To Le­galise or not to Le­galise?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

The de­bate over the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of the cannabis (herb) known as mar­i­juana and the re­gion’s pre­pared­ness to do such have sparked vo­lu­mi­nous dis­course. Sev­eral Caribbean re­searchers and econ­o­mists are pur­port­ing de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing it and ex­plor­ing its use for medic­i­nal pur­poses in an ef­fort to boost the re­gion’s slug­gish econ­omy. Th­ese as­ser­tions are, in part, based on the premise that 1) sev­eral stud­ies, some ar­bi­trary in na­ture, have shown that cannabis con­sump­tion has been linked to in­creased phys­i­cal health and pain re­duc­tion in re­la­tion to spe­cific dis­eases such as can­cer and HIV, and 2) pros­e­cut­ing crim­i­nals, es­pe­cially those as­so­ci­ated with the ‘petty’ case of mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion, not only con­gests the legal sys­tem, but also ex­hausts a large por­tion of the fis­cal bud­get.

I pro­pose we pon­der on three crit­i­cal facts that will hope­fully high­light the need for ro­bust re­gional re­search.

Firstly, within the Caribbean and other de­vel­op­ing na­tions, age and gen­der are con­sid­ered two of many pre­dic­tive fac­tors in the use of il­licit drugs. The World Drug Re­port 2012 by the United Na­tions Of­fice on Drugs and Crime cites that “cannabis con­tin­ues to be the world’s most widely used il­licit sub­stance, with be­tween 119 mil­lion and 224 mil­lion cannabis users world­wide. Fur­ther­more, an­nual preva­lence of cannabis use re­mained sta­ble in 2010.” Glob­ally, il­licit drug use is largely a youth phe­nom­e­non, with preva­lence rates grad­u­ally in­creas­ing through the teens and peak­ing among per­sons aged 18-25. An­other key char­ac­ter­is­tic of il­licit drug use through­out the world is that more males than fe­males con­sume such drugs.

Se­condly, it should be noted that all psy­choac­tive drugs af­fect the mind and body in one way or an­other and have the propen­sity for ad­dic­tion. The po­tency of this ef­fect, how­ever, de­pends on the cat­e­gory to which the drug be­longs. Many sub­stances, in­clud­ing caf­feine, tobacco and al­co­hol, con­tain psy­choac­tive prop­er­ties which cause al­ter­ations in mood and con­scious­ness. Psy­choac­tive drugs such as caf­feine and tobacco are stim­u­lants and ac­count for fleet­ing im­prove­ments in men­tal and phys­i­cal states. How­ever, they do not im­pede per­cep­tual abil­i­ties. Al­co­hol, a de­pres­sant, re­duces anx­i­ety while in­duc­ing feel­ings of eu­pho­ria. Cannabis, how­ever, be­longs to the cat­e­gory of psy­choac­tive drugs re­ferred to as hal­lu­cino­gens. Th­ese drugs en­gen­der sig­nif­i­cant changes in per­cep­tion, thought pro­cesses and con­scious states of­ten re­sult­ing in vis­ual, au­di­tory and ol­fac­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions. The co­nun­drum faced is the fact that not ev­ery in­di­vid­ual who con­sumes psy­choac­tive drugs ex­pe­ri­ences psy­chotic symptoms. It has been widely es­tab­lished though that an in­di­vid­ual may be pre­dis­posed to th­ese symptoms given their ge­netic com­po­si­tion and fam­ily his­tory.

An­other fo­cal point in this de­bate is the strain of cannabis be­ing pro­posed for leg­is­la­tion. There are three main strains: Cannabis In­dica, Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Rud­er­alis. The In­dica and Sativa strains are the two most com­monly grown. Cannabis po­tency is gen­er­ally mea­sured given the amount of Tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC) in the cannabis strain. Whereas THC is con­sid­ered the main psy­choac­tive com­po­nent in the cannabis plant, re­spon­si­ble for im­pair­ing per­cep­tual and sen­sory pro­cesses, Cannabid­iol (CBD) is con­sid­ered to have greater med­i­cal prop­er­ties. Sci­en­tific re­search has shown that Cannabis Sativa strains pos­sess a higher level of THC com­pared to CBD, while the Cannabis In­dica species has a higher level of CBD com­pared to THC. More­over, the rise in in­door cul­ti­va­tion of cannabis among users is of­ten re­lated to an in­crease in cannabis po­tency es­pe­cially for recre­ational use. Given th­ese find­ings, will the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion con­sider the vary­ing strains of cannabis as well as the THC:CBD chem­i­cal bal­ance of each strain?

It is the po­si­tion of many that the legal pro­ce­dure from ar­rest to con­vic­tion for small quan­ti­ties of Class A drugs, to which mar­i­juana be­longs, is both te­dious and some­what ar­chaic. The Drugs (Pre­ven­tion of Mis­use) Act – CAP 3.02 of the Re­vised Laws of St Lu­cia 2008 - clearly states that it is un­law­ful “for a per­son to have a con­trolled drug in his/ her pos­ses­sion.” An ad­di­tional charge of “in­tend­ing to sup­ply the drug to an­other or drug traf­fick­ing” can be laid if the quan­tity found amounts to more than 15 grams. In­di­vid­u­als in breach of th­ese laws are li­able to 3 years im­pris­on­ment or a fine. Sim­ply put, it is pos­si­ble (but un­likely given a mag­is­trate’s dis­cre­tion) for an in­di­vid­ual to face 3 years im­pris­on­ment for pos­ses­sion of 1 to 2 “joints”, bear­ing in mind that the pe­riod from ar­rest to con­vic­tion could take as long as 6 months given the mul­ti­ple hear­ings in­volved.

It would be lu­di­crous to deny that such charges, for so small a quan­tity, do in fact sig­nif­i­cantly clog the al­ready con­strained legal sys­tem. How­ever, there are two ma­jor is­sues at hand: the re­duc­tion of ju­di­cial con­ges­tion by elim­i­nat­ing mi­nor cases while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­tect­ing against char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion of many young men, and also the strength­en­ing of the na­tion’s labour force via preser­va­tion of the men­tal well-be­ing of the so­ci­ety. One can­not or should not be sub­sti­tuted for the other. In our haste to al­le­vi­ate one prob­lem, we must guard against cre­at­ing an­other given the paucity of men­tal health pro­vi­sions in Saint Lu­cia. Pru­dency de­mands there­fore, that men­tal health ser­vices be im­proved and that re­gional re­search re­gard­ing the var­i­ous strains of cannabis be con­ducted prior to the le­gal­iz­ing of this drug to cush­ion po­ten­tial reper­cus­sions.

Ms. Ginelle Nel­son Con­sul­tant Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­o­gist

/ Man­ag­ing Direc­tor (PsyDA Con­sul­tancy Ltd)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.