical and economic reasoning.

What there is consensus on, that could be done right now, is the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use.

It is a waste of police time and an abuse of our citizens to arrest, detain, prosecute and punish people for smoking marijuana.

Though magistrates have become lenient for small possession, spending the weekend in a cell for a joint could lead to the accused being fired from a job. And if police prosecutors think the amount in a person’s possession is too much for personal use, the charge could be upped to possession with intent to supply, which is a serious charge.

Jamaica decriminalized small possession of marijuana in 2015 and opened up to a medical marijuana industry.

“The latest data reveals that there has not been any discernible increase in use, but also no increase in psychosis cases,” said the CARICOM commission, discussing Jamaica’s switch to decriminalization.

“Further, criminal arrests have decreased and Jamaica has begun to reap benefits from the cannabis industry. Significantly, the numbers of persons approving of law reform for various reasons have increased, between 70 percent and 90 percent.

“Clearly, even many of the skeptics have been converted. The problems being experienced relate to teething administrative issues such as licensing arrangements and the like.”

The Bahamas should take this simple step. Allow police to pursue real criminals who harm, rob and steal. We must stop arresting our people for their desire to enjoy a short-term high.

Our current laws do more harm than good.

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