Marijuana: The Argument for Decriminalization



February Marijuana Article Image

Ever since the announcement by The Honourable Phillip Paulwell (Minister of Energy, Mining, Science and Technology) that possession of small amounts of marijuana could be decriminalized this year, there has been some debate by Jamaicans on whether or not this is the right direction.

While we are quite aware of some of the negative effects of marijuana, I thought we should shed some light on the two main advantages (medical purposes and economic benefit) of decriminalizing the use and possession of the drug:

1. Medical Marijuana

Cannabis is one of the most powerful healing plants on the planet. In 2003, the U.S. Government as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services filed for, and was awarded a patent on cannabinoids. The reason? Because research into cannabinoids allowed pharmaceutical companies to acquire practical knowledge on one of the most powerful antioxidants and neuroprotectants known to the natural world. Additionally, medical use of cannabis or preparation containing THC as the active substance is legalized in Canada, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, UK, Spain, Israel, Finland and some states in the U.S., although it is still illegal under U.S. federal law.

In 2012, Israeli scientists from the company “Tikkum Olam” developed a new type of marijuana that contained no THC, the active ingredient in the cannabis plant that causes mind-altering effects when the plant is smoked. However, the critical question is whether or not you would want to get rid of the THC completely or just reduce the potency because it still provides many medical benefits.

 As highlighted in the article “The Case for Medical Marijuana” (The Jamaica Observer, Sept 4, 2013) Jamaica has several different medical marijuana strains. These strains have many health benefits including:

  1. Pain relief

  2. Prevents blindness from glaucoma by decreasing the pressure inside the eye.

  3. Controls epileptic seizures by binding to the brain cells responsible for controlling excitability and regulating relaxation. Similarly, it’s effects slow down the tics in those suffering from Tourette’s.

  4. It has also been found to decrease insulin levels in diabetics.

It has also been proven to be beneficial in alleviating symptoms associated with major illnesses such as: HIV/AIDS and Cancer. Investigators at Columbia University published clinical trial data in 2007 showing that HIV/AIDS patients who inhaled cannabis four times daily experienced substantial increases in food intake with little evidence of discomfort and no impairment of cognitive performance. Additionally, a study by Complutense University of Madrid found the chemicals in cannabis promote the death of brain cancer cells by essentially helping them feed upon themselves in a process called autophagy. The research team discovered that cannabinoids such as THC had anticancer effects in mice with human brain cancer cells and in people with brain tumors.

2. Economic Benefits

As it stands, Jamaica is the Caribbean’s leading supplier of marijuana to the US. In fact, there is already a degree of marijuana tourism in Jamaica. Some people have been capitalizing on our reputation for producing ‘good weed’ by giving tours of our marijuana fields. These tours, known as ‘ganja tours’, sometimes include sampling of the different strains of marijuana. However, we are turning a blind eye to it.

We can also look to Holland, particularly Amsterdam, as an example of how the decriminalization of marijuana can prove to be lucrative for our tourism industry. Holland has been able to careful regulate the sale of marijuana by only licensing ‘coffeeshops’, a Dutch term for a cannabis cafe, to sell the drug. Approximately two million tourists buy and smoke cannabis in their coffee shops every year. Additionally, 10% of all tourists who visit Amsterdam cite the coffee shops as their number one reason for visiting Amsterdam.

For now, criminal gangs dominate our marijuana trade. Henry Lowe, a prominent Jamaican scientist who helped develop a cannabis-derived medication to treat glaucoma in the 1980s, said the island could quickly become a hub of marijuana tourism and research. “People could come down to Jamaica for medical marijuana treatment and health tourism because this has been our tradition, our culture.”

Therefore, it is clear that despite concerns, the decriminalization of marijuana could be highly advantageous not only for our economy but also for exploring new frontiers in medicine.

© Kathryn Williams 2014

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