NOMARIJUANA UN­TIL AGE 25

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Imani Duncan-Price is co­ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Caribbean Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, a World Eco­nomic Fo­rum Young Global Leader, and former se­na­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and fulltic­i­pa­tion@gmail.com.

THE SUP­PORT for the rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes to the Dan­ger­ous Drugs Act re­gard­ing mar­i­juana/cannabis in 2015 has been mainly from the le­gal, busi­ness, and so­cial per­spec­tive more than the med­i­cal per­spec­tive. Af­ter all, the harsh laws in place since 1948 were dis­crim­i­na­tory and highly prej­u­di­cial to­wards Rasta­far­i­ans and young ur­ban males, ex­ac­er­bated by police abuse.

The rel­a­tively min­i­mal med­i­cal sup­port also stems from the fact that there is lit­tle rig­or­ous, ver­i­fi­able re­search done to meet Western med­i­cal stan­dards to date. The ef­fi­cacy of cannabis as a med­i­cal so­lu­tion is based pri­mar­ily on lo­cal, tra­di­tional knowl­edge, which is not in­cluded in the syl­labus of for­mal med­i­cal schools. In ad­di­tion, there are real pub­lic-health con­cerns re­gard­ing ‘free­ing up the weed’.

In­deed, while Ja­maica seeks to de­fine the roll-out of this new in­dus­try from a busi­ness and growth per­spec­tive, it is also im­per­a­tive to plan for the pub­lic-health con­cerns in a re­al­is­tic way. This re­quires re­view of the pub­lic-health re­search that is avail­able to make in­formed de­ci­sions – not just speak from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences.

It is rec­om­mended that the health is­sues as­so­ci­ated with cannabis be dealt with in the same man­ner as with any other prod­uct that can pose a pub­lichealth chal­lenge such as tobacco and al­co­hol. As such, it is cor­rect for the smok­ing of mar­i­juana to fall un­der the same rule ban­ning smok­ing in pub­lic ar­eas as with cig­a­rettes. For stud­ies show that the cannabis smoke has more can­cer-caus­ing agents than tobacco smoke. Whereas those stud­ies have been de­fin­i­tive, Dr Wen­del Abel, former chair­man of the Na­tional Coun­cil on Drug Abuse (NCDA), pub­lic-health spe­cial­ist and prac­tis­ing psy­chol­o­gist, main­tains that the re­search link­ing cannabis to psy­chosis is con­tro­ver­sial and is not de­fin­i­tive in terms of sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. How­ever, the strong­est ev­i­dence does con­clude that it ex­ac­er­bates ill­ness in per­sons with a strong fam­ily his­tory of men­tal ill­ness. In­ter­est­ingly, while that is con­clu­sive, some per­sons with men­tal ill­ness ef­fec­tively use cannabis to self-med­i­cate as it calms them and al­lows them to sleep bet­ter.

Dr Abel fur­ther states, how­ever, that “there is a con­vinc­ing body of ev­i­dence that young peo­ple who use the mar­i­juana drug are vul­ner­a­ble”. He ex­plains that “when young peo­ple use mar­i­juana be­fore age 24, it can af­fect cog­ni­tive abil­ity”.

As the brain is not fully ma­ture un­til the mid-20s, this means that young peo­ple us­ing mar­i­juana are neg­a­tively im­pacted in terms of their abil­ity to learn, re­mem­ber, prob­lem-solve, and pay at­ten­tion. Cou­ple this with the hor­monal volatil­ity of the tur­bu­lent teens, and it is clear that mar­i­juana is not a drug for young peo­ple.

POL­ICY RE­SPONSES

As the cannabis in­dus­try it­self is es­tab­lished na­tion­ally over the next few years, there needs to be more sig­nif­i­cant funds chan­nelled into pro­tect­ing pub­lic health and pub­lic safety now. In par­tic­u­lar, ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes tar­geted at young peo­ple, and prop­erly funded, need to be am­pli­fied na­tion­ally.

Dr Abel notes that “stud­ies show that the ini­ti­a­tion age for mar­i­juana use in Ja­maica is 1214 years”. This is the vul­ner­a­ble pe­riod where chil­dren make the tran­si­tion from pri­mary school to high school, so pro­gram­matic fo­cus needs to be at this stage. Imag­ine the im­proved ed­u­ca­tion per­for­mance, es­pe­cially of boys, if such in­ter­ven­tions were ef­fec­tively crafted and im­ple­mented.

There is also the need to strengthen the Na­tional Coun­cil on Drug Abuse to pro­vide ad­e­quate ser­vices for young peo­ple, which would in­clude treat­ment and coun­selling. Proper re­mu­ner­a­tion for per­sons em­ployed to the NCDA would be im­por­tant so that the coun­cil could at­tract and re­tain the high cal­i­bre needed to sup­port this area of vul­ner­a­bil­ity in the na­tion.

In ad­di­tion, it is crit­i­cal for the Govern­ment to move on the 2015 pro­posal to es­tab­lish the Ju­ve­nile Drug Court to ad­dress the chal­lenges of per­sons 12-18 years and not in­ad­ver­tently turn these young peo­ple into hard­ened crim­i­nals.

Fund­ing for the next Se­condary School Sur­vey, which is due in 2017, is a must. This sur­vey is done ev­ery four years by the Govern­ment of Ja­maica. With the last one con­ducted in 2013 (be­fore the 2015 leg­isla­tive amend­ments to the Dan­ger­ous Drugs Act), the 2017 re­sults will yield a story about be­hav­iour and us­age trends post the changes to the laws so that ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponses can be for­mu­lated.

In ad­di­tion, the find­ings of the re­cently con­cluded house­hold sur­vey that mon­i­tors drug use in the pop­u­la­tion, es­pe­cially among young peo­ple, along with the re­sults of the Global Tobacco Use Sur­vey, due Oc­to­ber 2016, can yield in­sights into the ex­tent of use and abuse. This is crit­i­cal so that the chal­lenges are prop­erly un­der­stood and right so­lu­tions de­signed and ac­tioned.

From a pub­lic-health per­spec­tive, there are some gaps in leg­is­la­tion. The Child Care and Pro­tec­tion Act needs to be strength­ened with tough sanctions for the sale of mar­i­juana to mi­nors. There is also need for strong leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing the avail­abil­ity of ed­i­bles such as cook­ies, muffins, gummy bears, brown­ies and even Busta candy in­fused with mar­i­juana.

The lev­els of THC (which is the psy­choac­tive sub­stance in mar­i­juana) in ed­i­bles is ex­tremely high and vari­able. As these ed­i­bles are at­trac­tive to young peo­ple in high schools and on univer­sity cam­puses in Ja­maica, there need to be en­force­able laws to en­sure that this group is suf­fi­ciently pro­tected.

‘DRUG DRIV­ING’

Fur­ther­more, as the new Road Traf­fic Act is to be passed by Par­lia­ment shortly, it is hoped that the Min­istry of Trans­port, the NCDA, the Cannabis Li­cens­ing Author­ity, and the Bureau of Stan­dards have be­gun to think through ap­pro­pri­ate leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tions in the en­tirely new area of ‘drug driv­ing’.

There are tremen­dous ben­e­fits for the Ja­maican so­ci­ety and econ­omy, with the new “med­i­cal and ther­a­peu­tic cannabis in­dus­try”. To har­ness that, an in­clu­sive stake­holder ap­proach is needed in shap­ing this new in­dus­try to en­sure a win-win out­come for all, in­clud­ing the small farm­ers and en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­ter­prises in Ja­maica.

So, too, should the pub­lichealth con­cerns be in­cor­po­rated and ac­tively ad­dressed from now. As Ja­maica moves for­ward in this new area, do so with eyes wide open to mit­i­gate as many of the risks and chal­lenges as pos­si­ble, while max­imis­ing the ben­e­fits. Ja­maica has the ca­pac­ity to do this right.

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OTHER POL­ICY RE­SPONSES

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