EDITORIAL - Proceed with caution
The debate over the legalisation of marijuana has once again reared its head.
Late last week at a press conference hosted by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgetown, President of SIGNIS Caribbean, Lucille Nathu, stated her opinion that legalising that particular drug was not the way to go. She believes that though there may be benefits to medical marijuana, the effects of the substance on youths must also be considered. “Once we make a rash decision it is difficult to reverse it. Therefore, we have to be very cautious,” she stated.
Supporting her sentiment was Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Barbados, the Most Reverend Dr Charles Jason Gordon, who pointed out that marijuana does cause significant challenges for people, even recreational smokers. “It does change personality; it does create social problems,” he stressed, noting that even in Colorado where it has been legalised, there are having some ‘fall outs’ in terms of social challenges.”
In contrast, weighing in on this issue in the wake of a recent increase in gun violence in the country, was local attorney-at-law David Comissiong, who believes that a national commission must be established to examine whether marijuana should be legalised or decriminalised because, according to him, “There is a suggestion that maybe if marijuana were either legalised or decriminalised, that you may be able to take the gang related criminality out of it. In other words, if it is removed from being an illegal activity to which is attached considerable profits by those who engage in the trafficking of the marijuana, you may be able to diffuse that situation of gangs and guns.”
This suggestion may not be valid, since gun crime related to illegal marijuana could easily adapt to any legalised market and evolve, for instance, into armed assaults or robberies of legitimate dispensers of the product. Yet, there is some merit behind Comissiong’s proposal of an in-depth examination of the use of medical marijuana.
In the past this paper has taken a stance that a ban on weed must remain, and still holds that belief, since the idea of legalising marijuana and making it available to all and sundry is not one that should be entertained. Still, doctor-supervised treatments using medical marijuana is an entirely different matter and might be permissible in extenuating circumstances. It has been documented that medical marijuana has brought great relief for chronic and terminally ill patients overseas, so to unilaterally prohibit use of all forms of this controversial drug – even those distributed specifically for use to treat ailments – would be unkind to say the least and far from forward-thinking in a developing society.
Still, to be clear, this does not mean unfiltered support for the legalisation of weed. There really is no need for such a wide-arching movement. If the figures are checked, probably a very low percentage of our population would require access for medicinal purposes. And providing it to a restricted number of people, in the midst of an overwhelming number of eager, but restricted users, is just asking for trouble.
Therefore, there really must be more a detailed examination of any benefits of medical marijuana to those who may require it in Barbados’ health care system, and an analysis of the challenges that would come with restricting its use by unprescribed users and the regulations necessary to ensure society isn’t negatively impacted by any changes in legislation.