Legalize it

The famed Jamaican singer Peter Tosh summed up in just two words, the most practical and logical approach to any government policy on marijuana.

Legalize it.

It is time to stop beating around the bush. Prohibition has not worked. The more realistic and effective approach is legalization within a regulatory framework of mandatory standards, rules and penalties.

Such a framework will include the production, marketing, advertising and sale of marijuana and marijuana products. All the related issues are to be addressed.

For example, it will deal with the specific issue of a minimum age for the purchase and use of all forms and by-products of the herb.

It must also establish the strict modalities to be applied to the medicinal use of marijuana.

Once such a comprehensive framework has been put in place, we will be able to claim that we have acted responsibly and realistically in the management of the medicinal and recreational uses of marijuana.

All the problems that we have traditionally associated with the use of marijuana stem from our conflicting views on whether it is good or bad for our physical and mental health.

Let us look at the medical issues. It is a fact that the existing medical evidence indicates that medically prescribed marijuana does relieve pain and may even assist in curing some illnesses, with either no side effects or negligible side effects.

With respect to its use for recreational purposes, such a large cross section of people use marijuana without significant and lasting damage to their physical or mental health, that it should no longer be deemed to be a major risk to public health.

Consequently, given that those two aspects of marijuana use have been objectively addressed, it comes as no surprise that the international trend in social attitudes and legal practices is moving towards substantive change.

Uruguay has legalized the use of marijuana. Canada, Holland and Israel have introduced national medical cannabis programmes. In Jamaica, it is no longer a crime to have small amounts of marijuana in one’s possession and a Cannabis Licensing Authority has been established to issue licences.

Closer to home, a recent press report has detailed the state of play in the USA in the following terms: “Twenty-five U.S. states have sanctioned some forms of marijuana use for medical purposes, while four allow recreational use. Nine other states have recreational or medical marijuana proposals headed for their ballots in the November election.”

The legalization of marijuana will negate the harassment of small users by the police and the criminal justice system. Both medicinal and recreational users will be freed of the stain of a criminal record, hopefully with retro-active effect. And access to the USA will also cease to be a challenge.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already made a pre-election promise to legalize marijuana. 2017 is the current target date for introduction of the relevant legislation. An entity under the leadership of Liberal MP Bill Blair (a former Toronto Police Chief) has been assigned to lay the groundwork.

There are many reasons why the governments of CARICOM countries need to move forward faster than other countries. The major reduction of the crime associated with the underground trade in marijuana is only one of these reasons.

Many of the other reasons are related to the value of the marijuana industry for promoting economic and hence social development.

One advocate saw legalization as an opening for the majority of Jamaicans to share in the benefits of the marijuana industry. She promoted the idea that the industry should not be dominated by foreign and local investors with access to lots of investment money. Rather, she argued that the government should favour the priority involvement of such local participants as the small farmers.

Furthermore, there is also the widely shared view in Jamaica that the whole society will benefit from the taxes, sales and exports generated by a larger, structured and mainstream marijuana industry.

Piggy-backing on that idea, some persons want to believe that CARICOM countries have a comparative advantage. They starkly suggest that CARICOM should legalize and regulate marijuana quickly, in order to leverage that advantage to become world leaders in the cannabis industry.

That was the message explicitly conveyed in the recently held CanEx Jamaica Conference that focused on the North American, Latin American and Caribbean cannabis landscape. The Conference went beyond its core agenda covering the regulatory, legal, investment and medical aspects of cannabis. It ambitiously sought to “showcase the very best state-of-the-art grow facilities, technology, branding and political advocacy”.

Prime Minister Trudeau, we hold you to your word that your government will legalize marijuana in 2017.

Heads of Government of CARICOM, your process is too slow. Please speed up the work of your CARICOM Marijuana Commission and get your legislation ready by 2017-2018.

Thousands of entrepreneurs, investors and speculators from all corners of the globe are following their noses to exploit a budding, juicy and aromatic market for a range of marijuana products that are expected to gross $21.8 billion by 2020.

Yes, it’s high time to legalize it.