Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Jamaica on Marijuana: Legalize It!
Sunday, September 06, 2009
There has long been a worldwide debate about the need to legalise
marijuana. Perhaps the most important argument in favour of its
legalisation is that marijuana is far less damaging to a person's health
than alcohol and cigarettes.
Here in Britain, the statistics show that many more crimes are committed
by persons under the influence of alcohol than marijuana. Almost as
significant is the argument that it is the illegality of marijuana which
causes criminality. If it were legal, the argument goes, the gangs and
the violence associated with the drug would disappear overnight.
Supporters of decriminalisation have also pointed out that despite the
so-called "War on Drugs", consumption of drugs around the world has
never been higher.
But opponents of decriminalisation reject all these arguments. The
church, in particular, makes a strong moral case. However, there is no
opponent more vociferous than the United States of America. And it has
used its power in the United Nations to crush any attempts to
decriminalise the drug anywhere in the world and rubber-stamp its
favoured policy of crop eradication and the "War on Drugs".
So it is interesting that, despite long-standing US opposition,
governments in Latin America are currently taking significant steps to
decriminalise the drug.
The American-led "War on Drugs" has always been unpopular amongst the
masses in Latin America. Crop eradication has meant decimating the
income of small rural producers who rely on the money to survive, send
their children to school, etc. In Bolivia coca, the raw material for
cocaine, has been in production for centuries. Bolivian peasants
traditionally chew the leaves. It has been seen as a part of their
culture. The current president, Evo Morales, was a peasant coca grower.
He rose to fame campaigning for his fellow growers and against the
wildly unpopular crop eradication policies that the government was
pursuing under pressure from the Americans.
Now, in Argentina, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is
unconstitutional to punish people for having marijuana for personal use.
The court ruled, "Each adult is free to make lifestyle decisions without
the intervention of the state." In Mexico, the government has decided to
stop prosecuting people for possession of small quantities of marijuana,
cocaine, heroin and other drugs. These persons will be referred to
clinics instead. Last year in Ecuador the president, Rafael Correa,
pardoned 1,500 "mules" who had been sentenced to jail. His late father
was a convicted mule. And Brazil is also considering partial
Earlier this year Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former Brazilian
president, collaborated with two former presidents of Colombia and
Mexico to produce a report "Latin American Commission on Drugs and
Democracy". This called for new approaches to the drug problem. Cardoso
says, "The tide is clearly turning. The 'War on Drugs' strategy has
Latin America has long been ravaged by the violence associated with the
drug trade. Worse, the power of the drug cartels has undermined
democratic institutions. Reformers argue that the only way to reduce the
violence and restore stability to Latin America is to legalise the
production, supply and consumption of drugs.
Interestingly, the last time Mexico tried to decriminalise the
possession of small quantities of drugs it was met with ferocious
opposition from the United States. So they had to reinstate the law.
This time the United States has said nothing. Maybe, under a new
president, even the Americans are beginning to realise that the "War on
Drugs" strategy has failed.
It should be noted that many people who support the decriminalisation of
marijuana do not support legalising harder drugs like cocaine and
But the arguments for decriminalising marijuana are at least as strong
in Jamaica as in Latin America. Many argue that, just like Bolivia,
modest consumption of the naturally grown product is part of the
culture. If the United States is really dropping its fierce opposition
to decriminalisation, maybe it is time for Jamaica to reopen the
contentious debate on legalising marijuana.
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