The government was on Wednesday chided for its delay in implementing recommendations from the Ganja Commission even as more persons called for decriminalisation of the drug as a means of boosting the country’s flagging economy.
“Rather than taking strong political action, politicians have been meandering, trying to please the local people and trying to please foreign masters,” said attorney-at-law and rastafarian, Miguel Lorne during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on the ‘Ganja Debate’ Wednesday night at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston.
Lorne was joined by persons from several sectors and members of the public, who renewed calls for the implementation of the recommendations of the National Ganja Commission, including the decriminalisation of ganja or cannabis for personal, private use in small amounts by adults.
Participants cited marijuana’s medicinal and economic benefits as reasons for decriminalisation. They also referred to what they termed the ‘hypocrisy’ of making ganja illegal when 40 per cent of Jamaicans use the drug. They noted also that other more harmful substances have been made legal.
“Ganja is not a controversial issue but a political issue,” argued Professor Federick Hickling, head of the section of psychiatry at the University Hospital of the West Indies. “…What we do know is that this is illegal and there are much more serious substances … It is a contradiction where you have two substances (alcohol and tobacco) which are much more harmful and cannabis is illegal,” he said during the forum.
Panellists, among them Paul Chang, a founding director of the National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja, and audience members, also lamented that Jamaica was losing out on potential resources to be gained from ganja.
He pointed out that other countries have been benefiting from ganja-derived products by decriminalising the use of the drug.
Mr. Chang added that ganja can be used to boost agriculture, employment and community tourism.
Current laws causing confusion
“The idea is not to only legalise ganja but to tax it, regulate it and control it. To move the hundreds of billions of dollars that go into the black market … to the tax revenue system to build schools and hospitals … to help build up the country,” Mr. Chang said.
Mr. Lorne said the current ganja laws were causing confusion locally and were hampering the efforts of the police to fight more serious crimes.
“A man is not going to come today and give you information about gun crimes and you going to come tomorrow and drape him up (over a ganja spliff) and haul him before the court,” Mr. Lorne said to loud applause.
The ‘Babylon’-ganja battle
by Perry Henzell, JG contributor
I’m not a Rasta any more than I’m into any religion, but I think they’re right about many things such as the importance of ital food, free from chemical fertilizer and pesticides, and I think they’re right about ganja.
Why does ‘Babylon’ hate and fear ganga so much? Because it leads to violence? No, everybody knows ganga cools you out. Because it’s injurious to health? No, everybody knows it is not as harmful as alcohol or cigarettes. Because it puts tax-free cash into poor people’s pockets? Maybe, but surely Omar, the lover of reggae music and devotee of Tosh and Marley, to say nothing of being a member of Parliament for an inner-city constituency, would let that one go.
No, what Babylon really has against ganga is that it induces relaxation!
Anywhere Babylon reigns supreme, relaxation is a crime. Just try laughing in church or in court or on the parade ground. Even in a bank, customers tend to wait in hushed silence.
Fear of relaxation
Babylon, more than it even knows, hates and fears relaxation, and from it is point of view, it is right to do so, because relaxation frees the mind. A free mind questions dogma, and it is dogma that Babylon needs to survive as much as oil or armies or rules to govern the governed. I am not talking about the rules demanded by commonsense justice. I am talking about the rules demanded by a society based on religion, tribe, class, color, inherited power, monarchy, dictatorship, the oppression of women, or anything else that does not make much sense when you light up a spliff and get high and start to question official wisdom.
At the height of colonialism, when black men were told to bow to a white king, Rastas lit up and realised that they had an African king to bow to, who was descended from the line of Solomon, a line a hundred times more ancient and awe-inspiring than the Windsors. That is the kind of insight that smoking ganga may give you, the kind that could lead to scorn and imprisonment and accusations of lunacy in a Babylonian society. Sure enough, Rastas endured scorn and imprisonment and accusations of lunacy, but they knew they were right all the same, and they didn’t stop smoking ganga.
There are people who are so addicted to being told what to think and do that when the strictures on their mind are loosened and they start to think freely they are so surprised by what they start thinking they fear they are going mad, and such people should definitely not smoke herb. But, they should not be allowed to impose the restrictions on their minds that keep them ‘sane’ on the minds of other people. Muslims should not be allowed to flog Christians for drinking a beer, and the government of the United States should not be allowed to encourage the threat of jail for Jamaicans who want to smoke a spliff.
No lessons needed
When David Murray of the government of the U.S. warns Jamaicans against decriminalising ganga, he provides an opportunity for us to make it plain to the government of the U.S. that it should mind its own business.
We do not need lessons in how to behave from the U.S., which is a deeply schizophrenic nation in that it was founded both by puritans on the one hand and revolutionaries on the other, and the pendulum of its national mood swings wildly from one extreme to the other. At this time, the puritans are holding sway in D.C., and their opinion about mood-altering substances in general, and ganga in particular, are as irrelevant to the average Jamaican as the opinions of the mullahs in Iran or the cardinals in Rome.
The criminalisation of ganga in a democratic Jamaica is pure hypocrisy. The Minister of National Security once wore locks. I have attended political meetings when waves of ganga smoke enveloped the politicians on the platform like a mist. Bob Marley, the most popular and revered Jamaican throughout the world by far, was a man who smoked ganga and was proud of it. The only people who benefit from the criminalisation of ganga are criminals, and it just so happens that for many Jamaicans who depend on tourism for our strongest earner of foreign exchange, relaxation is a national characteristic is our strongest appeal.
But, financial considerations aside, the whole non-Babylonian world would applaud us for our moral courage if we stood up for our right to do what hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans do with a moral conviction that they are breaking no natural law when they smoke ganga.
So, Mr Murray, and anybody else who thinks they can tell us what to do when we are doing no wrong, put that in your pipe and smoke it!